“I feel old on the outside, but so young on the inside. Why doesn’t anyone see this or understand? I am just learning (in my mid-sixties) how to enjoy myself and not worry about what other people think of me. I’m finally learning how to have fun!
“That is my INNER experience. My OUTER experience is that I am treated like an unattractive, uninteresting old person that no one wants to know, date or have sex with.
“I’ve been told to hang around with other old people, but, when I do, they just complain about their aches and pains and how the good times are over for them. This is NOT what I want.”
In our discussion that followed, I asked questions like: “What is the second half of life about anyway? Once we’re past our thirties and forties, what then? What are we supposed to do in our fifties, sixties and upwards?”
As a 63-year-old elder, I’ve noticed that – on my good days – I have the inner strength to take a good look at myself and my successes/disappointments. I realized recently that I’m currently going through a period of disillusionment: many of my youthful illusions are dropping like flies, and it’s neither good nor bad. That’s just how it is.
At midlife – and beyond- many of us are strong enough to see that we’ve created patterns and beliefs that keep us stuck in self-defeating behaviors. This isn’t easy stuff to look at, talk about or work through. When we’re younger, these kinds of questions are too disturbing, and dropping our youthful illusions may be too much to bear. I had a client in his mid-fifties who turned to crystal meth for this very reason. He told me, “I don’t want to be old, ugly and unwanted. I liked it when I was young, handsome and everyone wanted me. I don’t want to get old but I don’t want to die either. What do I do?”
In his case, the short-term solution was to find a way to chemically alter his feelings. You can use alcohol, recreational drugs or any number of ways to numb yourself from the challenges of getting older. As Bette Davis said, “Getting old is not for sissies”.
So then, what can you do when you feel young and alive inside but appear old and elderly on the outside?
Start with finding your joy. How do you allow that little kid – that young person who lives inside of you – to have fun? If, like my client, you don’t find people your age to be good company, find people you do. It doesn’t matter how old they are, all that matters is that they are a good fit for you.
Ideally, as elders, we can offer mentoring/giving back to our community. No matter how easy or hard our life has been, we have wisdom from all the experiences we’ve lived through and we can share it. And, younger people want it. The challenge, though, is: how to make it happen?
Lecturing younger people isn’t helpful: living by example is the best way. Let yourself be around younger folks and allow them to see how you operate, hear how you speak and feel how it feels to be you. So many young people are told that getting old is a horrible thing – this is a basic tenet of the advertising world – and you, wise, kind and funny elder that you are, may be the perfect person to offer them the antidote to that youth-obsession poison.
Aging happily is an art: you can be youthful in spirit and wise in behavior. Keep an open mind, try new things, don’t judge people and keep making your life BIGGER. Take good care of your body: if you don’t, that will severely limit your options.
And don’t give up on your peers: they may be waiting for someone with your joie de vivre (love of life), but don’t know it yet. While not everyone wants to give up their “ain’t old age awful” lament, there are many people like you, who want to focus on what’s good about life, making the second half of life much better than the first.