By Michael Kimmel
When I was 20, I thought that my sex life would be over at 40. When I was 30, I thought that my best years were behind me and I’d better find “Mr. Right” and settle down — and fast! At 40, I thought that I was halfway through life and hadn’t accomplished much. Finally, at 50, things began to change, for the better.
I started to wake up to the marvels of midlife.
Now, at 65, I am very surprised to find that I am happier, more peaceful, forgiving and mentally/physically healthier than I’ve ever been. No one ever told me it was possible. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it anyway.
Advertising has created a world where youth rules: fashion models — those symbols of ultimate beauty — usually peak in their early 20s, go-go boys/girls are young (no muffin tops there, right?) and once you approach 50, advertisers start targeting you for “old people” products.
I grew up in small-town Ohio. Most of the people around me told me that, once I hit midlife (around the age of 50), I should expect a decline in my health, happiness, productivity, creativity and mental acuity. I’d realize that none of my youthful dreams came true and become a crabby, bitter old person who hates young people and all that they stand for.
Thank God they were wrong.
Even the idea of a “midlife crisis” is bullshit. There needn’t be a crisis. The word “crisis” isn’t accurate. What I see more in my clients (and myself) is a midlife examination period: where we take a good, hard look at harmful myths and outdated stereotypes, rejecting them in favor of new ways of living and aging.
A midlife examination is actually very helpful. It’s a great time to question what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been living for the past few decades and evaluating your beliefs and premises to see if you want to keep them (if they’re working for you, why not?) or if you want to replace them with something more contemporary and useful.
Psychological research shows through multiple studies conducted over the past two decades that, for most people, life satisfaction declines from our early 20s until we hit our 50s. (We’re beautiful, but unhappy. Go figure). Then life satisfaction rises into our 60s and 70s. This pattern has been found in countries and cultures around the world; a version of it has even been detected in chimpanzees and orangutans.
These studies, and there are many of them, suggest the marvels of midlife: our 50s are better than our 30s and 40s, and our 60s are even better. Ditto for our 70s! Is this too good to be true? Are you laughing right now? If so, consider this:
As LGBTQ people, most of us don’t come out happily and completely as teenagers. As a result, our psychological progress is a bit delayed. I find some truth to idea of a “queer adolescence” that happens to you whenever you come out, at age 18 or 81. Staying in the closet holds back our development — and happiness — in some cases, for decades. So, for us LGBTQers, our midlives have more potential for personal happiness and fulfillment than they do for straight people.
Just what are some of these marvels of midlife? Here are but a few of the thousands of examples:
Hopefully, by this time, we’ve been out long enough to find our way, our people, our friends and partner(s). We’ve had time to find fulfilling work and maybe even buy a home that we’ve fixed up, decorated and love. We are old and wise enough to have long-term friends and have figured out ways to deal with our family members in ways that work for us.
We are, hopefully, beyond obsessions with money, cars, clothes, a perfect body and status-based possessions, realizing that, while they sure can be amusing, they won’t bring us lasting happiness or security.
We all grow old — don’t let the advertising industry stigmatize it.
Scared, insecure 50-year-old people are easy victims of manipulative advertising that tells us that we need to look younger than we are. This kind of twisted logic — used to sell everything from anti-aging creams to liposuction and Botox puts us on a treadmill of fear that doesn’t end.
And, damn it anyway. What’s wrong with looking our age? As long as we’re healthy, the marvels of midlife are ours for the having. You can spend all your time obsessed with how you look (and be miserable) or you can instead focus on being happy, loved, fulfilled and healthy (whether your butt is perky or not). It’s great to want to stay healthy and fit, but it’s miserable to be obsessed with looking young and hot. The marvels of midlife await us: let’s hope age brings us the wisdom to know the difference.
As we enter into our 50s, 60s and 70s, aging can provide us with emotional armor against possible physical decline or health problems. A recent study led by Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen concluded: “Contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time in life, the present findings suggest that the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.” (emphasis added).
Economic studies show that people aged 55-65 are more likely to start companies than those aged 20-34, and that older workers are just as productive as younger ones (and increase the productivity of those they work with).
So, my youthful brothers and sisters, fear not getting older! It brings with it many benefits and much more life satisfaction. In fact, I encourage you to look forward to the marvels of midlife…and beyond!
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com