Last Thursday was my 61st birthday. And because I’m “so old” now, I wanted to take an opportunity to make some observations about the practice of aging and some of the differences between being in your 30s and 60.
You 30-ish folk sometimes think that “you are all that” because for the first time in your life, you actually experience what most people would call aging. I was there too, your 20’s is about is growth. Then as you approach 30, you “mature,” you “find yourself,” you “figure things out,” but you’re still young and you’re not yet feeling any effects of aging. Physically, the human body peaks around the mid-20s, but it isn’t until later that the sense of physical deterioration kicks in. I also think it’s around then that one has gained enough grown up experiences to be able to look back at oneself with some valuable perspectives.
I really don’t know much about all of this, and that’s why the subject fascinates me at this moment in my life. It’s a new experience for me. This feeling of “getting old.” So, in honor of my birthday, I just want to take a page or two to think out loud about it. Oh, and by the way…if it bores you, then just quit reading. Hey, I said on the website that some of these articles are me figuring stuff out…
Time Seems to Speed Up
I know you’ve heard this before, but just to be clear, I know that time doesn’t really speed up; it is one’s own perception of time that changes. You can have weeks or even parts of months go by and you hardly notice it and it seems that the older you get, the more often this happens. It’s really about proportion. As you grow older, each day, week, month, and year account for a smaller and smaller part of your lifetime. When you were two, a year was half of your total life time… when you are 60, it is 160th of your life today. See how time seems to move more quickly? That is where the time slipping away comes from; the older you get, the more you feel that peculiar feeling. It can cause stress at the very least.
It hits your relationships, too. When I was 20, having a friend who had been around for a YEAR was a big deal. Heck, a year is still a sizeable percentage of your life at that time. But at 60? Not so much. Bonds that at one time formed quickly, now take longer to have the same effect. For someone to be your friend for half your life at 20, you must have known them for 10 years. The same feelings now take 30 years and when you are 60, you are acutely aware that you just might not have 30 years to grow together. It really can mess with your head. But aging clutters friendships in other ways, too. So much so, it probably deserves its own bullet point.
Friendships Become Less Complicated, and More.
One thing I’m realizing in my 60s is that friendships are something that a lot of people begin to struggle with for a second time in their lives. I think there are a few reasons for this and they are different than when you were 35. The biggest one is likely family and kids. Your kids are probably gone. Once you got married, you generally sought out only couples to hang out with. Those single folk you used to know now live foreign lifestyles. This complicates meeting people when you were younger. Think about it; your wife might like somebody, but her new friend’s husband is a fuming jerk-off, or vice-versa. Have children and things get even more byzantine, because now you’re quite naturally focused on meeting other young parents, hopefully with kids around your kids’ age. And if their kid is a jerk to your prince, well, there goes your fun beach weekend.
Once you got married, you
generally sought out only
couples to hang out with.
Those single folk you
used to know now live foreign lifestyles.
When you are 60, that complication is removed. You can like people for who they are and not how they fit into your family lifestyle. You don’t have to participate in that event if Janet’s husband is a prick. Don’t like Mendelssohn? You can skip the symphony even if friends go. You can just say NO. (Thank you, Nancy Regan.) There is some peculiar psychological part of all of this as well. When you were younger, you lived and died by your friends, right? Most of what you did was based on what your friends were doing on any given day, and that continued as a learned behavior up into your 30s.
Now that you’re 60, at times you find that what everyone is doing just doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. Those relationships don’t any longer serve the same emotional function as they used to. At one time, meeting new people from around the world and in all walks of life was thrilling. It was all new. Excitement was the watchword of the day. It was a time of firsts in your life; first New Year’s party in Times Square, first time in love, first date with a girl from Canada, first time at Key West, first time to Europe, etc. You want to do it all, meet everyone, and see the sunrise again and again just because each time is a first!
At one time, meeting new people
from around the world
and in all walks of life was thrilling.
