How do you come to terms with getting older?
July 8, 2024 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I’m going to be 42 very soon, and am really struggling with it. Turning 40 was hard enough, and now it’s two years behind me. I’ve noticed changes in my body that I don’t like. I’ve always thought of myself as a “young” person and still feel “young” mentally, but I’m shocked at how old I’m actually getting. I know 42 isn’t that old compared to 72 or 82, but my cousin turning 31 this month and my friend turning 29 remind me of how “ancient” I’m becoming.

I feel like a lot of my life is already behind me. What’s the point of doing anything anymore when all that’s left is a gradual mental and physical decline? My older friends in their 60s and 70s often talk about their ailments and tell me “don’t grow old.” My Grandmother, who is 96, suffers from advancing dementia, losing her independence and dignity, which has been very hard on our family. Honestly, that’s what has put me in this state of mind. It feels like we live and then lose everything with old age. Just 4 years ago we lost my Grandpa. His passing really accelerated my Grandma's decline and I fear that she doesn't have a ton of time left.

Yes, I still have a lot of life ahead of me at 42, assuming I live to 100, but that’s the part of life that involves decline. The “good” years seem mostly gone. What’s the point of writing in all my journals or continuing to pursue hobbies when it feels like it’s all downhill from here? Society does not see the potential in older people, only younger people. When I was young, everything was exciting. There were so many things to look forward to—romance, imagining what my life would be like, school, friends, etc. But I never found love (and doubt I will now, since I’m past the age most men are interested in), never will have kids, and my school days are long over. Every day feels the same, and society seems to only value and see the potential in youth. How many novels (especially fantasy, one of my fav. genres) have you read that feature a 40+ year old protagonist? Not many, I'm willing to wager.

All I have to look forward to is watching my beloved Grandma continue to decline, followed in a few short decades by my parents, uncles, and aunts, then my older friends, and eventually myself. It’s already starting—I have less energy than I did 10 years ago, my body composition is changing, I have more aches and pains, and my memory isn’t as sharp.

How do you come to terms with aging and finding the motivation to go on when you've seen close family members decline due to age, and you know that this fate is what is waiting for others close to you, and yourself? AND you have to constantly deal with the messaging from society that you should always try to stay young? I could handle it better when i was in my 20s and 30s since it seemed so far off...but at's just around the corner.
posted by starpoint to Society & Culture (56 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Well I'm in my 60s and while I'm definitely physically older I'm still fit and able to do things. My work life is richer and more fulfilling than ever - I'm an artist and things have really expanded for me in my 50s and 60s. While I have definitely watched family and friends get sick and die I have also watched my kids become amazing adults and I'm loving the richness of my relationships with them and their partners.

Depending on what media you chose to consume will definitely alter your perception of how society treats aging. My recommendations - be mindful of what you consume, eat reasonably sensibly, limit or avoid alcohol, be fit and active to the degree you can and associate with people who are positive. Volunteer for something you care about. We will all die with varying qualities of life leading up to that but it is possible to find joy and purpose in one's life. At 42 you still have a lot of living ahead of you.

Two years ago I was on a tall ship for an artist residency in the Arctic and the oldest person on the ship was 88. She was full of joy and plans and making her best work yet. We can't know if we'll age like that but to the degree that one's choices make a difference one can. And yes I have the aches and ailments of my age but they are not stopping me.
posted by leslies at 12:31 PM on July 8 [30 favorites]

I turned 44 yesterday and I feel like due to the pandemic, I suddenly woke up one day and I was in my mid-40s! I don't have kids, either (don't want them, never did).

I look to the people older than me who are living their best lives. Two good friends retired a couple of years ago (they're 57) and live in a cool mid century house and travel with their sweet, elderly dog. They garden and do art.

I know 50somethings in rock bands and they're just having a blast.

I have a friend who turned 50 last year who started a new company (which seems to be doing well).

For my part, I find I care less and less what strangers think of me. Yeah, the feeling of being invisible as a middle-aged woman is weird but it's also sort of powerful. I can do what I want and not feel self-conscious about it.

I'm not going to be 20 or 25 again and thank god and despite the ever-present anxiety, I'm fairly satisfied with myself. There is always room for improvement but I love the freedom to just try new things now and not worry about the results.
posted by edencosmic at 12:39 PM on July 8 [22 favorites]

Oh wow. I'm also going to be 42 soon (happy birthday?). I could have written so much of this. I do have young kids and so I think that provides a distraction, as well as a source of purpose and some excitement for the future (though also anxieties about how little time I'll get to spend with them relative to younger parents, and how many of those years will be 'good' years).

I just . . . I don't know. Maybe this is just something we go through at this age? I guess it's kind of the typical mid-life crisis period. My fixation is my neck. I'm only 41 and it's starting to sag. I'm too young for that, dammit! What the hell. But I know that this is also probably just the surface thing to dwell on rather than the deeper fears about aging and mortality.

In times like this, I do have two things that pop to mind. First, the idea that you'll never again be as young as you are now. If there's anything that you want to do -- even if you can't do it as well or as easily as you could have done it ten years ago -- do it. Or at least try. You'll regret it if you don't.

The other is the Buddhist story of the Mustard Seed. Remembering this story gives me some peace in that I am not alone in my fears and sadness about aging and death. It is part of the human condition, and the fact that we all go through this together gives me some solace. Even just reading your post gave me some peace because I thought, wow, someone else is going through this, just like me! Which makes me wonder -- do you have friends or family that you can talk about these things with in real life?
posted by imalaowai at 12:40 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

I'm 53 and am a woman. In the past couple years, my dad died, my mother-in-law went through dementia and died, I got divorced, and I have not achieved my career aspirations (and probably never will). I recently went through a series of health issues myself, including cancer. It would be very easy for me to look at my life and say "Why bother, it's all downhill from here and the slide has already started."

But I'm not doing that. I am intensely aware of how lucky I am. I had the incredible blessing of caring for my dad up to and even after the moment of his death. I had the gift of being trusted by and loved by my mother-in-law on a cellular level, even after she no longer recognized me or knew who I was. I am so lucky that I got divorced before the pandemic shutdowns started and had the opportunity to start building a new life. I get to keep doing the awesome job I have, that I'm good at. Considering my own health, I am so incredibly lucky that I got to have another birthday.

When I think about societal expectations or what society thinks of me or values in me... I have the absolute GIFT of no longer caring. As a middle-aged woman, society doesn't give a crap about me or expect anything from me. That's amazing! It means I can do anything I want, from wearing stripes with clashing florals, to becoming an artist, to exploring my sexuality, to becoming hyper-focused on my aging dog (who I'm so lucky to have had so many years with), to making new friends, to traveling, to going to plays by myself, to ... anything! I can do anything I want, and not only can no one stop me, but they aren't even going to notice or care.

This stage of my life is filled with possibility and freedom. It's different from the freedom you experience in youth when you have unlimited potential because you haven't done anything yet. I think it's not just different, but better -- because I feel all this possibility and freedom in my heart, mind, sinews and bones. It's deeply internal rather than external.

