I have a friend I’ll call Lois. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s talented – and she’s 61 years old.
Susan is in a dead-end job that doesn’t give her anything except a paycheck – and of course, that’s nothing to sneeze at. But recently, over a long lunch complete with white wine, Lois and I really got into it.
“Why don’t you find something else?” has been my clarion call to my friend for years. This time, I wouldn’t take her non-verbal shrug as an answer. This time, emboldened by the wine, perhaps, I persisted.
So Lois told me why she hangs on to a job that not only doesn’t satisfy her; it actually demeans and humiliates her. It’s because (trumpet blast) she’s 61…and in Susan’s words “Who would want me?”
Forget the pedigree – a degree from a distinguished university, a master’s degree from another, a Phi Beta Kappa key languishing in a drawer. My pal is also winning enough to charm the birds out of the trees, she’s attractive in a way that older women are and besides all that, her marvelous sense of humor is legendary.
I can’t help wondering how many Lois’s are out there, feeling trapped and dissatisfied, but too afraid that the face in the mirror is the ultimate stumbling block, the no-way-out obstacle.
Lois has not had her eyes “done,” her face lifted, her cheeks or lips shot up with collagen. What you see is what you get.
But in this culture of extreme makeovers and extreme attention to appearance, she’s immobilized by her age. For the hundredth time, I need to ask what’s going on out there.
Elders of the Tribe
Every magazine I pick up is cluttered with ads from cosmetic surgeons and the strident suggestion that there’s no time like the present to erase your age from your face and your body. Friends I see at reunions are almost unrecognizable, their skin pulled so tightly around their hairlines that they seem barely able to breathe, let alone smile.
Is this healthy? Wise? Good for the soul?
Whatever happened to the notion that women – and men, for that matter – should wear their age as a badge of honor? Whatever became of the lovely idea that we should hold those silver heads high, groove on being the elders of the tribe who know more, understand more and appreciate more what really matters, and what doesn’t?
It’s all vanished, just like those crows’ feet and telltale lines and squiggles.
It would take more than a long lunch to convince Lois that she is astoundingly gifted and that at 61, she’s got twice as much to offer as some snitty thirtysomething. Lois won’t buy it because she senses that even the first step – a job interview – could be crushing to an already-fragile ego.
Still, I tell Lois about my new friendship with an editor in his late 70’s who is so brilliant and gifted that just being in his presence makes me feel incredibly lucky. I tell her how he is revered at a publication heavy on the new recruits with their shiny journalism degrees who still turn to him for advice on everything from split infinitives to how to create a compelling lead to a story.
That editor happens to be male, of course, which may have eased his journey into his seventh decade. We allow our men to become “distinguished” while we women just turn old. But that’s another column.
When we could finally tear ourselves away from our long-overdue lunch, Lois promises me that she’ll at least read the want ads, and open her mind to pursuing any leads that sounded promising. I’m not even sure I believe her.
But this I know: any employer who gets a Lois in his world should jump for joy. Anyone who becomes her colleague is in for a fast and fabulous ride.
At 61, Lois is a woman who definitely deserves a second look – wrinkles, crow’s feet and all.
Sally Friedman is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where she majored in English. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, Bride’s Magazine, Home Magazine and New Jersey Monthly.
In 1984, she made her debut in the New York Times. Friedman is also a weekly columnist for the Journal Register Newspapers in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
She is the wife of a retired Superior Court Judge, the mother of three fierce daughters and the grandmother of seven brilliant and beautiful grandchildren.
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