Group of older women working out at the gym


I really thought I knew what it was going to be like to be 50. I figured I’d have a few more wrinkles. I’d radiate a greater sense of self-acceptance and perspective. I heard some women struggled with a sense of invisibility and irrelevance as the beauty of their youth faded. I never had that much beauty to start with so that seemed like less of concern to me but I was alert to the potential issue.

Aging was just an attitude, my friends and I agreed over cocktails. We had it figured out. I knew some awesome older women who I wanted to emulate. I observed some co-workers who seemed unhappy in their mid-life and made notes on things not to do. I read books by female writers about life after menopause. I imagined I knew everything there was to know about being 50. 

So, that was false.

While I did have some good information about getting older, I was naive to think I wouldn’t be surprised by a few things about moving into middle age. Below I’ve listed five things that I just figured out since I turned 50.  Maybe other people already knew these things before they blew out 50 candles on their cake, but I missed the memo.

        1. Having “old person” habits isn’t quirky any more. It used to be so cute and funny when I would tell people, “I went to bed at 8 p.m.!” or “Dinner at 5 o’clock is perfect.” It was ironic that a 28-year-old girl would have habits stereotypically associated with someone decades older. Then one day, I realized that when I say, “I can’t stay out that late” or “I’ll be hungover if I have more than one glass of wine”, no one laughs. My friends agree with me, my niece and nephew roll their eyes and my parents are like, “We’ve been saying that for years.” It’s totally age-appropriate and not quirky at all.

        2. You can get stronger.  We often hear that women lose muscle as they age and need to weight train to preserve their strength. By all available evidence, that is true. I rarely hear anyone suggest that women over 50 can do more than maintain their strength—they can get stronger than ever before! Because I’ve focused my training lately, I can do more pull-ups and pushups now than I ever could. I have several friends my age who continue to hit personal lifting records through consistent dedicated training. At any age, women can get stronger. I think there should be more people talking about this.

        3. You gotta talk to your friends about hot flashes. When I was younger, my plan was to avoid all mention about the physical changes of aging, especially about hot flashes. It seemed sort of distasteful to discuss them. But, what I didn’t realize was that hot flashes are fascinating. One moment you are in a meeting, comfortable, like everyone else in the room—and the next moment you might melt if you don’t take off your sweater and turn on a fan. It is clearly WAY TOO hot. But no one else in the room can feel it! I mean, it’s crazy, right? You have to talk to your friends about it, not to complain but to validate the bizarreness of being in an alternate temperature reality from those around you.

        4. Your hairstyle may not be your first choice. I always imagined that older women cut their hair short and curled it because they loved that style. And that they dyed it one color because they didn’t realize that it was cooler to have it highlighted. Now I know that for many women, our hair changes as we age. Short and curled, while not trendy, might be your best look if your hair is thinning. And highlights don’t make as much sense if you have to visit the salon every two weeks to deal with the grey. In my youth, my hair could be treated, prodded and product-ed into whatever style was trendy. Not anymore. My hair has changed. Now, I’m picking the best look I can with the hair that I’ve got, even though not my dream look.
        5. “It’s better than the alternative” takes on real meaning. When I used to hear an older person respond to the question, “So how does it feel to be getting older?” with the answer, “It’s better than the alternative”, I’d cringe. Such a depressing, trite answer, I would think. That changed when I had friends get seriously ill and acquaintances lose a husband decades before they expected. Now, when I hear someone say, “It’s better than the alternative,’ I do wish they would pick a happier cliché (I’d suggest “Life is precious.” Or “Aging is a privilege.” Or just “Happy to be here!”) but I also nod my head, deeply understanding what they mean. Aging is a privilege.

Perhaps you already knew these things or they don’t resonate with you but you can think of other things that you understood only recently. Let’s learn from each other. What memos about aging did you miss? What else should I expect to learn as I get older? Share in the comments below.

November 06, 2023 — Mary Catherine Horgan

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