How did I get here? I started noticing the way people's attitudes toward me shifted and just kind of decided I didn't care. When faced with my own health challenges, I had a choice -- I could give up, I could fight, or I could live. I decided to live. I don't mean that I decided my heart should keep beating -- I decided I would do whatever makes me fulfilled and happy for as long as I can, and I recognized that the things that make me fulfilled and happy will change as I change. I think that's pretty awesome.

I can't WAIT to find out what I'm like when I'm 63, 73, 83, 93, 103, etc. And if I don't make it that long? You better believe I'm going to make the most of the time I have, because I am so lucky to be here. So so so lucky.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:41 PM on July 8 [93 favorites]

I'm so sorry for the hard time in your family. Some of this sounds like just - grief. And it is okay to grieve.

For the rest, welcome to the bottom of the "u curve." (Even though, as that article points out, it's suspect.) The good news is, it gets better.

I can confirm that the 50s (so far) are amazing and fun. I'm more than a decade ahead of you and there are a bunch of realities that start to seep in...but I also am in better shape by a long way than I was at 42, and I do have energy. I also know an 82 year old who just got his black belt.

The thing is, you don't want to 'stay young.' You want to:

- keep learning new things. I changed fields and then I changed back and both times I kind of had that "auuuugh new things are harder" moments...but they get easier the more you do them. You don't have to pitch your career out the window, but don't be afraid to challenge your brain.

- stay functionally fit, if not more - do activities you love because it is true, it gets harder to build muscle and stay fit as you age (although at 42, I saw a lot more results after a few weeks than I do now.)

- engage with people of all ages - volunteering with or doing activities that throw you into proximity of young people will both keep you around young energy and perspectives AND remind you how much youth actually sucks a lot of the time.

- do what you feel passionate about...the great thing about being at midlife is that I can have an idea and I have the skills (and sometimes, although not always, the means) to actually go and do something about it.

For your grandmother...I'm so sorry. That's hard. But a bit of real talk here - first of all, if you're 42, probably a lot of your good memories of her are from when she was in her 50s and 60s and 70s. There's a LOT of years before dementia at 96!!

Also, I am betting you regret things your grandmother can't do/love/enjoy. For crying out loud do not let your age keep you from them! Go do 'em, don't sit worrying about the day you cannot. The only day we are really promised is today.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:42 PM on July 8 [32 favorites]

At least one person in their 40s thinks it is the worst decade.

I'm 48 and while I'm in the best shape physically I have ever been, I'm also noticing other changes that are annoying. I'm just thankful to still be in my 40s because the idea of 50 is daunting AF.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 12:42 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I wonder if you might get something out of Irvin Yalom's Staring at the Sun. It's a book about existential psychotherapy and its central idea that a lot of kinds of unhappiness are, at their root, the fear of death.

On a more practical note, you will continue to get older whether you spend that time of aging doing things you find rewarding/fulfilling or lying in bed moaning about it (I say as a fellow sometime lying-in-bed-moaner-about-it) so one approach is just to go with the good stuff and see if it makes it all a bit easier to take.
posted by less-of-course at 12:43 PM on July 8 [14 favorites]

(And by the way, I'm about to turn 51 and so far: my 20s were fun, my 30s were better, my 40s sucked, and my 50s are looking pretty good. It's not a one way plunge to hell.)
posted by less-of-course at 12:44 PM on July 8 [16 favorites]

I am also turning 42 this year and I kinda feel you. One thing that may be especially true for us grizzled elder millennials is that we seem to have set a landspeed record for hurtling from “callow youths who can’t figure out how to adult” to “doddering, out-of-it cringelords” without ever being…just, like, adult-adults in the popular consciousness? I dunno, but I too brood on this more than maybe I should.

Closest thing I have to advice is simply to do your best to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Wear sunscreen and broad-brimmed hats. Move around. Check out new music. Do what you can to take care of your body and mind and when the dark ruminations recur, distract yourself. Be too busy living to dwell on our vanishing youth.
posted by Suedeltica at 12:45 PM on July 8 [18 favorites]

When I felt like this, with the pervasive, haunting belief that the good parts of my life were behind me, it was because I was falling into an extended depressive episode that I needed to treat as its own thing. I'm not saying that it's easy to accept aging or that it's actually quite a lot of fun, but the way you're framing things sounds very much like depression talking.

There's quite a lot of very sad things that come with aging - mostly losing friends and family members. My mother died before the pandemic and honestly that has shadowed my life. I've also developed an irritating and life-limiting physical disability since my mid-forties, and now I need bifocals. Sometimes I feel pretty sad about life.

At the same time, since I turned forty (fifty is coming up) I've gotten two new jobs, each more suitable than the last. (Neither one earthshattering but I feel much better about my career than I did at 39.) My memory may be a little less sharp, but I have judgement and experience to call on, so I feel better about my life and am less hard on myself. I have made new friends and taken up new hobbies and projects. Some of my volunteer work has really brought out capacities I would never have assumed that I had. I could have had a couple of relationships if I'd wanted - I've met a couple of people who were genuinely attracted to me but for various reasons I did not pursue.

Also, in a weird way, I'm a little less scared of death because I feel like I've gotten a lot of my share of the good things in life. I don't want to die right now, but when I was younger my feeling was that I would miss out on a lot and now I feel at least a little more at peace because I feel that I've gotten to do things. I'm still pretty scared of death, granted.

I'd say that I'm sad about aging a lot, especially as my fiftieth birthday swims into view, but I still feel that life may have a few good or at least interesting surprises left in the bag for me.

Your forties (or, ha ha, your early fifties!) are definitely a good time to focus on taking physical care of yourself and building strength. The pandemic really messed me up there due to lack of a gym membership, and it has made my disability worse. Hopefully I'm building back up from that.
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on July 8 [17 favorites]

I'm 42 and about to turn 43 near the end of this year, and I definitely feel as if I am living the best years of my life thus far with better years to come at least in the near future. Yes, I have some health issues now that I didn't have before which will likely get worse as I get older, but apart from that everything is just on the up and up. My life USED to suck back when I was in my 30s and 20s and teens - the years passing have done nothing but improve my life.

I say this not to brag about how awesome I am etc. but to point out to you that your notion that "being middle aged sucks in comparison to being 30" or "life will go downhill as I get older" are not a truth universally acknowledged, nor are they some kind of inevitable fact of life. This doom-and-gloom view of the future is something you believe in, it's a belief particular to yourself and you have reasons - genuine or otherwise - that make sense only to you. The thing is, though, that comparison is the thief of joy. Even if your life was objectively better before, you're making your life worse than it could be NOW by moaning about times gone by. Even if other people have objectively better lives than you and are younger than you, you're making your life worse than it could be NOW by moaning about how you aren't them.

Happily, your current thoughts and beliefs and mental state are not fixed or permanent. You aren't doomed to this suffering. There is a pretty good chance that you can change your belief about your current prospects, as well as your experience of your current life, with some work: specifically, work that involves getting very engaged in building the kind of life you want for yourself, working to dismantle whatever psychological barriers are preventing you from having the best life you can have, right here and now.

Seek therapy. You deserve to feel better about yourself and your life.
posted by MiraK at 12:48 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

For context, I just turned 45 two weeks ago.

