I wonder whether we have to go through bereavement for each lost habit of our youth. That poses the question: what constitutes a habit, or behaviour, or need, or want which is worth grieving for? And what should we do to prepare for that process. I think this might be one of the fundamental issues of middle age.
Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to loss.
Between the prime of life and the crag end, we lose things and some of them have an emotional bond for us. We become bereaved, and sometimes we just can’t get over it. Classically, our pet loves – the football game, the motorbike ride, the tight jeans or the leather jacket – all become things of our past, to be envied and re-visited with varying levels of success. We might dress up like over-aged hippies or like the Fonz in Happy Days. We might buy that Harley we always fancied but couldn’t afford when younger, or we might simply behave like someone twenty years younger than we are, in a vain attempt to recapture our youth or someone else’s.
For me, one of the biggest losses of the last few years is my visibility to young and attractive women. The words are both relative, but it is clear that once one becomes middle-aged, or past one’s prime, or perhaps past one’s functional age for child giving or bearing, one becomes less visible. It suddenly becomes clear that one is transparent, out of the firing line, no longer under consideration.
That isn’t to say that flirting stops, or that attraction doesn’t exist, but the immediate, impersonal electric shock of ‘fancying and being fancied’ goes. Well, the second half does anyway. Younger people are still objects of attraction, though the sexual possibility of the attraction seems to fade, and older people might seem to younger people to carry intrigue or complexity, or maturity or material power, but we don’t carry the same physical energy.
So what else are we going to lose after we’re fifty, or sixty or older? Here’s some. Why not score them out of 10 on how important they are to your sense of wellbeing and therefore how much you should grieve their loss or fear their gain?
Smooth skin, soft curves. Strangely, middle age shows a lot in the face and sometimes in particular parts of the body, which become rounder and softer, while generally, our bodies don’t deteriorate as fast where they’re covered up as they do where they’re exposed. As a sun lover, I’ve got leathery skin and more wrinkles than if I’d hidden in the shade. For a lot of us, despite the exercise and some caution with the diet, we get the middle aged spread, and it’s harder to hold in the stomach muscles. Exercising becomes harder and less beneficial, as the muscle doesn’t develop so easily, and yet perhaps regular exercise is all that saves us from falling apart. For others, it’s all about the increasing amounts of spare skin, loose flesh, under-padded, without tone. It appears under the upper arm, or hanging under the arse, in bags under the eyes, or as double eyelids, above the knees, down the thigh. For those who don’t put on weight, we might become more boney and angular, our skin more leathery or like tissue paper.
Fertility – this isn’t all negative. The menopause is a double-edged sword worthy of its own chapter. For men, unless you’ve had the chop already, you’re still fertile into old age. I’m not sure how much that matters to younger women when they’re choosing whether to become involved with men over 50, but perhaps it’s there in the back of their minds.
Hair loss is common to both men and women, except in the ears and up the nose, which is more noticeable among men than women. Does hair loss in men affect their attractiveness to women? Does it undermine their sense of self-esteem? Clearly among young men it can be a big issue, and the transplant businesses are thriving. But the degree to which it is a negative force in mens’ lives after they reach 50 is questionable. Certainly it is an issue for some women, who spend inordinate amounts of money and time in trying to bulk up what they have.