This is the third, and final installment, on my series on aging.
About ten years ago, a friend forwarded to me a NY Times article with the subject line: “isn’t this great?” The article talked about the fact that today’s 30 and 40 somethings no longer relegate themselves to being boring suburbanites who get thick in the middle and wear frumpy clothes. These new age middle-agers are hip and cool, and, unlike their 20 something counterparts, have the money to sustain the lifestyle, able to afford those trendy $400 jeans and tickets to the small venue Def Cab for Cutie show. Coolness lives on, despite ones age. (Looking back, I believe this article was foreshadowing the hipster movement).
For my friend who felt that aging and being uncool were synonymous, this article was like a beacon of hope. For me, however, this was my worst nightmare, as my favorite thing about aging is the fact that, each year I care less and less about other’s perceptions of me. I’m not cool – never have been – and I thought I could finally stop pretending. Damn you New York Times!
The pretense began for me at a painfully young age; 1977 to be exact, when everyone in school loved the band “Kiss.” I couldn’t name any song they sang and was more interested in Andy Gibb and Barry Manilow, but Kiss was cool so I pretended to like Kiss. I chose Peter Criss (the drummer) as my favorite, because his make-up made him look like a cat. Other than that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about Peter or Kiss.
The need to fit in and be cool continued into my ‘20s, as I hung out at 20 something New England hot spots like Newport in the summer and Killington Ski resort in the winter, even though I felt like I never truly fit in. Living in Boston, I’d go see local bands play at crowded bars; sipping my microbrew and nodding my head to the beat along with everyone else in the audience. I’d be dressed exactly like every other female in that bar: the uniform of the 1990s 20 something. Inside, however, I was dying of boredom and wishing someone would whisk me away to an old-fashioned disco, where I could dance the night away to Earth, Wind and Fire or the Bee Gees. That behavior, however, was not cool for a 20 something living in Boston.
As the years have ticked by, I’ve done many things that, unlike those Newport trips and micro-brew nights, have actually felt cool to me: I traveled the world for six months with a backpack and a friend; I picked up and moved to San Diego with no job lined up. Those actions had nothing to do with the music I listened to or the clothes I wore, but rather that I listened to my inner voice. It’s what’s made me realize that coolness comes from being authentic, and completely comfortable with that authenticity.
I know what you’re thinking: “duh…all the cool people are the ones comfortable in their own skin.” While this is true, and we know it to be intellectually, there are very few of us able to achieve that level of comfort at a young age. Most of us spend our younger years trying to achieve one of two goals: 1. to fit in and go with the trend, or; 2. to rebel and go against the trend in an effort to be unique. Neither of these options is authentic.
Once, however, you’ve spent four decades trying out the various trends and rebellions, the real you can emerge. You make mistakes along the way; figure out what you like, what you detest. You forgive yourself for all the screw-ups of the past and begin to focus on what makes you truly feel at home. The real you is now an amalgam of those life lessons; of understanding what it means to trust your gut instinct and to enjoy life on your terms, regardless of other’s thoughts and opinions.
If you’re reading this while in your 30s you might not understand what I’m saying. You might be disagreeing thinking, “I know exactly who I am.” While that might be true for some of you, I promise that the conviction of that statement will become solid as you enter your 40s. There’s just something about this middle-aged decade that brings a level of peace not heretofore experienced. And it’s a beautiful thing.
So, while my last two posts complained about the effects aging has had on my appearance and bodily functions, here I celebrate what is to me the most wonderful time in life: when we’re old enough to finally live each day as an authentic human being, but still young enough to feel youthful and vibrant while doing so.
When I think back about that article my friend sent, it still makes me feel prickly as the days of being cool are done for me. Instead, I freely admit that I have no idea what music is playing on the Pandora hipster station, nor do I want to know, as I’m quite happy with my selections: Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Barry White and Bruno Mars. I’ve almost gone to blows with my neighbor (in fun of course) about the fact that I detest The Dave Matthews Band. Twenty-something Kim would have been afraid of the stigma of such an admission. Forty-seven year old Kim would rather endure a drug-free birth of twins than endure another Dave Matthew’s concert, and she’s happy to admit that fact (apologies to Karli and Sherrie).
As a parent, I hope my boys see me as someone who lives life on her own terms; someone who readily admits her mistakes and mishaps, and sees them for the true gifts they are. Maybe, in turn, they won’t have to wait four decades to truly become themselves. For me, that would be the greatest gift I could ever give them.