Every year of my life creates more distance between who I am now and the heartbreakingly frightened and unhappy child that I was. Every birthday after the age of 32 is one more birthday than I assumed I would have when I was a teenager. I never imagined I would live this long because I never believed I could be this happy.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that I am now at an age where I can reasonably expect at least one person I love to die every year for the rest of my life. That's the price of admission if you want to love a lot of people. My grandmother's husband, who I adored, passed away at a very respectable 103 back in February. I miss him and I grieve him but he had a good life and made a lot of people very happy.

The number of people who I love who have died has not reduced the number of living people that I love because there are always new people and people are my favorite thing. Unless something cataclysmic happens I don't foresee the number of people in my life worth living for ever being reduced to zero. I'm excited for what's coming next, and more so because I cannot say with any certainty what it will be.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:50 PM on July 8 [19 favorites]

Also, when I was forty/forty-one I started going to therapy and it dramatically improved my life. I did two years and change of semi-weekly talk therapy and it helped me with a lot of unhappiness that had come to the fore as I'd aged - not unhappiness about aging, but unhappiness that seemed more serious as time passed and it stayed unresolved. If you have a lot of lingering stuff, a few sessions with a good therapist may give you more peace.
posted by Frowner at 12:52 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

I just turned 52. I am finally doing things that interest me, after many years of not. It's awesome. I am not longer the marketers' target demographic, which is fine by me: trading "cool" for "left alone" is pretty great. I have enough money to do what I want, and I am starting to even have some time to do it. Being over my 30s really is the sweet spot. (I say that as a father of four; YMMMV.)

Your forties will probably be great. Don't sweat the number of years you've lived so far. Just do as much as you can in the near future, and you'll be too busy living to fret (much).

Happy birthday!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:53 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

> How do you come to terms with aging and finding the motivation to go on when you've seen close family members decline due to age, and you know that this fate is what is waiting for others close to you, and yourself?

You need to start talking to some old people, not merely watch them from afar and judge their years as wasting away, declining, etc.

You seem to view older people as barely even human, just un-persons filled with misery and pain who are waiting uselessly around for death to come as a relief from their sad pathetic existence. But actually older people ARE fully human. They have rich lives, inner lives and outer lives and inbetween lives. Ask them to talk about their life. Their joys, their regrets, what they enjoy, what they hate. Really listen to them. Perhaps if you were to make connections with them, get to know them, and understand that they are fully alive, you'd be able to lose some of your dread of turning into them.
posted by MiraK at 1:00 PM on July 8 [19 favorites]

Data are consistent with what many people have said: average happiness hits bottom in your 40s and then starts increasing after 50. Some of that might be due to life circumstances - more financial security, less stress from children - which varies, but a lot of it is psychological: Older people tend to be better at appreciating what they have and what they can do, rather than stressing about shortcomings, and better at not giving a fuck about what other people think.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:01 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

For a few years now the Guardian has run a series called "A new start after 60" where people talk about things they've started doing since, well, turning 60. You might get something from it.

Physical decline is no fun on a personal level, although there might be things you can do to mitigate it. But when you talk about what society values... who cares? Society isn't you. You're the only one that really needs to value what you live through.

What’s the point of writing in all my journals or continuing to pursue hobbies when it feels like it’s all downhill from here?

What was ever the point of those things? Did writing in your journals or pursuing hobbies benefit the world in some way, or did it benefit you? (Or did you only do these things because you thought they'd help you hit it big in some way, one day?)

For some people, getting older and realizing you're (probably) never going to achieve various goals the younger you had makes it easier to stop reaching for things outside your grasp and start exploring (or just valuing) the things you can do, in your current circumstances, the people and things you do have in your life right now, and so on.

I nth volunteering, if you're looking for purpose and "value". If there's any point to anything we do beyond the effect it has on us, surely it's the effect what we do has on other people.

On that note, I've noticed that as some people age they become wiser, kinder, less judgmental, more patient, and more tolerant and considerate towards people around them, while some other people go the opposite way. I'd recommend trying hard to develop in the first direction, as a goal worth working towards in and of itself.
posted by trig at 1:17 PM on July 8 [10 favorites]

The weird thing is you still feel young inside. I'm 77 and still sometimes think I'm 19. Very odd. I take comfort in realizing the circle of life. I garden, as an amateur, and remember the young plants I put in the ground in June, and watch them blossom in the summer months and then go into decline. This makes terrible sense to me. My mind is still sharp. I read a lot, do the internet, have vivid memories of the 60s and what my generation went through...My tribe(close friends) who I partied with in my 20s and 30s are all deceased, mostly from Aids. They were gone in their early 50s I wonder often how it missed me. I just try to be a good person, help people when I can...what we learned in kindergarten...and realize most of the world problems will still be here when I'm gone. My interest in current events, pop culture and politics have been gone for a while. But I still have many interests. I have some faith and interest in religion and that is comforting. BTW, my 40s were not a great time. 50s and 70s were better...70s you physically slow down.
posted by Czjewel at 1:18 PM on July 8 [21 favorites]

I think most able-bodied people go through some kind of complicated grief when they first internalise that being able-bodied doesn't last forever. But plenty of people with disabilities (whether elderly or not) manage to resolve that grief and live a happy fulfilled life, adapted to their physical needs.

After all, if you went to live with a family of giant aliens, you'd probably find yourself "disabled" by your inability to climb their giant stairs or reach the door handles. Disability is contextual and not judgemental.

Also, don't underestimate the benefits of getting wiser and more experienced as you get older. Just - make sure you look after your body, your mental health and your relationships with friends and family.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:33 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]

Another oldie here. I turn 76 next month if I make it. It's quite strange when I remember that I never expected to live beyond high school. Today I rode my bicycle 42 miles with 1800 feet of elevation. It's become an obsession of sorts and I am grateful that I am still passionate about a number of things.

I know that at some point I will become ill and eventually die. But, not today. I stay in the moment because that's all I can claim as my own. In the present moment I am ageless and out of time. That being said, I am still in 2024. After 2 decades of traveling the world, I am listening to my inner Greta Thunberg and staying home with the garden and the bicycle and hoping my small gesture of not flying makes a difference in the world. I venerate all life and the planet which still sustains life.

I avoid comparison to others at all costs. This is my life and not yours. Comparison darkens the path ahead and limits my ability to make the clear effective decisions needed in these challenging times.

Lastly, I usually expect to be he oldest person in almost every group I belong to and it's great. Actually being able to experience the fullness of time's onward rush is the ultimate wave. May you be able to catch that wave yourself.
posted by Xurando at 1:47 PM on July 8 [23 favorites]

This sounds like depression! I can look around for 2 seconds and find VIBRANT rebuttals of every point you made... it is EXTREMELY possible to live a full awesome life as a single childfree person in your 40s-50s-60s-70s-80s. There are so many proofs of that, so if you can't see them, to me it seems more like evidence that you're depressed.

- You can be a mom if you want, my single friend started fostering kids at age 40.

- My 60 year old single friend discovered a long lost sister 10 years ago through a DNA test! She was SO happy to learn she was an Auntie, that she committed to taking her new-found nieces out on a date every single Tuesday after school, and she hosts their family for Shabbat dinner at least once a month. They're super close now!

And you don't need to be a surprise blood relative to make a commitment like this:

- You could really lean into a relationship with someone else's child. As a mom I would LOOOOVE it if I had a 40something friend who committed to hang out with my kids 1-2 x per month!! That would be a JOY for me, and the kids, and, I think, that person, too. Kids are deep and fascinating. The better you know a child, the more fulfilling the relationship with the child becomes.

