I Actually Love Getting Older, Thank You Very Much
I don't think I'm rationalizing either.
All my life, I’ve been told what a drag it is getting old.
And, it’s true, I really don’t want to die — that part of getting older does suck.
I’m also not so crazy about the declining-health thing. To be very clear, I’m definitely anti-cancer.
But I’m in my late 50s, and now that I’m getting older myself, the more I realize that I wasn’t told the whole truth about aging. Because, for me, some aspects of it have been absolutely awesome. This is, hands-down, the best time of my life. It’s really not even close.
I’ve finally stopped caring what other people think of me.
To be clear, I still care how my good friends view me. I want to be held accountable to the values I claim to hold. If I’m being a jerk, I want to know.
But everyone else? I’ve finally realized their opinion of me doesn’t have anything to do with me. Take me or leave me, I don’t care.
This is a huge contrast to earlier ages when I was desperate to have people like me, even as I was certain everyone saw me as a total dork. Oh, and in my early 20s, I started losing my hair. This was in the 90s when every TV show and movie made “baldness” literally synonymous with “pathetic ugly loser.”
I was convinced I was so unattractive that no one could ever possibly love me.
I finally developed some damn self-respect, for one thing. I realized I was surrounded by all these great friends, and a fantastic husband, and they must like me for some reason.
Oh, and I took a cue from other balding gay guys and shaved my Goddamn head. The gay male community has contributed a lot to the world, but finally making baldness acceptable, even sexy, is high up on the list of our greatest achievements.
For the record, I had a mostly good childhood, and much of my teenage years were exactly as golden as they should be.
But, well, I was a closeted gay kid in the 80s, and also a high-achieving, people-pleasing perfectionist — that’s related to the closeted gay thing, of course. As great as that time of my life was in many ways, it was also exhausting. It’s hard work doing the impossible task of trying to make the entire world like you.
As such, it’s no contest. I much prefer the age I am now.
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My body is less forgiving now — but that means I take much better care of it.
Everyone tells you that in your 50s, your body starts to fall apart. They cite statistics like the fact that literally 100% of people will see their vision decline.
And okay, sure, your body does decline. The other day I was shocked to realize I now use six different creams on various spots on my body — and a couple of occasional ointments too.
But I’ve been struck by how vibrant I can still feel, at least if I make certain choices.
Which is the real point here. I’ve learned that my body is less forgiving now, so I’m much less likely to take it for granted. I know how bad I’ll feel when I drink too much, eat crappy food, or don’t exercise.
So I’m much less likely to over-indulge, and I work out more consistently too.
Well into my forties, I totally took my body for granted, expecting it to bounce back, which it always very quickly did.
But then it didn’t. So now I’m much more careful. Remember my “weird toe” story from several months ago? The pain is still completely gone.
Yes, one day my good luck may end — and again, to be even more clear, I am very anti-cancer.
But by being generally more mindful, I think I feel better, overall, than I ever have before.
It’s easy to make friends again.
I used to reject the idea that it’s hard to make and keep friends in your late 20s and 30s. But looking back over my life, I now see it’s obviously true. At that age, people focus on their careers, especially in the United States And if a good friend has kids? Forget about seeing them for the next ten years.
But when you hit your fifties, everything changes again, most especially your priorities. Parents with kids are suddenly free, and everyone else has to deal with aging and dying parents. I think this is a really big deal, because this is when you finally truly realize that one day you’re going to die, so you stop taking things for granted.
Things like friends.
Seriously, one by one, all my good friends my age have started telling me some variation of the same thing: “Wow, life is so short! But just so you know, I really appreciate this friendship.”
As nomads, Michael and I are lucky enough to have a lot of younger friends too — nomads are less likely to have kids, and they also tend to be much less obsessed with their careers.
So lately, we have the best of both worlds. Best time in my life ever.
I kinda like being a wise elder.
Are older people really any wiser than younger folk? I mean, half the Baby Boom generation voted two times for a racist, pathologically lying sociopath who probably raped a bunch of women, so how wise can they be?
Maybe my generation, Gen X, is different. But if nothing else, I feel wiser than before.
It’s partly because I’ve learned from personal experience. I confess to being frustrated with younger generations who say, “Our problems are so serious! We need radical, systematic change now!” But then they also say things like, “It’s not my job to educate you,” and proceed to champion political strategies that seem designed to alienate as many people as possible. There’s zero attempt to persuade.
I agree we need systemic change! So why aren’t we employing disciplined, effective strategies that have much better odds of, you know, working? Isn’t that more important than communicating to your peer-group how uncompromising and morally “pure” you are? I thought we didn’t have time for nonsense.
But reasonable people can disagree on all that, I suppose.
Mostly, the wisdom I feel I’ve gained is along the lines of: “Huh, there sure are a lot of different ways to view the world.” And, “Oh, man, there’s so much I still don’t know!”
I’m much humbler now, intellectually speaking, and I find that a much more interesting place to be than the simple-minded certitude I used to have when I was younger.
I’m no longer desperately poor.
Look, I’ve been a writer of fiction for most of my adult life — a struggling artist. I’ve never ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, not even when my wealthy-ish dad was paying.
After a lifetime of precarious finances, I’d become hyperaware of money.
But I’ve had a few lucky breaks, and I’ve clawed and scratched my way into a few actual successes too. More than anything, Michael and I have always tried really, really hard to live below our means.
After traveling the world, I also see how much it helped to have been born an American — and it’s even more of an advantage now that I’m an American living outside of America.
Basically, Michael and I were doing FIRE before FIRE was cool.
These days, well, we’re still not rich exactly, but we’re finally comfortable. And after a life of counting pennies, it is incredibly nice to be able to relax about money.
This is only the beginning.
So there you have it: all the reasons why my current age is the best I’ve ever lived.
But, yeah, I won't live forever. My mother died twenty years ago, and my father is currently in hospice. What’s interesting about that is that I most vividly remember them as the age I am right now. My brother and I were finally out of the house, they suddenly had time for themselves, and they became more vibrant and active than I’d ever seen them be.
Now they’re dead and dying. And one I day I’ll be there too.
But until I am, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised how, contrary to what I was told, so far, my life just keeps getting better and better.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author. Check out my new newsletter about my books and movies at www.BrentHartinger.com.