When I was in my mid-20s I was quite a dish. I was blonde and bubbly and eager-to-please. I tended to believe the things people told me, especially things they told me about me. I didn’t know whether I was smart, mostly because some people thought I was kind of brilliant while others thought—or assumed—that I wasn’t very bright. It was very confusing to me—especially since the fact that I was an outstanding student at top-tier schools seemed somehow irrelevant to this calculus.
Around this time I went to a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a hot-shot Wall Street money guy who later did white-collar prison time for insider trading. He lived with his 25-years-younger girlfriend in a Fifth Avenue penthouse with a wraparound view of Manhattan. I was studying architecture at Parsons, and in typical grad student style I’d go pretty much anywhere on the promise of a free meal. So although this promised to be a tiresome evening of my-toys-are-bigger-than-your-toys one-upmanship, I cheerfully accepted the invitation.
Most of the guests were couples in their 40s and 50s. The men struck me as one-note bores (my date the exception), but I found the women fascinating. They all seemed so chic and accomplished and self-assured, and I couldn’t wait to meet them. Always in the throes of trying to figure out who I wanted to become in my life, I was sure that they knew things, things that I needed to know, things about being chic and accomplished and self-assured.
But they had no use for me. Again and again (and again) my warmth and friendliness were met with a terse smile, a distant manner, a cold shoulder. Baffled and disheartened, I perched on an oversized white leather ottoman and sipped champagne as I pondered the situation. A few minutes later a beautiful woman in her 60s sat down next to me. "They were never going to like you, you know,” she confided, sounding amused.
She gently explained that these women viewed all younger women as a threat. Astonished, I blurted, “But don’t they know that youth is the only thing we have going for us?!”
Maybe I’d lived an incredibly sheltered life, or maybe I was just incredibly stupid, but the possibility that any of these women—or any older woman—could feel threatened by me had never occurred to me. How could I possibly be a threat to anyone? I didn’t know anything, couldn’t do anything, and had very little idea what direction to go in my life. I was insecure and confused. I couldn’t even figure out if I was smart!
I’d never really examined my beliefs about ageing before (did I have beliefs about ageing?), but in that moment I made a resolution that has stayed with me through the years: To remember, when the time came, never to feel threatened by younger women, to remember to be kind.
So the time has come, more or less, and here’s what I know: I become more and more myself with every passing year. More fully revealed to myself, more transparent, more authentic. My humor, my intelligence, and my perspicacity are more apparent, and I am far more accessible to others. I’m no longer a lady in waiting.
All of which makes me far happier in my own skin than when I was young and hot and yet essentially invisible.
I think it all depends on how you define ageing. If you see it as a process of inevitable attrition, then you’re going to be increasingly unhappy as the years go by. But if you view it as a process of becoming, then your life will continue to unfold as a lively and fascinating adventure.
Today, I know who I am, but I don’t yet know all that I will become. What I do know is that I’m enjoying the ride.
Photo Credit: "Suspicious look" by Valentin Casarsa
Twittering vixenish things @WriterVixen