- One of my friends is a 45 yo gay man who isn't going to have kids. He sends an e-transfer of $30 a month to several kids / parents in his life, like an Uncle Bonus. He said he started it because he wanted a little percentage of his life's earnings to directly support raising some people in the world's next generation, and he joked that he hopes in return the kids will visit him when he's old!

- One of my friends is a 70 yo gay man who's one of my lifestyle heroes. He's active, social, lives in a cheap apartment that he's made beautiful with paint and plants. He travels, goes on cruises, hosts dinner parties, goes to EVERY cultural event and has tons of hobbies like community theatre and photography. He definitely has some lifetime regrets & pain: he's aging, as are his family and friends. He lost his husband to the AIDS crisis and never dated again. He would have loved to have kids, but gay men in his generation didn't really do that. So his life hasn't been perfect, but MAN is he making the best of it. His life is beauty-full and exciting in lots of ways. He does way cooler stuff than I do!

- If you want to be dating, start dating! Dating in your 30s is kind of hard because it's prime / urgent baby-making time, so a large subset of the population is dating to find a spouse and make kids, and leaving the dating pool when that happens. But come 45+, fertility isn't a factor anymore, plus tons of marriages have split up so there are lots more divorced people around that you can date.

- Grandparents and parents can die at any age! I never had grandparents. I know CHILDREN whose parents have died. You were never guaranteed or owed grandparents, and it's an absolute GIFT that you had them to your 40s, I would have loved if I even had mine to my teens! Plus it bodes quite well for your genetics that two of your grandparents were pretty healthy into their 90s! Just spend time with them and make memories that can be sweet when they're gone. Losing elder relatives is very sad but it's a normal part of life that almost everyone experiences, and the death of an elder can GIVE you things too, like perspective, urgency, inheritance, no more judgement, no more pain for them, more freedom when you don't have caregiving or filial tasks, etc.

- Finally, lots of great books and shows feature people in their 40s +. Heck the "sexiest woman in the world", Angelina Jolie, is almost 50 now. Follow the careers of some middle-aged actors you like. Or write one yourself!

- TLDR, it sounds like depression, not logic. Get thee to therapy.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:53 PM on July 8 [19 favorites]

In my 60s. Three words: Balance of Nature. (Just kidding). All I can say is that I wish there was more than 20 or 30 years left for me. At 42, my kids were 7, 8, and 9. Ying yangs. It was crazy busy, but so much fun. I sound like the typical old person, but time is fleeting. Sure its all downhill, but you are at the top of a very very tall mountain.

I used to be "The kid". Youngest person at one point on the American Stock Exchange. Youngest person on my adult softball team (now I am the oldest). No great advice, just have a positive mental attitude. It is so much easier. Learn to laugh at yourself. Take care of yourself. Exercise and eat right. Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. You will not regret the ones you take, only the ones you do not take.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:55 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I've read 24 fiction books this year so far and 10 of them have featured a protagonist over 40. (This number is further skewed from reading all 5 Twilight books during a fevered week I will not be apologizing for.) I think I'm on my 18th nonfiction book and the ones about people have all been about people over 40 because guess what, people over 40 generally have more going on in their lives to write about.

Maybe you can write fantasy stories with 40+ protagonists and that could be a fun thing for you to do with your wasted, ancient years?

But seriously though I think you'd get value from some short term therapy to learn better coping strategies for your changing body. This is something I recommend to people a lot. You need to do some work to cultivate some body neutrality.

I was born with a congenital neurological condition and my body has never worked right. I realized in my early 20s when I was with the first boyfriend who was starting to lose his hair that my disabilities actually gave me a leg up on this. I've already had to learn how to cope with a body that doesn't work, that crisis of self has passed, and so I have never had to suffer the ego death of illness, aging, etc. There are therapists who specialize in this, and I believe it will help.
posted by phunniemee at 1:56 PM on July 8 [15 favorites]

I am 46 & a woman. I have kids, and my parents' health is declining, and my body aches in a low key way that I know will never stop til I stop for good. This is my context.

I am feeling liberated in my 40s, partly because middle-aged women are practically invisible. I don't worry anymore of what people think of me (they likely don't) and I've stopped trying to make impressions on people (I likely don't). I feel it is my stealth super power to center my thoughts on me when moving through society.

I am not afraid of getting older, and feel that something shifted for me in the last few years where I am working with my body and mind, rather than fighting it or trying to force myself into a "shape" that others find pleasing.

1) for my physical health: I've joined a swim team and work to find joy in movement. A dog has helped with getting those daily walks in, too. I catalogue my aches and pains and work to strengthen and/or stretch the area to work with my body. I honour my energy and work to maintain my health and strength.

2) for my career health: I keep my head down and move around a lot. I don't try to bring leadership or non-compatible colleagues alongside with my ideas, but I aggressively nurture relationships with like-minded peers. I have collected a wonderful group of fellow cogs wherever I go!

3) for my mind: I try to say yes to new opportunities to learn skills, techniques, or ways of thinking. I am lucky to have older friends to whom I can look for models of what my life can be. I also have younger friends. I am happy to be out of their stages of life (so much yearning and emotional energy expenditure!), but am grateful for how working with younger people keeps me open to new ideas, ways of thinking and new social norms.

I try let the stuff I can't change just move past me, like leaves in a stream. This is such a massive difference from how I strived to control myself, others, and systems when I was younger. I can spend that previously wasted energy on things I can control now.

I hope you find a way to find joy and fulfillment in being precisely where you are in each stage of your life. Sending you good luck and vibes.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 1:56 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]

I'm 42. I haven't had a living grandparent since 1995, and my mom has been gone for five years now. Sometimes I miss her so much that I burst into tears in the middle of the day. I love my young children but I find that barely have time for myself between my job and housework and childcare. So there are some things that I could find enviable about your situation. I bet that there are some things that you could find enviable about mine.

I think it helps me to focus on what I have rather than what I don't have. I know that there are people who have more than me who are less satisfied, and people who have less that are more satisfied. I think often of a quote from Jessamyn that goes something like "Everyone's struggle is their hardest struggle". I take that to mean, in part, that we all can feel our full range of feelings no matter our circumstances--it's not as though if I were richer or handsomer or younger or smarter that I would have a greater capacity for satisfaction or happiness. I think everyone needs some guiding principles: some of mine are: "Did I put in a good effort, relative to my situation and abilities?" "Am I supporting a cause that is greater than myself today?" "Did I make things easier for the people I came into contact with today?" No Zoomer sleeps better than me when I live a day according to my principles.
posted by Kwine at 2:11 PM on July 8 [9 favorites]

You seem to be both angrily complaining that "society" doesn't see any value in older people, and at the same time saying you don't see any yourself.

You were always just gonna die, so what was the point at any time? Whatever the point was before, that's still the point. People twice your age, people drawing their last breaths, would love to have the time and opportunities that you're deciding aren't worth bothering with. This is the only existence you're ever going to have, and it's not over. It's still going on. If there was ever any chance that the future might contain something wonderful, there still is. Good luck to us all.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:28 PM on July 8 [12 favorites]

Let yourself grieve. It's worth investigating whether depression is playing a role here, sure. But you're also in a crucible of sorts. Things are changing. You (we) are leaving the shore of youth, and you didn't choose it or want it or even realize you'd pushed off until you were out in the water. Almost any major change involves loss, and there are real losses associated with leaving the time in your life where the future seemed (and was) more open on many fronts.

