Happy to Be "Irrelevant"

The '80s were when I was in high school and college, when, like every raw and angsty adolescent, I felt on some level that Simon LeBon and Natalie Merchant and even Ozzy Osbourne were living inside my head.
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In the car--and, sadly, nowhere else--I am Mixmistress Steph, DJ extraordinaire, and as such, I give my husband and kids an unparalleled musical education for which I know they are deeply grateful, even if they don't show it. The sound track to every car ride that's long enough for me to find my iPod in the bottom of my gigantic mom purse consists of random hits from the AM radio days of my youth, the few current uberpopular songs (mostly by Lady Gaga) that even I, a harried 43-year-old working mother of twins couldn't help but absorb, and, of course, '80s music.

The '80s were when I was in high school and college, when, like every raw and angsty adolescent, I felt on some level that Simon LeBon and Natalie Merchant and even Ozzy Osbourne were living inside my head, shouting out all the raw and angsty things I wish I could express, and would have if I had talent and a recording contract.

That's what makes music "your" music, and it's why I think most of us no-longer-21-year-olds pay less and less attention to all but specific niche pockets of pop culture that apply to us as we get older. The song--unless it's being played at a mega-hyped reunion tour at the Meadowlands--just isn't about you anymore.

So I mostly stick with what I know and love, and force my seven-year-old daughters to listen to it. The other day, I played them the Go-Gos, "Our Lips are Sealed" for probably the 35th time. The song starts, "Can you hear them?/They talk about us/Telling lies/Well, that's no surprise." For the first time, Vivian asked, "Who are them? The ones telling the lies?"

I thought about that. "Hmm...they are the people who think the girl who's singing the song is so cool and are probably jealous of her and the boy she likes and have no lives and so have nothing else to do but to gossip about her," I said.

The answer satisfied her, but got me thinking about "them," those people who you don't really know who nonetheless think you are cool enough on some level to care about your comings and goings, what you think, read, drink, text on, wear on your ass and on your feet and under your armpits. There are plenty of people who care about me, the aforementioned harried 43-year-old working mother of two, because they're my friends or my family. But the "them" in the song, the "they" in the sense that my opinions and thoughts and relationships are relevant in that way they were when I was younger and listening to '80s music on cassettes and LPs? That "them," that "they," couldn't care less about me anymore.

When I moved into my late 30s, I was overwhelmed by this sense of no longer being the me I'd been most of my life. I mistakenly thought it was all about my looks fading--I'd been considered a "hot" girl, and then all of a sudden I was, well, hanging in there for my age and having carried twins, but definitely no longer what I was. It was a bit of an identity shift, and I started my blog, FormerlyHot.com, to make fun of myself and anyone else who felt this shift and cared a bit too much about it.

But within a very short time, it became clear that looks was only a tiny part of the phenomenon--it had to do with finding oneself in an entirely different category of human being. My self-definition had a bit of catching up to do, hence, my book My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young.

But now that I'm reconciled to being in this new "Formerly" category of person, Formerly Young, I have to say, it's so much better over here on the other side, and being largely ignored by "them" is part of that. It's a huge relief to have learned by trial and lots of errors through my 20s and early 30s that I know what I'm doing, know what makes me happy, and what "they" or anyone else thinks is dead last on the list of things that'll influence my decisions. Formerlies, by and large, have figured out what they were flailing with in their younger years, and no longer think there's one right way to do something. That affords us an enormous freedom just to be.

Sure, I wouldn't mind looking as I did in my 20s, and nor would I mind if marketers and trend watchers thought my opinion was vital to the cultural dialogue, which they no longer do. (And would it kill them to market something cool and groovy to me and my agemates, rather than just Swiffer and Splenda and trips to Mohegan Sun Resorts?) Still, on balance, if having the song be about you--if having "them" think you matter--is all about drama and gossip and heartbreak and skinny jeans and "the smoky eye" and shoes you can't walk in and guys in bands that will never be signed, I'm good where I am. When I was that age (yes, an old person's expression, I realize) I wasn't aware people my age, Formerlies, existed in any way other than as an impediment to my getting hired or to represent the numbing boringness of whatever happens after young. But now that I'm here, and in such good company, I wouldn't trade it to have my old body, big '80s hair and smooth, dewy skin back. It just ain't worth it.

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