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Vibrant Middle Age: Moving from Must’s to Maybe’s

If you are in life stage: Fending Off Retirement Posted June 1st, 2014

OK, I admit it.  I have bought more than one of those greeting cards that poke fun at advancing age.

Apparently I’m not the only one.  Patricia Cohen, author of In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age, says that “middle age is a punch line about hearing loss, plunging libidos and afternoon naps”.

Though I still have a young daughter, and I feel pretty young and vibrant, it seems that while I wasn’t looking I reached middle age.  Cohen defines this demographic slice as “floating somewhere between ages 40 and 64”.  Those floaters make up one-third of the U.S. population and have 70% of the country’s net worth.  Cohen’s book is good for the aging psyche:  she sets out to show readers that “middle years can be years of prestige, autonomy and confidence—the best years of our lives”.

I’m boarding this train.

Sure, knowing that my next big birthday is 60 (many, MANY years from now) can be a little startling.  I wouldn’t mind backing up to my 40s—but overall I’m pretty comfortable where I am.  I don’t always love what I see in the mirror, but I feel like I have endless opportunities and lots of years ahead for challenge and creativity.

I might be in the minority.

Cohen says that “instead of recreating middle age, this generation has chosen to disown it.  Middle aged men and women are applauded for their ability to simulate the attributes of those 20 to 30 years younger—rather than for their experience and wisdom.  A successful midlife has become equated with an imitation of youth”.

There’s no question that being young and free (and looking great in your bathing suit) has great appeal.  But I would argue that real freedom comes with middle age.  When you’re young it can feel like you’re on a path of “musts”—must get your degrees, jobs, spouses, children, houses according to your own plan or the plan that carries on from the expectations of family and friends.  In middle ag we should celebrate and embrace endless “maybes”.  As Cohen says so beautifully, “middle age is like a meridien—it can create a legion of pathways and marks a time when we are in our prime.”

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