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Saying “So What?” to Aging

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In the book My Life So Far, Jane Fonda offers a view of life in three acts: Act 1, from birth to 29 years; Act 2, from 30 to 59; and Act 3, from 60 until the end. 

As for me, I’m using my third act to make sense of what didn’t work in Acts 1 and 2, embrace all that I’ve learned, and try not to think about my shelf life. Age is “another paradigm,” Fonda writes. “The image of a staircase, an upward ascension until the end—age as potential—for wisdom, authenticity and wholeness.”

Which sounds just great.

In theory.

I’m the first person to look at cartons of eggs, bags of bread, and jugs of milk for kill dates. Why shouldn’t I imagine people look at me the same way? If a man falls in love with me, does he wonder how many good years I have left—for him? If someone hires me, does she wonder if I’ll fit into the office culture with 25- to 35-year-olds, who say, “My mom would just love you”? 

Though I’m considered attractive (don’t say “still”) and young looking (don’t add “for my age”), I worry. I’m smart, thin and healthy. I can yank up body parts, fill, nip and tuck, work out, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I can’t change my God-given shelf life.

In her first book, Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty Is the New Fifty, screenwriter Tracey Jackson shoots down the notion that 50 is the new 30. “Successful aging isn’t about denying reality, but planning for the future,” my friend points out. 

An anti-aging warrior, I’m always denying reality. I’m not so great at planning for the future, either.

A tattoo on my wrist reads, Veritas. It was my daughter’s idea. She was headed into her first year of college, and I was turning 60. “OK,” I said, “but nothing cute, or on a place that’ll sag or spread.” 

She made a face and said, “I don’t even know what that means.”

Veritas was the Roman goddess of truth and the mother of virtue. My daughter chose it because, she says, I taught her that telling the truth was always important. I started to think how crazy it was, getting a tattoo at my age. “Do it, Mom,” my daughter urged. “My friends say you don’t even look or act your age.” (Kids really know how to manipulate you.)

Age is more an issue for women than men. I heard Bette Midler say she learned to be a lot happier when she started saying, “So what?” Then I saw the movie I’ll See You in My Dreams. On a first date, Sam Elliott takes Blythe Danner to see his new boat, which he’d named So What

“This has to be a sign,” I thought.

Now, I say it all the time.

Wynnewood’s Arlene Leib is actively looking to fall in love—again. A decades-long writer and media-relations professional, she also teaches. Visit her website at www.lookpr.net.    

Illustration by Sarah Ferone.

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