I do not think you will always feel the way you do right now, but I don't think you get to the part where you start to figure out and really appreciate what the gifts of aging are by trying to skip over this part. Let yourself feel it for as long as you need to. I was here last year, for months. I cried about it and talked about it and felt my despair and that's just what it was. On the other side of that time, I feel a little more settled, more accepting of having moved into a new phase of life. I don't fully know what that means--that'll take some living--and I expect that this is a process that I will repeat more than once in the future, should I be fortunate enough to keep living. But I am okay, and I think you can be okay too. Move through it. Here with you.
posted by wormtales at 2:45 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

You mention the prospect of living to be 100 so I recommend Paul Daoust’s article where he, as a 60 something, resolved to do that and considers what it means in terms of lifestyle - he did some follow ups too. The point of such a resolution, I think, is that to helps focus on trying to extend healthy and happy years of life.
posted by rongorongo at 3:01 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

When we are young, we don't really understand that our ageism isn't about other people who are old, but also our future selves. We also don't really understand that our youthfulness isn't an inherent part of us. We live in a culture that definitely prefers many things associated with youthfulness. Unpacking that (and it does start for many of us at age 40, when we realize we can no longer pretend we are young) is quite a trip. In a few years, you'll start getting postcards from the AARP. Sheesh!

So, the best thing to do is start working through your own ageism, both internal and when applied to others. I think you need more models of positive and healthy aging. There's an entire industry built around this, and I'd try to avoid that. But, try to avoid consuming too much culture (tv, social media, etc) that emphasizes youthfulness as the only and preferred way of being, that makes being 25 seem the only way to be normal. Here are a few paths:

-Spend time with healthy folks who are different ages. Look at your friend group. Do you have friends from a diversity of age groups? I have friends who rage in age from 20-ish years younger to 15-ish years older. Seeing my younger friends go through the challenges of hitting 40 was weirdly helpful for me in reflecting on my own aging. If your friends are all your age or younger, maybe try to mix that up and branch out. But also, my friend who is 61 is definitely not any stereotype of old! He's incredibly energetic and vibrant. He also has a lot of friends from a wide range of ages.

-Cultivate a different attitude about aging. I read once (I have no idea where) that folks who age the best, in terms of health, are the folks who have the best attitude about aging. This is a place where "fake it til you make it" can start to shift your perspective on things. So instead of "I'm 40 and now I'm old," try for "I'm 40, and now I am free to be who and what I want, without societal expectations." My attitude about aging has been getting better and better. There's no shame in your age; it's just a fact.

-Understand that expecting the worst and the decline can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's so important to work against that.

-Realize that those aches and pains aren't part of an inevitable decline, but warning sides that you need to do certain things to take different care of your physical body. What is your physical health routine? If you don't have one, it's time to work towards that. I started lifting weights a few years ago and took a break, and now I am back, getting over my fear of gyms, and lifting at a place that is very welcoming. I realized the best thing I can do for my future self is lift heavy things now. And, it feels good! It has great mental and physical health benefits for my current self. I have had some health setbacks over the past few years and am working hard to stay focused on being healthier, not give in to despair.

You said your grandmother is 96 and starting to lose her independence. But also, how awesome is it that your grandmother has been independent for that long? You have good genes in your family! I share the concern of others that it sounds like you might be dealing with some depression. Have you always had a pessimistic outlook? If this is a change, it might not be your age, but your current mental health situation.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:11 PM on July 8 [14 favorites]

Personally if I don’t have a project to throw my self into, I can get irritable and depressed. This was as true in my 20s as it is in my 40s.

So find some project and preferably one that pays it forward in some sense - plant a tree in whose shade you will never sit.

For me I am SO looking forward to volunteering at the local hatchery and wildlife to help with baby salmon. They request a volunteer commitment of a year every Saturday morning and I have school children so I just can’t but the second I have the time I’m there.

That’s my simple Rx - doing something with my hands that benefits others. For some reason it helps with the blues.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:30 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Echoing bluedaisy -- try to make your friend group more intergenerational! One of my friend groups consists of about a dozen people, and I am the youngest at 44. Sometimes I make a crack about being old and the 50-somethings are like, "Pipe down, whippersnapper." My friends in their 60s and 70s always marvel at how young I am, and how much time I have left. At 44! Because in the grand scheme of things, IT IS QUITE YOUNG. If you can remove the societal obsession with the 18-34 demographic, and not focus on the end of your reproductive years (if you're AFAB), you come to realize that you might NOT EVEN BE HALFWAY THROUGH YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW. If I live to 100, I have 56 years to go, which is a VERY long time.

You might enjoy the books of Dr. Marc Agronin, who is a geriatric psychiatrist and has written two beautiful books about aging. He points out that even people in their 80s and 90s with dementia can experience joy, growth, and fulfillment.

I do some anti-racism volunteer work, and there are so many people in my group who are in their 60s and 70s, living vibrant, active, meaningful lives. They are trying to make the world a better place on a daily basis, and have true purpose and passion when they wake up in the morning. They are my role models.

I think your worldview needs to be shifted -- you have a lot to look forward to, if you can reframe aging and surround yourself with people who are doing it well.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 3:35 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I watched my brother die a painful death from cancer. He didn't get to grow old. I see it as a privilege and I try to make it meaningful in his honor.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:36 PM on July 8 [16 favorites]

I’m getting old. I can either try to be active and involved and somewhat cheerful about it or I can bitch and moan about it for the next forty years, and I’d rather not be miserable. That’s not to say that there aren’t downsides! But who do you want to spend time with, the 50 year old who flaunts cool reading glasses or the one who spends every conversation bemoaning their latest health issue and crabbing about Gen Z? I’ve been around both kinds of people; I know which I prefer.
posted by Vatnesine at 4:33 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

> Society does not see the potential in older people

The key is to realize that this is great.

People tend to spend their youth ruled by narrative: building, planning, preparing, trying to follow an arc that is expected of you and that you expect of yourself. The older you get, the less any of that matters. Now you can really pick and choose from the menu and live the life that you want to, and live it for yourself -- not for your parents, not for the stories, not to build a future, but just to do what feels right to you today. There's no one you need to impress.
posted by eraserbones at 4:47 PM on July 8 [11 favorites]

Another thing I've found helpful: we tend to do a lot of intergenerational sniping in our culture, whether it's millennials vs boomers, or Gen Xers (my people) moaning that we are ignored. And the negativity towards Gen Z the last few years is pretty gross, too, in my opinion. I think some of that Gen Z negativity has come from millennials who didn't realize that being the young folks wasn't permanent, and who are struggling a bit with the idea that another generation might have even a worse situation than them. And who struggle with no longer being the definition of youth culture (you see this a LOT in conversations about changes in fashion, whether jeans or sock height). It's also a bit too easy to be nasty about the boomers (admittedly, I do it at times).

