Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why fifty is a kick-ass decade worth waiting for

This re-post is dedicated to my good friend and cousin Hollis Cook, who, I suspect, is under her bed hiding from fifty. 

I did not love my forties like I was supposed to. Usually at the salon, I read about women who, at forty were settling into themselves, asserting their independence,  accepting their flaws, embracing  their wisdom and no longer feeling guilty for saying "no" and, I thought: I'm not doing this right

I've caught up.

At the salon last week, my hair stylist, who is lovable, and blunt and not yet thirty said this to me:

"I keep hearing that it's great to be older because you just don't give a crap about all the stuff  that used to upset you. Is that true?"

Well, hair stylist, yes. That statement, for instance did not upset me.

I'd like to believe I would not have sulked over that at forty, but I would have. Possibly, I would have switched to one of those equally sulky,  dressed-in-black stylists in Boston who don't speak to their clients. 

But because I like candid, charming people more than any other kind, I said, "Mine is the most kick-ass age there is. I do what I want, when I want to, and I do it better."

"That is so awesome," she said, hair tools poised, "I can't wait."

Then, someone on the floor chimed in:

"It's true. Fifty is the new forty."

Well, other salon patron, I thought, I hope not.  I hope fifties is not the new forties for two reasons:

First, in my circle, forties was a time for scrutinizing (and maybe pruning) our lives and relationships while ushering our teenage children through high school and into college with as little household stress as possible. While it is characteristic of forties to enjoy a heightened love of life, self and others,  in my rear view mirror, this energetic decade left little off-the-clock time for that kind of zen-ing.  For me, it was hard to be most places without wondering if I was needed somewhere else.

My circle also agrees that for many women in their forties, there is a late preoccupation with appearance because we fear our days of being considered more desirable - professionally, romantically and personally - are numbered.  Even if we are well adjusted as fifty looms, there is pressure to be sure we are, because you only have so much time to straighten the hell out before that axe falls. 

Well, Hollis, and anyone else hiding under the bed, here are too many good things about fifties to liken them to some other age, especially forties. 

I'm generalizing, of course, and using the universal "you" because it's efficient. Feel free to disagree, but here is my take:

  • After being child-focused for years, being self-centered is entirely okay.
  • You don't replay awkward moments or remarks, you say "eh" and think about something else. 
  • You feel comfortable with moments of silence in a conversation. You stop rambling. 
  • You accept criticism without feeling defensive. Often, you are grateful for it.
  • You develop antennae for insincerity, whether you choose to do anything about it or not.
  • You turn your mistakes and disappointments into funny stories and you know exactly who to tell them to.  
  • Things you're afraid of start to fall away except for the things that could actually kill you.
  • If you've had words with someone, you don't waste time.  If the relationship is worth it, you make them come out with you for a glass of wine and fix it. 
  • You understand that you can't, and never could, control how much people like you and so you stop trying which - what do you know - makes you more likable. 
Let's review. In your forties:

You are younger.

The serenity of fifties is worth waiting for in my opinion, but only if you value the improvements in your emotional life and relationships more than you lament changes in your appearance. Because you will be offered views of yourself that take you by surprise:  storefront reflections, dressing room mirrors,  doctors who have not finished having their own children, but begin their advice with, "Well, as we age..."

But fifties have become things they didn't used to be, and not because they became forties again. In ye fifties of olde, we started wearing lavender double knit pants and rubbery beige shoes. Now we go back for degrees, start online magazines (hi Sharon and Anne), write novels (and screenplays, Hollis, screenplays) and travel like nobody's business. 

My hair stylist finished my do and said, "There you go, you're a rock star again."

Fifty is not the new forty. I was not a rock star in my forties.  Fifty is the new fifty. 

And Hollis, Precious, it is kick-ass.


  1. LOVE that you are just one step ahead of pave the way so beautifully and help me anticipate/prepare for the wild emotions of life!

  2. Thank you for that. It's been true for me that nothing ends without something else starting and its usually something that makes my life better.

  3. Since I'm turning 50 in about a year this is great news! I actually have loved my forties but I am looking forward to 50. Thanks!

  4. Kathy, I know I expected it to be harder than it was, and didn't expect it to be as sweet as it is.

  5. Truthfully? I have loved and embraced every single decade. Every one of them. So many women do not get to have them. I'm glad to be here!

  6. What Carol said! In my 7th now and every decade has been really do get better and better! Great post, Susan. I love your humor and that you love "candid, charming people".....the best way to enjoy life!

  7. Perfect post! I am 50 (okay 51 in about 16 days) but with a 15 year old at home I feel like I haven't been able to embrace the 50s quite as you have laid it out. Perhaps this will come tome in my 60s.

  8. Yes indeed 50's are much better than 40's. Thanks for articulating so well what I have felt for the last few years.

  9. I agree, once you get past menopause! Then it's all awesome. Except for the 60s...I hear those are pretty great too.

  10. Kim, I've heard that about sixties too and usually from people who have mastered a "here and now" kind of approach to life. I found huge joy in raising children, making lifelong friends, and discovering a love for writing in my thirties and forties. But living in the moment was never more challenging. That's the thing that got easier for me with every passing year.

  11. Thank you, dear cousin, for dedicating this to me. I can't tell you (well, you know) how much I dreaded this. I was, in fact, hiding under my bed when my phone blinged this post. (Everyone takes their phone with them when they go under the bed, right?) Then came the mail man... you know how THAT went, which we will laugh about for the rest of our lives, and then came the gift of all gifts! Your blog made me feel better, your gift made feel wonderful, and your friendship will likely be among the best things of the upcoming year. Thank you. That is all. xoxo

  12. Oh, wow. Hollis, the star of my blog, surfaces! Hollis, you have great times ahead my dear.

  13. I love this! The last half of my forties haven't been my favorite so far - although honestly I'm happy every year that I'm still here. Sounds like the fifties are a great place :)