What It’s Like to Be This Middle-Aged Woman

I was listening to a replay of a Frank Langella interview last week about his role as Frank in Robot and Frank.  The screenwriter is in his 30s and both the actor and the main character are in their 70s.  Before Langella agreed to take the role, he wanted to spend time talking with the screenwriter – Christopher D. Ford – about what it was really like to be a 70 year old man.

It got me thinking about what it really feels like to be a 50-something woman.11-16-12-glasses

Yesterday was the second annual “Jan’s Not Dead Yet” Day.  My mom died at 55 years and 19 days old, and I reached that age on April 1, 2011.  I’ve now lived exactly two years longer than my mother which makes me ponder things.

I often wish I could ask my mother questions like, “When can I expect to feel a little arthritis?” (because it seems like everybody does eventually) or “When can I expect these hot flashes to stop?”  My mom didn’t live long enough to deal with arthritis or menopause.

Actually the last eight years of her life were so chemo-fueled that the usual aging patterns did not apply.  How could she know if her hot flashes were about too much tamoxifen or too little estrogen?

I can’t speak for all Middle-Aged Women, of course, but this is what it’s like for me.  Not dead yet, but . . .

  1. I’m invisible.  I was once only invisible to young adults when I’d go shopping with my daughter.  Now I’m invisible to everyone.  It’s not that I’ve ever been the kind of person who stopped time when I entered a room because of my breathtaking beauty.  But now I have a hard time getting the dry-cleaning lady to notice me.
  2. I wear flats – always.  When I fell and broke my nose in January I  was wearing Birks which are not like wearing stilettos but it was just high enough a heel to trip and crash.  (Note to self: Most women who break their hips are wearing flats, so this will not guarantee anything.)
  3. I wear glasses most of the time.  My vision was like an eagle’s until I was about 50, but I always thought wearing glasses was cool.  It’s occurs to me now that older people fall down a lot not necessarily because their hips go or their legs are weak.  They can’t see.  Wearing bifocals is really dangerous. Especially on stairs.
  4. I can’t say words like “cool” anymore.  I hate it when people my age – or even twenty years younger – say words like “rad” or “def” or when people my age try to be something we are not (or we are not any more.)  This is really hard because I’ve actually always said “cool.”
  5. I am not cool anymore. Oh, yes.  Once I was very cool.  But now it looks like I’m trying too hard.  And thermostatically speaking, I am usually freezing or burning up – never cool.
  6. My sleeveless shirt days are almost over – maybe not this decade or even the next, but eventually.   I love sleeveless shirts on women.  I love sleeveless little black dresses.  I love sleeveless sundresses.  But women reach a point when we can’t do sleeveless anymore, even if our arms look like Michelle Obama’s.  Proper ladies wear sleeves.  Long sleeves.  Ugh.
  7. I can’t hear.  No commentary here except that I actually need a hearing aid.
  8. I’m increasingly unemployable.  While some churches and other religious organizations honestly want the best and brightest of any age, most of these organizations want a 30 or 40-something leader.  I get this and I was once this person – the thirty-something pastor, the forty-something pastor.  I was even the 20-something pastor for a few years. But now I encourage churches to give young pastors a chance.  I honestly love this and yet it also makes me feel a little wistful.
  9. I just recently realized that I look old.  It’s really shocking to realize that I don’t actually look like I’m 40 anymore.   (Note: a man asked me in church recently how old he looked and I said “30” when actually he looked at least 50, but I could tell he thought he didn’t look middle-aged at all.  He did though.  So do I.)
  10. I have an urgency about life because I could be dead any second.  My nonagenarian friends tell me this about themselves all the time, but since my parents died young, I’m slightly shocked that I’m still alive at 57.  To live to be 80 seems like a remote possibility even though it’s indeed possible. My point is that there’s a lot of work to do before it’s too late.  Most of this work involves Jesus and sharing the news that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  In other words, how can we make our streets, our schools, our congregations, our neighborhoods more like heaven?  We need to get moving.

Today I begin my third year beyond Mom’s life span.  And while this post is more about me than I usually write, it’s on my mind this morning.

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16 responses to “What It’s Like to Be This Middle-Aged Woman

  1. I can relate to the “outliving your mother who had cancer” thing. Neither my mother nor my only sibling made it to their 67th birthdays, so when I did that in 2011 I was ecstatic. My father didn’t make it to 70, so that’s my next goal. As of this June, I will be a 19 year survivor of the cancer that killed my mother. Who would have thought……..

