A Question of Age

3 mn read

“real age, as I came to see from the genuine pieces that passed through my hands, was variable, crooked, capricious, singing here and sullen there, warm asymmetrical streaks on a rosewood cabinet from where a slant of sun had struck it while the other side was as dark as the day it was cut.”

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

For years, I used to pretend I was younger than I was. I looked younger and therefore I could get away with it. I wouldn’t lie, I just wouldn’t correct people if they suggested a lower number of years. During my 30s, 40s and 50s, this ‘puella eternis’ attitude of mine persisted.

Then I did start lying on dating sites, specifically the Guardian one. I realised that unless I lied; men my own age would not look at my profile. I was gripped by the internet deceit over age and I shaved ten years off. But I didn’t feel good about it. I felt like a pawn in a system that had already been designed. And that was so not me!

Where was all my rebellion now? Stuck in the fear that men wouldn’t notice me. Ah, there’s the rub for all women over 40 who Tindr/Craigslist/web date.

Approaching sixty was a turning point. I’d seen how a French friend had proudly embraced her fiftieth at her party in Provence. She didn’t simply have a party; she declared her age, she owned her herstory, she sat comfortably on her throne and thoroughly relished her years in words and song. She did not blanche and turn away. She steamed straight into the oncoming traffic. I declared to myself that I would do the same in my own way as I crossed the bridge of ‘old’.

At my sixtieth weekend event at the incomparable Voewood House in Norfolk – there are stuffed swans in the corridor, a letter from Damien Hirst in the toilet and an original drawing by Jean Cocteau in the mistress bedroom – I did not hold back. I gave a speech, wrote a poem The Ineffability of Age, which is about how unspeakable my age used to be for me, and had a ritual where I crossed the threshold to join the elders. The irony was not lost on me that we struggled to find willing elders. There was no way that I was going to avoid this declaration of sixtydom. Mind you, I noticed that I didn’t announce it on Facebook. I merely put up the photos without qualification so there was still reluctance there. A reluctance to be seen as old, that’s what it was.

Oh, but then I fell for a seventy-year-old. It wasn’t in my vision. My invocation was for a younger man or at least one my own age. Now I felt as if I was crossing the abyss-of-no-return-to-youth. I felt resistance – in fact a distinct horror of this development, a surge of I-want-to-be-still-seen-as-young and then gradually I surrendered. Not gracefully but with a wry smile. After all, I was being tended by sensual, loving hands accompanied by a brave heart.

Three years later, I have sunk delightedly to another level of acceptance. I am old but I feel fit, sexy, creative, desired, fulfilled, adventurous, curious, alive and healthy. It is possible for these qualities to be synonymous with ageing. I know some people find this idea difficult. I just had a heated FB discussion with a Tantra teacher who insisted that – “I’m 51 but I don’t think of myself as old.” – because to her, old signified tired and lacklustre.

But Advantages of Age tells a defiant tale, one honed in the issues of The Face and ID magazine. And to the tunes of The Slits and Patti Smith. And the words of Anais Nin and Simone de Beauvoir.

It also means that that we at all of our ages – the women in the hot tub who created advantageofage.com range from 44 to 63 – embrace our fulsomeness together and challenge the pervasively negative media and societal narrative of ageing. I love our intergenerational aspects. Why shouldn’t women with a 20 year age gap hang out together and reap the benefits? And yet it doesn’t happen often enough in the UK. I remember being in Havana during Easter, 1998 – older Cuban women danced with younger men, older men, younger women, older women and they were so hot, so flirtatious, so sensual. Of course, I joined in. Totally. And admired their unabashedly confident sexuality.

What are the stories we tell in our media and mouths about ageing? That we’re unattractive, that our skin sags, that our vaginas are dry, that we have no energy, that we have slipped into a ooze of belly fat and cream cakes, that we are boring as shit, that we are grey and featureless, invisible to the horny male eye, beset by groans and aches, that stair lifts are imminent, that the we have lost our desire and our sparkle.

Well, fuck that for a narrative. We at advantages of age are in the process of turning the tables. Literally and metaphorically.

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