There are good conversations here about generations and what different folks are experiencing at different times, but the emphasis on this can be pretty emotionally unhealthy, I think. So if you're around folks who are disparaging of young folks, or older folks, or whatever, it might be healthy to distance yourself from that way of thinking.

I also want to observe that a LOT of folks are down right now. We are coming out (?) of a terrible pandemic, in a pretty politically polarized time, during an era of dramatic climate change and impact. It might not just be your age that makes you sad about the future.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:00 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

If you do enough variety of exercise (walking, jogging, weight lifting) and eat and sleep well you will be younger than you have ever been. Just be consistent and don't overdo it. Also, give yourself a full year if you commit yourself to exercise. But again, don't overdo it like so many tend to do.

Additionally, try to be genuinely kind and curious about people and learning stuff.
posted by tarvuz at 5:33 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]

I’ve been enjoying a podcast from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Wiser Than Me” - she interviews women who are older than her (late 60s or older; some in their upper 90s). She asks them about their experiences with aging. Their responses are not all positive, but the podcast just leaves me with a very positive feeling.

A book that left me with a similar feeling that there are things to look forward to in aging is “What Fresh Hell is This?” by Heather Corinna. It’s mostly about how perimenopause sucks, so it’s strange that it made me feel that way, but it was so honest and funny, and that made the good parts believable too.

For what it’s worth, I turned 50 this year and I wouldn’t go back to any of my prior decades. I don’t think I’ve peaked yet.
posted by Kriesa at 6:09 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]

Do you have any friends from a culture that emphasizes respecting elders? You might find it helpful to ask them questions about aging in their culture, and hear about the differences.

It's been eye-opening seeing how elders are treated in some cultures. For example, I was traveling with an elderly relative in another country. People smiled at her, gave up their seats to her, and went out of their way to be nice to her. Meanwhile, many of the same people were impatient toward me. At restaurants and hotels, she got better service than I did. We eventually ended up with her asking for all service-related requests because the difference in treatment was so stark.

The best analogy I can use is that senior citizens in that culture are treated the way that the US treats gorgeous young women. Senior citizens there can act entitled, and people put up with it. They even have phrases that mean "old people acting entitled just because they're old". It's the equivalent of how the US has the phrase "pretty privilege".

The elderly in these other cultures still have bodily aches and limitations, and they deal with the emotional weight of their peers passing away. But it's interesting to separate out the unescapable burden of how aging changes one's body, versus the extra emotional cost due to ageism in our society. Identifying the ageism can help us resist it to some extent.
posted by cheesecake at 7:00 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Meaning: The most resonant thoughts I've seen came out of Nazi concentration camps, particularly in the writings of Victor Frankl. He observed that fellow prisoners who felt personal meaning tended to live, and those who felt their life was meaningless -- not unreasonable given the circumstances -- tended to fade away.

A common thread in personal meanings was acting in service to others. It took many forms, but helping others scratched that itch for people.


There are four basic existential issues: Death, Isolation, Meaning, and Freedom. The script society pushes when you're young discourages thinking too closely about any of them.

Now the script is done (or you can see the end of it) and you're being forced to face all four. It can be a rough time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:06 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

In all honesty, 42 was an amazing year for me and I feel like life has been getting better since. I started (social) dancing at 41 and really dug into it at 42. Now I teach, run regularly, and feel healthier and more connected to my body and community than I ever did in my thirties. 45 felt like a big milestone, but 50 came and went with me too busy with life to pay it much attention.

My body needs a bit longer to recover than it used to, and my eyes are growing bags, and I have the privilege of being a man - which I recognize is a totally different set of standards than you are confronting. At the same time, it is the age of nothing left to prove, an ability to blend into the background a bit more when you want, the freedom to be more genuine and less performative.

If you approach every day with wonder and excitement you'll forget your age, and so will the people around you. Be curious. Astonish yourself. You have so much potential and decades of life to live!
posted by meinvt at 7:07 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I'm 55, and what I've learned since turning 40 and especially 50 is...I don't give a shit how old I am. Yes, there are certain things I can't do as well any more as I could when I was 20 - I used to go to shows several nights a week, but now I only go to work-night shows if it's a band I've either never seen before or, in the case of Redd Kross this Wednesday for example, a band I dearly love. And when I do go to that rare weeknight show, I plan on starting work the next day an hour or so late. But also - I don't care if I don't go out very often? Because I also love hanging out at home with my wife and my cats, and if I miss a band I've seen several times before because they happen to be here on a Tuesday this time through instead of a Saturday, I'll be just fine.

And I also realize that while I can still ride my bike 50+ miles at a time, I can't do it 2-3 consecutive days any more; a day off in between does wonders. But, mentality-wise, I really work hard not to care about "how old I am", because the moment I give in to "I'm old", the moment I stop living the life I want to live, and that's when I turn into a lump and just start to disintegrate. I walk most places I need to go, I read a lot, I talk to a lot of people...there's no magic secret to it, it's just a matter of staying mentally engaged with the world around you in whatever way makes you comfortable.

I'm not saying you have to, like, discover you're a marathon runner or that you all of a sudden want to build a house with your bare hands or whatever - there's no single revelation that unlocks a deep truth to be had about life as you get older. But you can learn to be comfortable with who you are, and keep living the life you want to live - whatever that means to you - and stop worrying about the number of years you've lived that life. Just live, and enjoy, and let other people deal with What It Means To Be (whatever number age).
posted by pdb at 9:18 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

In some ways, your forties can be harder than what comes after, since you are still getting so much pressure to seem younger than you are and haven't yet seen some of the payoffs of the next phase.

A few years ago I asked this question about the best things about getting older and got some truly wonderful answers. Reading through them might cheer you up a little.
posted by rpfields at 10:39 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]

Thinking more about it, I went mostly grey, started with salt and pepper hair, at around 42 or so. I think that really helped me come to grips with the aging thing. There was a certain acceptance while my body and mind were still in very good shape that aging is coming and it is a natural thing and to either embrace it or at least accept it. I am not a dye my hair kind of guy so I embraced it. It does help that I have a full head of hair.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:27 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I turned 41 a couple of weeks ago. I'm a man. I don't have kids, I don't have a girl-/boyfriend, no pets. I'm a freelancer so I'm unemployed most of the time and have all the time in the world to tinker with my art and music and books. My life doesn't seem like much to anyone from the outside; in fact a lot of people would view me as the classic loser bachelor stoner with maybe more than a bit of an alcohol problem. I mostly have no issues about this. After struggling with drinking too much in my 20's and 30's I've leveled in my relationship with alcohol in which I'm healthier than I've ever been wrt drinking and I'm continuing in my ways to make my life a little healthier by adding good stuff to it, this is a concious long-time project and I'm really interested to see how it goes, because small things done regularily really do add up over time. SMALL and TIME being the big words here.

What I'm saying is there are different ways to live your life and you really do get to pick and choose, even more so if you are alone. My life isn't really GOING anywhere or anything much, but I keep on getting immense amounts of satisfaction of the good things in the life I've built for myself. In some way, I really am living the dream: I get to decide who I share my time and space with. I've had a couple of relationships, longest eight years, and I don't miss the way I had to minimize my own needs for space etc. to accommondate someone else, even if they were wonderful people and I loved them so much. I've never wanted kids and so maybe I'm not feeling as missed out as someone who didn't basically like being alone and had always wanted a family.

