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The downsides of growing older are obvious – the thickening, the wrinkling, the slowing, and the burgeoning awareness of that implacable march forward… to what? We don’t know. We didn’t think about it as children and youngsters, but we become aware of it – maybe as the hiss of air whooshing past; the slipstream of time – as we leave youth behind.
To be perfectly honest, although I say all that, I’m still in denial. I feel that my school days were only a little while ago. My awkwardly sharp memory makes everything feel so close – childhood, university days, our wedding – I’ve stopped counting in years because it solidifies facts in a most disagreeable way.
I actually like being the age I am now.
I know. Weird. Why would anyone like being an age that requires you to scroll down for aaaages before you get to your birth year when filling in online forms??
Well, I believe there are some considerable ‘up’ sides to middle age.
1. You stop caring so much about the opinions of others. When you have a certain amount of experience, you begin to trust your own judgement.
2. You have a clearer sense of perspective. The flat tyre, the stolen wallet, the missed plane… in the big scheme of things, they are just small obstacles on our path, rather than events signifying the imminent end of the world.
3. You know who your true friends are. You spend less time trying to impress people, because you know that real friends don’t have expectations. You would also rather have a select few great friends, than hundreds of shallow acquaintances.
4. You stop being a fashion victim. You’re confident enough to wear what suits you, not what suits a size zero model on the front of ridiculous magazines crammed with adverts for ridiculously expensive crap. Basically, you stop being the morons from ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.
5. You start hearing your own true voice.
To expand a little on the last one… Children hear their families speaking about all sorts of subjects, from thoughts on food, to favourite cars; from opinions on the neighbours’ shenanigans, to attitudes towards ethnic minorities. Some of those opinions stick to children, like wet tissue paper – and by adulthood, those bits of tissue have morphed into a weird papier mache structure encasing the person within.
I have caught myself over the years, hearing neat phrases coming out of my mouth, and realising that they aren’t MY words – they are my mother’s words, or my father’s words. I became aware of a voice in my head that isn’t my voice, but the voice emanating from that papier mache construction in the crude shape of my parents.
Quite recently, I realised that almost EVERYTHING about me had been manufactured by those false voices. Everything.
I realised that I chose clothes because my parents would approve of them, that I wore my hair in a certain style because it was ‘sensible’, that I listened to music that unconsciously I thought my Dad would like – EVERYTHING was a collection of vapours and imagined whims. There was nothing substantially real about ME. I was an astral projection of MY perception of how my parents saw me.
*brain blows up
I’m finally starting to hear my own true voice, and I’m quite surprised now that I’ve got to know myself a little better.
Here’s what I’ve discovered about me:
1. I love exercise. That self-conscious, defeatist girl is gone.
2. I’m opinionated. No more sitting meekly while others talk nonsense.
3. I can make people laugh.
4. I like listening to unsuitably profane music, especially in the car. (But not with the kids)
5. I am strong.
What I’d REALLY like to do, is go back and do my twenties again – as my true self. But it’s not that easy – shouldn’t be that easy. I guess we earn the ability to hear our authentic selves through living, learning, trying and failing – and no matter how hard we persevere, winning that privilege takes a long time.
Being middle-aged has brought considerable rewards, so I’m not one to bemoan the aging process.
However, I shall take stock in 10 years time, and let you know how I’m doing…