  2. Right there with you, sister. 1-10.

  3. I’m laughing and crying and giving thanks for your many gifts.

  4. I offer this blog as a response–these ladies don’t seem to mind about glasses or sleeveless dresses. They are just who they are which inspires me regardless of their age. Thanks for your words. http://www.advancedstyle.blogspot.com/

  5. Thanks for writing this, Jan. Having just turned 71, I have been mentally composing “What it’s like to be old in the church” for a while now. Time to put it on paper (or ‘pad) and try to find an outlet for it. My #1 is the same as yours, except, believe it or not, it is possible for people to try to actively “invisible” you. Sadly 2-9 do not get any better. Instead they are entangled with a serious set of “what ifs” as in “what if I had stuck to that ‘vitameatavegamin’ program,” a drowning of “it’s too late,” and a seething of, “seriously, you want me to accept this?” My working title is “We’re not dead yet and would appreciate it if you wouldn’t act like we are!” subtitle “but we could be any moment and so could you.”
    But on a clear day, ……

  6. You are one of the coolest pastors I know. Never seems like you are trying hard!

  7. I am a 62 year old very cool pastor–in fact, I’m cooler than tons of younger people that I know. I admit I am invisible–and wear only flats–but get some Cole-Hahn wing-tips in a bright -color–well its over-the-top hipness!! And you are way cool and always will be!-

  8. I enjoy reading your blog, but this post made me want to [scream] reply. If you are “increasingly unemployable”, what the heck am I? I began seminary in my fifties. I cling to the certainty that I did such a thing only in answer to God’s call, but daily I have to beat back discouragement over the constant reminders that the church seems to be the last place where ageism and sexism are not only tolerated but encouraged. Encouraged it is, yes, in the name of attracting the mythical new young members. If this went on anywhere but the church, we’d all be on the picket lines in support of our congregants who are facing such unjust discrimination. Since older women are over-represented in the pews, maybe our clergy should reflect that too. Just sayin’. Keep the faith!

  9. Hi Lynn – I don’t think it’s about ageism necessarily. I think it’s about the cultural shifts in the church. I know some 30-somethings who are still 20th Century pastors. Their perspective is very dated – although most traditional congregations would have the same perspective. Rather, it’s that our forward-thinking churches realize that something has changed (e.g. “Where is everyone?”) and they presume that calling someone fresh out of seminary will guide them into a new season. Not necessarily true.

    But what IS true is that I will never look like Shawna Bowman or Joe Morrow or Theresa Cho or Ashley Goff (four rock stars of the church, if you ask me) and our creative congregations want someone who not only looks like them in terms of youth and diversity, but they want someone who IS as creative as they are. Their appearances give them a head start with search committees perhaps, but what people want is not their age/race/gender but they want THEM. They are creative and smart and ready to try new things. There are older pastors like that too (hello Carol McDonald) but the perception is that a younger pastor will bring freshness. Often it’s true, but not always.

    Most of our traditional churches are predominantly comprised of people who are at least as old as I am. The conventional wisdom is that churches eventually look like their pastors. Women and men my age and older certainly need pastors who look like them. But my hope is that we can develop together to be a different, more faithful church for the future. It’s scary both for the congregations and for us pastors who know God’s calling us to serve. But more than scary – it’s extremely wonderful.

    I’d love to hear about your own call.

  10. Thanks for your reply, Jan. I am now serving in a non-ordained position and awaiting my first call. I am not young and don’t want to be, since middle age has brought a confidence and freedom, coupled with wisdom, I never had when I was young. Honestly, some of the most radical and free-Spirited people I’ve ever known in churches were much older than you and I, and some of the most fearful and tradition-bound were among the chronologically youthful. The thing is, as I reached middle age, I became more and more dissatisfied with traditional and lifeless worship, and I am not alone. I have long maintained that if we do ministry really well with the people who are actually in the pews, more people would want to show up. Chasing after the people we wish were there is a losing proposition. Evangelism has to come from a full heart, overflowing with love and creativity.

  11. My 40th birthday is coming up, between now and when I start seminary in the fall. I will be well into middle age before I finish school, assuming I’m not already. (I suspect I hit middle age a few years ago, when the juniors styles started looking stupid and fitting me funny.) From here the only way to go is forward – I can neither go back to being twenty-something nor am I sure I would want to.

  12. It just occurred to me that my mother has outlived her mother by five years, her father by 16, and her sister by 33. I never thought of it before because she doesn’t frame her life expectancy in those terms. I hope you are just in a reflective, slightly down place right now and don’t often feel like you are living on borrowed time. Carpe diem is a wonderful way to live; “I’m overdue for my appointment with the Grim Reaper,” not so much. Blessings to you.

  13. Anna Anchala

    I don’t know—I look at several recent hires at churches and see that at least 30% are older (older than 45) ladies.

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