By now, if you don’t know who you are, you might need a coach or a therapist. In most cases, you likely know what you want and who you need or want to spend your time with, and what you want to do with the time. You just don’t depend on people around you as much as you did even in your 30s. You recognize that it is YOUR life and it is up to you to find or create meaning. So you end up with this complicated problem in your life. You no longer feel the burning need to recruit and go out with just anyone, and when you do find them, they become way more important to you than they used to. So it can look to outsiders, i.e., younger people, that you have this slowly atrophying social life but in reality, you are developing interests and bonds that will carry you to the end of your days.
Gone are the days of spontaneous friendships. Friendships with no purpose…well, they just have no purpose. You become more strategic about who you spend your time with, as time begins to feel limited, you find that you don’t really want to share it with assholes. At one time you invested your efforts into friends, family, and career; it was what you needed to get along and ahead. Now you have other choices—you can invest in yourself.
Less and Less Tolerance or Time for Bullshit
We have all heard the phrase, “fuck-you-50s” referring to a time in your life when you have pretty much earned your stripes and don’t have to indulge in the silliness of other people. When you reach 60, it really only grows deeper and richer. When you felt at 50, i.e., that you just didn’t want to waste the time with crap, at 60 you know you don’t have time to fool around. The guilt is gone. You focus better on what you think is important and you go with it. You listen to the issues of people half your age and smile; it is both endearing and pitiful at the same time. You have to learn to say ‘no.’ Once you have learned to say ‘no’, the world changes for you. Most younger people haven’t yet learned that axiomatic fact; “no” frees you.
The real problem being a person who can’t say “no” is that when you hear it, it makes you crazy. At this age you have learned that work isn’t worth dying over and not everything is there to be taken personally, Living it, all starts with a simple “no.” At 60, you find yourself saying that more and more. No, it isn’t a superpower and it still isn’t easy. But it is something that you have learned and aren’t embarrassed to admit. It is just maturity and like most things, it is difficult to avoid. By the way, it feels great to have the awareness that you don’t have to say “yes” to everything and everyone; it is a hidden blessing of getting older. So don’t let anyone tell you that getting older only sucks. Yes, there are some things that I wish I could trade in, sore back and all, but they are balanced out by the gains in confidence and calm that only experience brings.
Relaxation Over Exhilaration
Last weekend my son came home to visit and decided to go out to dinner with some friends he has met since moving to the South. They asked me to join them to try out a new restaurant, but I decided to stay home and watch a movie that I have been eager to see. About 30 minutes into the movie, I was sound asleep with the dog snoring beside me. When he got back, he woke me and said he was going to bed and wondered how the movie was. I told him I feel asleep and only saw part and I would finish it tomorrow. And so goes a wild night here at Frank’s house on Friday night. But here is the nice thing. I was just fine with it. I had been to dinner with friends earlier in the week and been to the symphony the night before and if you had asked me which I would prefer, going to a dinner with a bunch of wild 20-year-olds, or stay home, I would have picked my new couch. Go figure.
Look when you are young, you liken fun to excitement. Fun is all about finding, seeing, experiencing new things, and that’s good. It’s a good way to burn off energy too! As you get a bit older fun gets to be much more about relaxation. Let’s face it; the older you get, the less time for that thing called leisure. Depending on where you are in your life sets the tone for what you find fun. When you are young, just about everything you see is new… it is all exciting… it is all about growth. Because you are all just starting to live, it all feels new. New car… better school, missing a class; life is pretty simple, and while yes, there is stress, it is not a particularly deep kind of stress. Let’s face it; you aren’t dealing with a mortgage or a new business start-up.
Depending on where you are in
your life sets the tone for what you find fun.
By the time you are 60 though, things have turned around and some of them have just simply reversed. Your kids are likely grown, you have experienced a great deal, some fabulous things and some that just make you shake your head. Excitement for its own sake probably isn’t as big a turn on as it once was. You have commitments—some of them very deep—that have made your life what it is and you honor it with your choices.
So what happens? Your leisure time, your relaxation becomes a lot more valuable than just simple excitement. Time where you can get away, unwind with friends or family, and think… or maybe just not thinking for a while becomes priceless!
Speaking of which… considering that it’s my birthday weekend and it is raining outside…and by the way, did you ever notice that the sound of rain is just PERFECT for a good long book and a nap?
I think I will indulge!
SPEAK WITH A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.