So what I'm getting at is that it is completely fine to just live your own quiet life the way you feel most comfortable with, even though it "may not be much". There's plenty of time for us to find excitement anywhere, in anything, even if the world didn't end up surprising us with a Huge Romance or whatever "the dream" is.
posted by fridgebuzz at 4:09 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]

Someone above referenced the happiness "U" curve of life, and I have big thoughts about it... from what I read a while back, happiness bottoms out at 47.2 years. Personally, I think it was somewhere closer to 45 for me. I was deep in therapy, had horrible job stress and a busy life with three active kids, gained a sudden 20 pounds, and just lost my mom to Alzheimer's. I cried every day for roughly a year.

BUT-- I'm a few weeks from 48 now, and things are just better now. Some of that is the passage of active grief, for sure. And luckily, good changes at work. Last fall, I jokingly figured out exactly when my 47.2-years-old spot was on the calendar and celebrated its passing. My husband and I took a weekend hiking trip to a National Park, which made a lovely sort of commemoration. I can feel myself sliding into a great time of life, one where I know exactly who I am, what I love, and where I will focus my time and attention. Some of it is sheer simplicity... I know what books I want to read. How I like to spend vacations. What media to avoid because I don't like how it makes me feel. My favorite flavors of tea. I have houseplants that have been with me for decades. I don't have it all figured out, but I do know that each day that I face with gratitude is typically a good one.
posted by hessie at 5:55 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]

How many novels (especially fantasy, one of my fav. genres) have you read that feature a 40+ year old protagonist? Not many, I'm willing to wager.

Here to suggest The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi, about a Muslim woman and pirate queen in her forties. Seeing ourselves in our favorite genres really does help!
posted by tasseomance at 10:40 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]

I get it. I just turned 45 and there are days when I think, ohhh man I'm too late to do some stuff. But honestly... I'm not, and you're not. Can I suddenly start doing gymnastics tomorrow and qualify for the Olympics? Mmm, probably not. But then, I probably never could.

What inspires me is this - while some things are out of my reach, other things are not, and there is PLENTY of time to get to my very best in those things. For example, two years ago I started weight training and I do it three times a week. Believe me when I say I am in FAR better shape now at 45 than I was in my 20s or 30s. This is the strongest I've ever been. 40s are freaking awesome.

I met a woman last week in her 80s who went on a recent trip to Antarctica and met her current boyfriend. Her CURRENT boyfriend, as in, eh hes good for now but who knows what better man will come along next! Its all attitude.

Start something new tomorrow. Study a new language. Start doing pilates. Start doing water colors. Take singing lessons. Start bird watching. Anything. And then in a year, you will say Wow at 43, this is the best I've ever been at this thing!
posted by silverstatue at 10:40 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]

Apology in advance since I didn't read every single answer above, but I am a male going to turn 71 soon and I only retired October 2023 (the long commute just got to be too much).
On the plus side:
- I still go shopping at market and Costco, still bring everything in from the car and put it away, take the trash out, attend Church services on Sunday, create projects in Windows and Linux (I was a programmer). I believe my memory and conversational skills are reasonably good.
When I was 42 was in 1995 and as you can see I still worked another 28 years, and did a lot of work around the house on weekends and time off.
On the minus side:
- I had a hip replacement at 68 and so if I go under the desk to wire something getting back up isn't easy, I use a chair as a prop.
- I also have had spinal stenosis since I was 66 so I really cannot walk (or jog) long distances. My lower back muscles just get really fatigued (no pain). For instance, I cannot walk "around the block". I use an elliptical and/or treadmill plus some resistance exercise.
- I have arthritis in my hands and shoulders.
Of course maybe it goes without saying, but the longer I have lived the more friends and relatives who have passed away. On the other hand it's great to see my children and grandchildren grow and graduate and get/change jobs.
You asked about motivation. There are a lot of books out there that address this question. Probably hundreds, but I would randomly mention David Goggins "You Can't Hurt Me", William McRaven "Make Your Bed", Marcus Aurelius "Meditations", and "Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity" by Bill Gifford.
Also, don't forget to discuss a Will and Advance Directives with your attorney.
posted by forthright at 2:39 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]

Last month I had the sudden, disconcerting realization that not only was it the thirtieth (?!) anniversary of my mom's passing, at 55 I'm now older than she was when she died. Time is so weird.

At any rate, I love being in my 50s. It feels like the pressure is off in so many ways. In particular, I no longer have the desperate, anguished need to know what I'm "supposed" to be doing with my life, the fear that I'm missing out on something, that the "good stuff" is slipping between my fingers. By the standards of much of society, I've already missed out. I don't have a partner or kids. I haven't become famous or wealthy; I don't have big accomplishments that will give me a place in history. I'm terminally uncool.

And you know what? I don't care! Time has given me the perspective and self-knowledge to be comfortable with the fact that I am who I am--that my life is the life I'm living now. I can do what I want with it, and I don't have to please anybody but myself. And I *don't* feel like I've missed out, because truly none of those things were important to me. Friends are important, and my cat, and reading good books, and watching fireflies in the back yard. I've got meaningful work that pays a decent salary, a roof over my head, and a view from my windows. I recognize that I'm privileged in so many ways, and I'm grateful every day for all that I have and all that I've done and all that I've seen and all that I've loved. And there's more to come! Maybe decades! How awesome is that?

I'm still here, I'm getting older, and I'm cool with that. Society can suck it.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 5:07 PM on July 9 [8 favorites]

I turn 63 this year, but I don't feel old. Assuming you have reasonable health and can keep being active, there's no reason to 'feel old' at any age - that feeling is largely a state of mind. My observations are that how much you feel age has a lot to do with who you hang around and what you and they do. I've always tended to hang around with people younger than me because I feel like people 'my age' are too inactive in both mind and body. People often seem surprised that I do things like wakeboarding and jetskiing and getting on a dance floor after a few drinks and making a fool of myself as if that sort of thing is reserved for young people and that's not me. Well, my attitude is fuck them if that's how they feel - I'm going to keep doing any and all of the things I enjoy for as long as I enjoy them.

You've probably heard the saying 'you don't give up the things you love because you get old, you get old because you give up the things you love'. I basically live by this saying and truly believe it's a core part of remaining youthful, in heart at least. I see so many people of similar ages to me saying 'oh no, I'm too old for things like that' as an excuse not to do something.

What does that have to do with you? Fuck other people's expectations, fuck society's expectations and do what you want. You stay youthful by staying true to yourself and not letting other people talk you into aging. You're barely into your 40s and have so much life left to live! There's plenty of fun and excitement, lust and love (don't believe the lies that men aren't interested, trust me!) in your future if you let it in. Easy to say and I know too well that's it's harder to do. But I feel much better about my life and the person I am since I stopped caring one bit about what other people think is appropriate for someone my age.
posted by dg at 11:18 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

On behalf of Crones United International (60-69 division), I hereby welcome you on your impending arrival -- kicking and screaming and yelling a blue streak -- at the lofty milestone that is aged maturity.
Your newsletter is in the mail (yes, snail mail, stop snarking).

