When I turned 50, a good friend gave me a gentle squeeze and said, “Welcome. You have now become invisible.” At the time, I thought it was easy cynicism to suggest that “women of a certain age” move out of attraction and into the wallpaper, but now…I see her point. In the past couple of years, I have patiently endured men sliding their gaze over my shoulder mid-sentence, waiting for someone better to come along. I have been ignored when it was my turn, my number. I have been shown the corner table when eating alone…and I don’t mean the corner with the view.
Only once have I ever lied about my age. I was 43. Passing through Newport on the way to Seattle, and because I was eating lunch in a bar, surly and bed-headed, and okay…mildly depressed…nothing I said could be trusted. So when I met a man, clearly younger than me, with impossibly long eyelashes who offered to show me “Oregon’s Tallest Lighthouse,” well sure…why not. Shaving ten years off my age was so damn easy. It just popped out of my mouth before I could reel it back in. Sure, I’m 33. I like that number. So round, voluptuous and well-weighted. So full of possibility, just HALF WAY to retirement. And yeah, I kinda wanted to see that lighthouse. Wink.
Fast forward ten years. Eyelashes and I are married after six years of tire-kicking and even though he and I have completely forgotten we’re from different generations, the world has not. Last week, during dinner out to celebrate a milestone, the waiter suggested my husband bring me, his Mom, back for their special Mother’s Day dinner. As always, I’m left speechless at these moments because our age difference hasn’t popped it’s ugly head up in…well, ever. Inside my marriage, the only time I get to throw out the age card is when The Ranger criticizes my driving. “Dude, I’ve been driving longer than you’ve been alive. So zip it!”
Maybe that’s why I waver when asked how old I am. Not because I’m ashamed of it. The exact opposite. There was a time I didn’t even think I’d make it this far so cheers to me for punching through the national epidemics of AIDS, cocaine, padded shoulders and the whirl of life choices best summed up by the novels Bright Lights, Big City, The Bell Jar and The Fountainhead. Yet this number, my higher number, earns me nothing, not even an intimate relationship that’s free of public comment. At least not in this cultural climate. When did aging go from becoming an elder of the tribe to becoming the crazy cat lady? Or worse, a cougar. As men age, their voices take center stage, their credibility deepens. They grow into gravitas. Authority. Experience. Wisdom. While women are referred to as…hags, witches, bitches, biddies.
Lunch with my women friends is fraught with swapped stories of weakening collagen (in places you can’t even imagine!), the evils of shape shifting (sorry designer jeans, your low rise makes me feel like a walrus) and the travails of nightly tossing in sweaty sheets. Yet, we also discuss how to change public policy, increase access to alternative health care, build financial security, create safer work environments and boost economic development, not just for women-owned businesses, but for everyone. Our children have been raised, our careers established, our romantic relationships clarified, so now we have time and energy to shine the light outward. And because this ain’t our first rodeo, we have a pretty hefty toolbox.
So perhaps growing invisibility has its advantages. With the world less inclined to “look” at me, I now have to use my voice in ways I never have before. Starting with this blog. If yoga has taught me anything, it’s that the body, the poses, the handstand…are just doors, simple access points. To a quieter practice of contemplation and revelation, where the noise in my head gives way to distinct moments of purpose and meaning. Of course, once you really begin to listen…then, you really begin to speak.