When does Middle Age start? Thoughts on turning 35


Last Monday I turned 35. And I never really processed the fact that at some point I would actually enter my scary age.

My husband is almost 8 years my senior and I still remember when his friends (and especially girlfriends) turned 35. They had plenty of kids (well, like 98% of them but remember this is Belgium and baby making is one of the preferred activities of the locals), a mortgage, crow’s feet around their eyes and started talking mammography and other cancer screenings. No need to say I considered them the oldest persons on Earth.

According to WHO datas the average life expectancy for a European woman is a little over 80 years (85 in Italy, 83 in Belgium. I guess olive oil and sun exposure give one that little final advantage) so mathematical middle age would be still 5-7 years ahead. Given though my ignorance of my personal life expectancy plus the fact that I am surrounded by a growing number of mentally aging individuals, I guess I can declare my middle age season open. And make a list, something I always do when turning a chapter.

Things I know now that I am 35:

1. Nothing in life is perpetual. Bad times, good times, they just keep alternating. Even the most tiresome phase will at some point end.

2. Troubled people don’t look charming anymore. They look like sociopaths and instead of pitying them, you start avoiding them.

3. Red hair, trilby hats, derby shoes and skinny jeans don’t look good on me. So I can finally stop wasting time and money on passing trends that don’t suit my figure.

4.Your body will start to rebel against prolonged sloppiness. Sunscreen, make-up remover, dental floss and sleep are not accessories anymore. They are your assets. And I can’t go out and drink alcohol for longer than 4 nights in a row. After that, it’s detox or collapse. 

5.You can’t please everybody. No matter how hard you try, someone is going to dislike what you say, do or write. 

6.You enter a phase where unpleasant stuff happens and that “stuff” is your adult life. I lived a relatively peaceful existence till a couple of years ago when disaster sort of strucked my house. Every week seemed to bring its own charge of bad news, failed plans and unforeseen difficulties. I spent hours with a friend who was encountering the same problems, wondering if bad luck did actually exist and in that case, if and where we caught it. I now realize those set backs and obstacles are just what adult life is made of and they suddenly come to light because for the first time you are fully responsible of what’s going on.

7.When you reach middle age, some people start to act like it. Young people are all young in the same way. On the contrary, middle-aged people live their time in dozens of different ways. Some decide to become directly old, and you see the string of pearls and the pastel little twin-set suddenly making its appearance on an ex-biker girl or a sudden interest for ancient art fairs and real estate. Some others desperately seek the lost youth and sport around new tattoos, impossible miniskirts and hooded sweatshirts at night. Some stay somewhere in the middle, trying not to look too young while they wait to become old.

8. You start wishing you could go back for a day to your 20s with that body and this, 30-something mindset. Oh, you would have so much more fun!

9.Time is not on your side, so you appreciate every moment. As you grow up and your life fills up with schedules and obligations you feel you are not master of your personal time anymore. You can’t keep in contact with all of your friends, you can’t run with your dog as much as you’d like to, you won’t be able to share precious moments with everyone. So, every time you do you are really happy.

10. Everything does not end at 35. One of the reasons I’ve always dreaded the mid-30s is that I was brought up with the idea that you have to peak before middle age, otherwise you’re done. Luckily that’s not true anymore and there’s plenty of things you can achieve later on.

What did you learn so far about getting old?

Journals are better than Prozac

“I’d sell both kidneys just to be 20 again”. This is what i said last night to my nephew who’s 20, gorgeous, youthful, handsome-and-doesn’t-know-it and totally lost. A year is a century for him, today is forever, old people become so at 29 and he wants to change the world. Frankly, I’d do anything to feel like that again.
And then, since I am staying at my parents place in my old room and it harbours the most complete collections of my opera omnia, here I am, sleepless, avidly reading my journals of a decade ago.
Someone said that what keeps humans going is the progressive loss of memories regarding difficult times. When I think now of my 20s I remember them as a garden of Eden, where everything was easy and smooth, I was independent and skinny and cute and funny and daring and YOUNG. Well, according to my written memoirs I was actually a wreck.

Here’s what I wrote on March, 23rd 2002:

“It is so complicated to be 23 and try to act as a grownup. I am too old to act without considering consequences, too young to have a sense of perspective and set priorities. It is so confusing”.

I filled entire journals with this sort of considerations. With all the loving tenderness the old me inspires now, I have a good reason to smile: it got better, eventually. And it will get even better later.

Keeping a journal is better than Prozac.