You've paid your dues, you've done your time.
And now after years of questioning, you find yourself... filled with feverish excitement.
It's here! It's happening!
You finally qualify for that highly anticipated introductory level:
Menopause, aka Puberty with more hair in unexpected places.
Don't wait! Sign up today!

And, as a one time, limited availability promotion for our most decerning clients, the first hundred participants will also receive our special exclusive offer:
Premenopause, or I'M JUST FINE DAMMIT but you are standing on my last nerve!
** taken only as directed, usually but not exclusively towards a significant other **
We're gray! We're proud! We ran out of fucks a -- long -- time ago!
Those wrinkles? That's nature's tattoos.
Sagging no longer requires pants.
I'm working on my third childhood here, BRB.
No periods, no problems.

The first step is the hardest, but if you just... lean... hard enough... you will realize that there are plenty of us putting the style into senior citizens.
And AARP is just fine. But you have years to go before you need to think about it, you dear innocent young whippersnapper.
Now get off my lawn, please.
posted by TrishaU at 11:29 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

I found this recent article in The Atlantic encouraging: You Might Be a Late Bloomer (subtitle: The life secrets of those who flailed early but succeeded by old age).
posted by rochrobbb at 3:57 AM on July 10

How many novels (especially fantasy, one of my fav. genres) have you read that feature a 40+ year old protagonist? Not many, I'm willing to wager.

The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe is one of my favorite fantasy novels and the protagonist is..I don't know, around fifty? Fifty-five?

Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn has two middle-aged human protagonists, the wizard and Molly Grue.

A lot of Samuel Delany's novels have middle aged protagonists or significant middle aged characters in ensemble stories.

I actually think there's quite a lot of fantasy novels with middle aged protagonists, but they are seldom novels where being middle-aged is the focus, which on one hand can be good (who wants to sit around and ruminate on their age all the time? There are war unicorns to ride!) but also can fall into the "age is literally just a number, the protagonist is a twenty-five year old who just happens to be forty" thing where age doesn't impact characterization at all.

On another note, in the past couple of years, several of my anxiety dreams have changed form - rather than ending as I still frantically search for the passport/wallet/bus/etc, they end with finding the thing. They're still anxious dreams, but I can't help but feel that the change reflects more of a sense of confidence and faith in my ability to address problems.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

I've had losses, some difficult times, and complicated events. Aging is a long process, if you're lucky to keep living. My body is less useful and reliable. My health is not wonderful. Most of my family is a real mess, I now ignore a bunch of them. Climate Crisis, and the dominance of the very wealthy/ corporations is daunting. Old people are not valued much. Old women? barely valued at all.

The world is an amazing place, every day. It seems stupidly simple, but I am wicked curious and love to see how things turn out. I love watching the sky, the weather, nature, my neighborhood. I have a dog, she is high maintenance so she keeps me attentive and gives affection and companionship.

I get lonely. The assassination attempt is a major thing and it made me lonely to deal with it on my own. So I came to the MeFi thread for information and company, and it helped. Friendships end in death, somebody moves, gets married, whatever, but I still make some friends. Books, music, streaming video are great company, make my mind work.

It would be nicer to have my young body, but acceptance is the only path. I am grateful my mind seems to be in decent shape; I'm still great company. Metafilter is unique and a great resource, and some social media. It is very true that growing old is a privilege, so you might as well deal with it.
posted by theora55 at 1:10 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]

It seems like a lot of these responses focus on still being fit and able despite age. I'd like to offer another perspective, as someone who is quite disabled at 58. I was recently diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a rare disease that has been plaguing me for years in the form of many, many hard-to-pin down symptoms. I've had a headache every day of my life for 31 years now.

Two years ago, with the help of the local domestic abuse agency, I left a relationship of 29 years that had been so amazingly good for 20+ years that I really believed it was going to last forever. Two of my four children, now 23 and 29, are living with severe mental illnesses. The 23-year-old is currently in a psychiatric hospital, yet again, which at least gives us a respite. The 29-year-old is decompensating badly after their partner of three years left them out of the blue the Friday before last.

Thanks to working with the domestic abuse agency, I got access to Section 8 rent subsidies, which kicked in just as the 12 months of Rapid Rehousing money that paid my rent for a year expired. I couldn't have accessed these or many other services if I weren't working with the agency. My ex, who makes a lot of money, stopped paying child support in July of 2021. In April, my chronic headache flared up so badly I missed three weeks of work at an hourly job. There was no money coming in. This plunged me into real poverty, bad enough that there were a couple of times when I shoplifted food in order to be able to eat dinner. I am never well enough to work full-time, and never will be.

All of this after an absolutely epic flare-up put me in bed for three and a half years starting in the fall of 2014, and after an illness in 2021-22 during which I was unable to eat for nine months. I still can tolerate very few foods, can very rarely eat more than a few bites of solid food like a sandwich or a piece of chicken or fish, and suffer from foods not tasting right so that I rarely fully enjoy anything I eat. I look instead for foods I can tolerate. There aren't many of them. There are complex reasons for this, but feeding myself is a real challenge.

And yet: this is a great time of life for me. I'm doing the best creative work (writing) of my life, with the most confidence and self-assurance I've ever had. I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances who have been an invaluable help me to, lending or giving me money to help me leave my ex, supporting me by running errands for me or doing my laundry. I've made two new close friends in the past year. Since our division of assets has been finalized, I'm in better financial shape than I expected to be (my half of my ex's retirement accounts came to about $100,000 more than the best I had hoped for. My financial advisor assures me I'm going to be fine in the long term). I've been traveling a lot by train to visit friends, who are all very OK with the fact that when I get to them, I spend most of my time on their couch.

The cohort of "women" I'm part of is doing amazing things post-menopausally. I put "women" in quotes because one thing a number of my friends have done is come out as trans or nonbinary after menopause. They've started successful businesses, become organizers, or, like me, found themselves in the best creative shape of their lives. We make being our age, late 50s/early 60s, seem like a really vital, exciting time of life. This is true even though I am not the only one living with disabilities of various kind, from Erlers-Danlos Syndrome to blindness to a history of brain tumors.

Last fall, I applied to finally get my Ph.D. from a university with a really exciting English department. I was waitlisted for funding, and didn't make it off the waitlist. I'm not 100% sure whether I'll apply again this fall; my health makes being able to do anything full-time really iffy, and if I'm not full-time, I can't get funded. But we'll see.

I saved a tweet last year from a person named Doug Murano. He wrote, "I get tired of 'under 40' lists. Give me the person who got their PhD at 60 after losing everything. Give me the 70-year-old debut novelist who writes from a lifetime of love and grief." I felt called out and appreciated. Even if I don't get the PhD, I'm here to tell you that life can be worth living, can be joyful and rich, even if you're not able-bodied into old age, even if you lose everything you thought was permanent, even if you have to start over.

You never know when your life is going to enter a new era. You never know when you're going to find yourself thinking, "this is the best time of my life." There are things, both in my life and in the world, that worry and distress me, but I'm also full of joy at what I'm able to do these days.

I ran into an old friend last week who fell in love recently, at the age of 72. She couldn't stop beaming as she told me about it. I would like to be in love again one day. She and her partner give me hope it can still happen for me. I'm only 58, after all.
posted by Well I never at 8:53 PM on July 14 [2 favorites]

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