Last summer, I was at a reception in Washington, D.C., when a woman in her early 40s leaned in to whisper with lips so swollen with collagen they looked ready to burst.
It was one of those moments when my immediate response was a silent “Oh, honey. No.”
Broke my heart. The longer she and I chatted the more I couldn’t help but think that I liked her more than she did.
She was beautiful and smart and full of insights a person gains only by taking chances in life. To me, she was approaching the prime of her life. But there she was, a middle-aged caricature of herself with lips the size of pickled gherkins because someone — a magazine editor, a friend, a doctor? — had convinced her that her real-life smile wasn’t good enough.
Resist, I wanted to say to her. Resist this nonsense right now, because if eternal youth is what you’re going for, it’s only going to get worse.
Recently, Judith Warner — a gifted 44-year-old writer of The
New York Times’ “Domestic Disturbances” blog — bemoaned what she perceived as a bleak future of diminished returns for her middle-aged efforts to lead a happy life.
She still was reeling from the clarity of thought that sneaks up on unsuspecting mothers who suddenly realize their pre-adolescent daughters are about to launch the rest of their lives. Without them.
The world’s oyster was opening wide for her 12-year-old daughter while snapping shut tighter than a Tupperware seal for crinkleeyed Mom.
“This is the cruelty of middle age, I find: just when things have gotten good — really, really, consistently good — I have become aware that they will end,” Warner wrote. “We always say ‘circle,’ but … I now see the passage of time more as a kind of bell curve. Years of ascension, soaring anticipation, followed by a plateau — which is not so bad, really — and then, no way to sugar coat this: a rather precipitous decline.”
A reader posted this comment at the end of Warner’s column:
“Trust me: you get over this.”
Let’s hope so.
I’m not sure what age on Warner’s spectrum triggers a woman’s steep decline, but I get the feeling she’d see me as a 52- year-old tumbleweed heading straight for the gully:
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, keep that matron rollin’,
I can’t say I don’t ever feel that way. I was, after all, the woman who shrieked with recognition the first time I saw the title of Nora Ephron’s ridiculously successful book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck.”
And I do have this horrible habit of laughing uproariously whenever a woman my age swears she constantly is mistaken to be her daughter’s sister. Seriously, who says that out loud?
Do I laugh because I don’t believe her or to stifle a homicidal urge? Who knows? Who cares? Ten minutes from now, I’ll be completely distracted by the umpteenth hunt for my car keys or panicking because I can’t for the life of me remember whether I let our poor blind pug back into the house before leaving for work.
Am I exaggerating? Of course, lovey. It’s one of the entitlements of age. Helps us to stay myopic and mirthful, which comes in really handy when we spot those plastic surgeons’ ads in local magazines that promise to give us designer faces to match our stiletto heels. Why make fools of ourselves when we can pay high-priced doctors to do it for us?
I’m not critical of any woman who chooses to nip, tuck, poke and probe her face. Aging well takes a lot of guts. Increasingly, it is I who must heed the advice I so often gave my children when they were young: Act brave and the courage will come.
So every day, I produce the best version of me that I can muster and then head out the door knowing that I will see countless younger women who look better than I do. As I say so often to my middle-aged friends, there is a time to be beautiful and ambitious and a time to feel threatened by all the sweet young things acting just as we did back in the day.
The key is to never resent them for taking their turn.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, “Life Happens” and “… and His Lovely Wife.”