I received my share of perks in my younger years, such as a complimentary drink at a club, or perhaps a more attentive store salesperson. I fully admit that I didn’t push those gifts away; instead, I accepted them with relish. However, in our society, physical attraction lessens at the same rate as the elasticity of our skin. Sure, there are ways to reverse time’s effect with a little tuck or some great lighting, but at 57, I’m more interested in looking a little deeper.
My wish is for us to see women my age honored for their own brand of beauty. The 20-something sparkle has run its course, but a 50-something – and beyond – is nothing short of stunning. When I get together with my contemporaries, I’m blown away by their individualistic approach to life. Elizabeth is writing a book, and Tami is taking her teens on a summer-long band-following voyage, a la the Deadheads. Carol just joined a crew team, and Beth, after breast cancer treatment, has shifted her look with smart glasses, a fresh hairstyle, and a pair of new Fluevogs. Ingrid just signed up for rock drumming lessons, and Debra invested in a kayak for regular river de-stressing sessions. These badass women are exploring the things they never made time for before, pushing aside excuses and prioritizing.
I can see the evidence of liberation from the grips of hormonal motivation in my own life as well. I will resist the urge to glance in the mirror to check the statement earrings and dramatic lip shade as I head out the door. I was the classic “I don’t run unless being chased” woman for years, but lately I have taken up running with my dog. Now I’m looking into registering for a silent retreat, despite the skeptics in my life. Maintaining perspective and a sense of humor helps too, both of which have been refreshed by reading Nora Ephron’s spot-on meditation on aging, I Feel Bad About My Neck, a gift from a right-there-with-me friend. The transition of menopause has motivated the trying of new things and an attitude of greater abandon in my, and many of my friends’ lives. Simply, menopause has been a liberator.
From a practical standpoint, I love that I no longer have to budget funds for tampons, pads, and period-related medications – or lug them around anymore to be “prepared.” I don’t have to worry about cramps, bloating, or wild mood swings anymore. If I’m grumpy, it’s just because I’m grumpy! What’s not to love about knowing my emotions are no longer slaves to a cruelly capricious hormonal roller coaster?
And how about the “new normal” around food? I’m off the salt-and-sweet-craving merry-go-round, having lost the potent drive to obtain whatever treat I was jonesing for, whether pickles and potato chips or nougat-infused chocolate or Oreo ice cream…ah, Oreo ice cream – some cravings die harder than others.
Now that my kids are older teens, we don’t have to view every decision through the parenting lens first and foremost. The next five years is now a time of possibility. I could foster puppies. I could become obsessed with birdwatching…or write a memoir…or learn how, finally, to play Mahjong!
I remember way back in the ‘90s, when I first heard of, and was horrified by, the Red Hat Society (now a worldwide fellowship of age 50+ women who connect and have fun together, all while wearing red hats, which is the part I’m lukewarm on). Part of that horror was that I was in my thirties, and being 57 was quite unimaginable to me! I did know, however, even though 57 felt so far away, that I would not be that kind of 57. It seemed too canned, a little forced, and, as someone who went to Catholic school for many years, I also frown on any whisper of uniform requirements. No way was I going to prance around with peers at conventions, in a red hat and purple dress, as outlined in the poem “Warning,” by Jenny Joseph. It contains the line “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…” She goes on to describe how, when she gets to be a “senior,” she will let loose, not follow rules, etc. That’s all well and good, but it goes again into dangerous territory for me, where older women are pigeonholed into a single Golden Girls-esque, cartoonish persona. I find that I ID more with women who talk about menopause making them more “devil may care” about speaking their true minds, and being overall more iconoclastic in their approach to life.
Women my age were often trained as girls to prize politeness, and this, for many of us, has caused some problems with setting healthy boundaries. Another liberation menopause has brought is around communication. I now have a much easier time looking at every request and assessing it by answering one simple question: "Do I want to spend my utterly valuable time and energy doing said activity?" It’s positively lovely now that if I have even the faintest reservation about the request, I happily decline, completely guilt-free. This is a minor social revolution, because most of us have put in serious hours volunteering for schools, community organizations, political initiatives, etc. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed much of the time spent in those pursuits, but it is freeing to be much more discriminating now in how I choose to spend my waking hours, and that feels fantastic.
So here’s a toast to menopause and the freedoms it offers. I’m not minimizing the “bitter” that goes with the “sweet” of this phase in life. I remember reflecting somewhat wistfully on the fact that I wouldn’t be able to have children anymore, and then I got cosmically slapped and could pretty much hear the Universe exclaiming, “Girl, you know you wouldn’t WANT to!” I can confirm that my daydreams far outstrip my night sweats.
Carolyn has over 20 years of experience writing about health, from the Harvard Medical School Health Publications Group, to My Healthy Life, a quarterly magazine that covers general health topics. Carolyn's work appears on hospital websites, blogs, and in newspapers, on a wide range of health-related issues, including hospital facility construction and renovation, smoking cessation, stroke treatment, cancer services and survivorship, behavioral health services, mobile healthcare, provider burnout, and more.