Welcome to the New Middle Age

Okay so I am 49 and I will turn 50 next February. It will not be long before I get that first AARP solicitation. I do not know how, but I am sure I am in their database somehow. AARP used to be an acronym, “American Association of Retired Persons”. Now it is just AARP. Nevertheless, we all know what it is, since you must be age 50 or over to join. However, you do not have to be retired.

I have no idea if I will join AARP. I do know one thing. 50 is way too young to retire. Few of us can afford to retire at 50 anyhow, although increasing numbers of 50 something Americans may have no choice. At 49 though, I feel I am in my prime. I know middle age is supposed to start in your 30s. Yet for those of us living in first world countries, and who are fortunate to have a certain income level, our 30s and even our 40s are not so much middle age, as a kind of extended period somewhere between adolescence and the onset of middle age. With so many of us living into our eighties and nineties these days, maybe 50 is where middle age begins.

Many of us have gotten the message. While you cannot stop aging, you can prolong optimal health. If you work at it, you can also prolong the illusion of youth. I do not think of myself as middle aged. When I look in the mirror, I do not see a middle-aged face. Perhaps it is vanity, perhaps it is delusion, or perhaps it is a combination of good genetics and prevention. I got the message in my early twenties that if I wanted a good quality of life, it would not come free. Therefore, I started running at 24, and have been running or engaging in some form of regular aerobic exercise ever since. In addition to popping the vitamins, I have been regularly applying the sunscreen. I have not always eaten right, but I have never had a bad diet. Throughout my adult years, vegetables, fruits and fiber have been a regular part of my diet.

Unlike my turbulent twenties and challenging thirties, life in my forties is pretty darn good. I am finally where I always wanted to be in my career. It just took twenty-five years of working hard and a bit of the luck of the Irish to get here, but here I am. My only child is nearing adulthood and hopefully will be soon on her way toward a successful young adulthood of her own. Retirement is on my distant horizon now. If my stars align correctly, it will begin in my late 50s. That certainly does not mean I will be ready for the old folk’s home, or even really retire. Instead, it is more likely I will begin a second career.

I do not remember it being this way. When I was a mere teen, 49 was old. I suspect I am as perceived to be just as ancient to today’s teens. Yet I simply do not feel like I look my age. I am by no means alone. I work in a building populated by forty and fifty somethings. We look good. Our skin may not be quite as tight as it was in our twenties, but for the most part, we are free of all but minor wrinkles on our faces. These midlife ladies breasts may sag a bit, but just a bit. In any event, there is always the wonder of the Wonderbra.

To some extent, we baby boomers succeed in masking many aspects of aging. Many women in my age group dye their hair or, just as importantly, pay top dollar for a top hair stylist. Others are liberal in their use of makeup; it hides their more prominent age spots. We dress (when we can) as we did in our early twenties. When I was a child, older men wore felt hats, pleated pants, shoes and suits around town, even when they were at leisure. Lounge around the house in blue jeans and sneakers? They would have none of it. Well, we will have none of their kind of middle age. Perhaps the time will come when we wear knee-high white socks, baggy shorts and garish tropical shirts, but not yet. Maybe at age 50 we will start playing out the idea in our minds. Not yet though.

Admittedly, there are signs that we are not immortal. Perhaps the most depressing of them is that our eyes do not have the flexibility and acuity of our youths. I have worn bifocals for most of my forties. I also have a set of reading glasses. Nevertheless, even there we have new options. Many of us choose progressive lenses. Others of us choose laser vision correction, which allow us to see even better than when they were youths. We live in something of a magic age where science and technology provides the illusion we need that, if we are not immortal, we have dramatically slowed down our entropic nature.

Though I would like to think of myself as in my prime, I am not. I hit the Gold’s Gym several times a week too. While there, I use a number of weight machines. I feel good about the weight lifting, even though it is hard work and often leaves my joints tender for a day or two. Then I have incidents that make me realize that although I am in good shape, I am cannot begin to compete with a teenager. For example, about a year ago, we brought home a used office-sized desk. It felt like it weighed a ton. Between my wife and me, we could barely get in into our house. Its destination was our loft. Try as we might between the two of us we could not move it more than a couple of stairs.

Enter Stephen, the teenager from two doors down. He is 17 and he is on the wrestling team at school. Lifting a desk? No problemo. While I lifted the bottom of the desk using all of my force, he pulled the upper part of the desk up the stairs and into our loft. He did not even work up a sweat. I sat there panting from the exertion. I was also a bit staggered by how strong the human body can be in its prime. I am in good shape for a 49-year-old dude, but he has twice my strength and agility, at least.

Fortunately, on most days I can still pretend and actually believe I have the strength, agility and good looks of my youth. It may be a necessarily illusion for me to successfully navigate through my forties. However, it does not matter. All that matters is how I feel. And I feel great.

Like waiting for the other shoe to drop, I keep waiting for real middle age to show itself. Perhaps with sufficiently positive thinking and self-brainwashing it never arrives.

I hope this illusion continues.

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