I write about aging, work in an office where I am the oldest woman, and have been married to the same man for what feels like centuries. I understand that at a certain point in life, we morph into mentors to those around us who are younger as they seek wisdom and understanding. That said, here are five questions I really can't answer:
1. What's the secret to a long happy marriage?
I have no idea what the secret would be to make your marriage long and happy -- unless you married my husband. Him, I know how to make happy and vice versa.
A long happy marriage isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. Marriages come in all shapes and varieties, depending on who is participating in them. Some are open, others are shut. Some are traditional, others untraditional. The biggest stumbling block for a marriage is that the people in them change. They grow apart, they find other things or people more interesting. Long marriages happen when two people don't just commit to each other, but also commit to the idea of being married.
Figure out what you want your life to look like and marry the person who shares a similar vision; then, just hope for the best. At least initially, this will work for you. After that, if you're serious about trying to go the distance, you just try harder. You can at least achieve the "long" part if not the "happy" although it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to do that.
2. When will you retire?
I started hearing this one a lot more last January when I turned 65. Maybe there was a time when people knew the answer to it; I sure don't and I don't know anyone else who does either.
Retirement used to mean a planned departure from your day job. Sometimes the occasion was marked with a party or an office luncheon where they thanked you for your four decades of loyal service and gave you a gold watch. Then you trotted off into the sunset never to be heard from again.
That's not the case anymore. Sure we are living longer, staying healthier, and have always approached our jobs as part of our identity. Hello, my name is Ann and I am a journalist. If I stopped work, who would I be?
But if you want the bloody truth: That's not the real reason I won't retire. Nobody retires any more because nobody can afford to. The economy zigged at precisely the moment we needed it to zag. In the recession we lost our jobs, the value of our portfolios plummeted and our homes -- once our handy ATMs -- depreciated faster than we could say "adjustable-rate mortgage." Now our kids can't get decent-paying jobs or pay off their student debt while our parents are growing frailer and need us to take care of them. About half of family caregivers spend more than $20,000 per year on caregiving expenses and 22 percent of family caregivers say it's put them in debt, according to Caring.com --
-- just in case you were wondering where your last vacation money was spent.
No, the retirement system that worked for previous generations failed us and nobody even really wants to have a conversation about it. So when will I retire? As soon as I hit the lottery.
3. Do older people still have sex?
At the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, can you please define sex. You know what? Don't bother. I'm tired of sharing.
It sometimes feels that we've erased a barrier of common sense in what we put online. The best Facebook status update is probably "It's none of your damn business."
4. What have you done to slow the signs of aging?
I made sure I was born with the right genes. Oh wait, you wanted an answer like what foods I eat or don't eat, what my workout is, how I relieve stress and why I wouldn't get within 10 feet of a Botox injection. Sorry: I was born with good genes. The women in my family lived well into their 90s, pretty much disease-free. The one who overate died of a stroke. Everybody else partied hard and did what they wanted.
What is it with our disdain for showing our age? Frankly, I might have had a firmer body when I was in my 20s and 30s, but I sure wasn't any happier for it.
5. What's on your bucket list?
I don't actually know anyone who has a bucket list. The closest I came to encountering one was when my then 92-year-old aunt was diagnosed with colon cancer. During the week or so when she was considering her options, she created a bucket list of sorts.
She polled everyone in her dance club, at the synagogue sisterhood, in her book club, her jazzercise class, her elder hostel travel group and the classes she was auditing at the local community college, both her boyfriends and me and asked us all for suggestions of what she should put on it. At the end of her research, she had but one item: She wanted to read the latest mystery that was coming out the next week by her favorite writer.
When I came to pick her up the morning of her surgery, I found her reading the final chapter, leading me to conclude that bucket lists are for people who procrastinate and it makes more sense to live life to its fullest than procrastinate. May you RIP, dear Auntie.