Why It's So Hard To Say 'Old' Without Cringing

Age is in the air -- and most people don't like it, though some try to pretend otherwise. It's easy when it's on screen, like the two successful and charming "Best Marigold Hotel" feel-good movies that are tinted with vibrant and forgiving colors that block out the cruel march of time. Who wouldn't love the sprightly British great gray-heads like Judi Dench and company?

In the real world, age -- as in OLD age -- is of course taboo and a terrible, shameful secret. Age just isn't the "market", while it actually IS the market, considering the demographics.

Recently I had a brief brush with boldness that resulted in experimenting with big bad words. I upgraded myself (in the privacy of my home) from the vague, commonly used word "older" to "old" -- as in "old woman" -- just for the hell of it. It was a bit of a shock first because OLD sounds strong and solid, and also frighteningly final. Yet, I liked it, it didn't reek of apology.

I also needed a few attitude-adjustments because without noticing it I had for some time developed the affliction of "talking old", which is much worse than being old. I don't mean using old-fashioned language, I mean dropping cutesy senior-sentences that just sat there like an exhausted old lady. What had gotten into me? Society's cruel rules?

Ten years ago, age wasn't an issue at all; I looked real young at 58. Therefore it was almost funny, and people were really laughing when I became very fond, too fond as my friends confirmed, of that lame old phrase "at my age", using it for just about anything: complaints, advice, explanations, apologies, and tired jokes. It also had a shamelessly coy and coquettish ring to it and was a clever little trap to squeeze compliments out of innocent bystanders. Until a well-meaning, much younger, girlfriend told it to me straight, as in, "If you ever start a sentence with 'at my age' again, I will bring a suitcase full of old granny paraphernalia, including a Sippy cup, and force you to use it to match your insipid chatter."

She had a point but I wasn't yet willing or able to give up my way of inching towards age (which is what it was) completely.

I couldn't let go and kept using the particularly annoying "I'm much older than you think" (what do I know what people really think?) In-between I casually dropped the self-deprecating yet flirtatious: "I could be your mother", addressed at young men who flirted with me (yes, they still do that!) I kind of liked it because there was something salacious about it and men usually retorted with, "Uuuh, I love older women". Being feisty by nature (or nurture?) I retorted: "Sure you do. Who doesn't?" which is one of these gray/white (pun intended) lies that are just fun to say. But with age does come the knowledge that attitude and wit are indispensable tools for keeping you from going under and becoming a harmless old lady that time forgot. As if! Joni Mitchell, fabulous and feisty, is 71!

Naturally, I was on the receiving end, too, and "rewarded" with one of the more perplexing and silly remarks known to womankind, which is, "You look really good -- for your age!" Mostly meant as a BIG compliment. Well, thank you ever so much. I have tried to snap back with a jolly, "I wish I could say the same for your 38", with some success, but conversations about who looks best at being old don't have happy endings.

If you are lucky and look relatively youthful, you'll probably escape some misogynist and shoddy remarks right in your face. But don't be fooled. Rampant ageism (and sexism, they always come as a duo) is all around us, including the question of which is the bigger sin: being or looking old?

Very quickly someone, even "something" (the huge necklace Cate Blanchett wore to the "Oscars") is declared looking "too old". For what exactly you may ask (female president maybe? But let's not even get into the Hillary Clinton age-debate).

Now that we have the new word "shaming" for just about everything, I've been a victim of age-shaming, too, and I guess I had it coming. A very angry young Twitter-guy who, upon reading my slightly critical post about Madonna's tireless attempts at looking 30 while complaining about ageism, got into a rage: "You shouldn't even be allowed to Twitter! You are too old!" I didn't feel shamed at all but thought that maybe it would be refreshing to maybe prohibit men of all ages to express their sexist rants not just on Twitter but anywhere.

We get it! Age is a dirty secret, something like a disease, even a crime, and "old woman" is meant as an insult. But why should it smell of failure and defeat instead of accomplishment and pride Something is twisted here. The more years you roam this planet, the less interesting, worthy, beautiful, sexy, wonderful, human, intelligent, generous and knowing you are? That can't be true. Shouldn't it just be the opposite? Isn't age a glorious triumph over adversity?

Older women very often express the fear of being "invisible" as one of the prime drawbacks of aging, and it is mostly meant in a sexual context. But is it really that bad not being seen by men as a hottie, not being breathlessly pursued 24/7 and inspiring mad lust and heart-stopping desire? I think it's one of the better parts of getting and being old to not being constantly gaped at, compared to, and taken apart by men's desirous glances in search of female perfection. It means the attention is where it belongs: on ourselves and our very own minds that are finally freed from seeking approval from the judgmental eyes of one's surroundings. It's nice to feel that there's nothing to prove, nothing to convince anybody of anything at any cost.

I realize that we ourselves, not society, are writing our own scenario, cast the parts we are going to play (so far, rarely being the director) and unfortunately picking too often small insignificant roles. That won't do for the future. So how can we own the mysterious alchemy of age? Can we learn to combine old bones with fresh ideas and still rattle cages? Of course. We're made for that challenge!

We don't have to gloat that being old is the greatest thing since the Beatles and pin on "Old is Gold" buttons. Nor do we have to pretend age doesn't exist either. Because unlike youth, older age is an achievement of seasoned survivors. It is simply the result of being a long time on this unruly, violent, unfair, sexist, ageist, and yet gloriously beautiful planet. Age IS. Age isn't an act. Age happens. To all of us. And YOU are next! And if you are too busy trying to stop time with tricks and lies and desperation -- you will realize one day that you became really old, without having enjoyed the great ride to that marvelous destination.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

The Moment I Knew I Wasn't Young Anymore