Okay, I am going to come right out and say it. I am not a fan of all this ageing malarkey. With every year I notch up, I seem to slip further down the sliding slope to decrepitude. The days when I barely broke a sweat during a two-hour long workout are long gone. These days, I huff and puff away on the treadmill and my joints creak when I go through my Pilates routine. It gets harder and harder to recover after a late night. And most mortifying of all, my neck is waging a relentless battle against incipient wrinkliness – and losing.
So, yes, I don’t get all this stuff about how ageing is such a marvellous thing. About how we should celebrate all our lines and creases as evidence of a life well lived. About how we should embrace every phase of our lives and enjoy what it brings us. I’m sorry, but I really don’t see what there is to enjoy about losing the fight to gravity. Call me shallow, call me vain, call me what you will, but that’s how I feel.
But it’s not just appearances alone. The decline goes much further and deeper. As you creep into your 40s, medical problems crop up with increasing frequency, wear and tear becomes a major issue, backs get thrown out, knees give up on us, the weight piles on despite diligent dieting and exercise.
As your middle gets thicker even as your hair gets thinner – now, why couldn’t that work the other way round? – it’s hard to see what there is to celebrate about getting older. And please, no nonsense about how the trick is to remain young at heart. The spirit may still be willing but what is the point of that if the flesh is just getting saggier by the day?
Given how I feel, imagine my surprise when a friend recently declared over lunch that her 40s were the favourite time of her life. At my look of bemusement, she explained: her 20s were spent trying to get out of home and create her own life; her 30s went by in a whirl of child-rearing and career-building while trying to muddle along in a joint family; but now that her kids were ready to fly the nest and she finally had a home of her own, this was her decade to enjoy.
I guess looked at that way it made a lot of sense. After a decade of juggling a demanding job and childcare, keeping the husband and in-laws happy, while trying to carve out some space for yourself, it must feel great to get a breather of sorts. And I suspect an increasing number of women – and I daresay, men – feel this way as they enter into their middle life.
But of course, not everybody agrees. For every woman who says she’s looking forward to getting some me-time, there are ten others who are mourning in earnest as the empty-nest syndrome hits them hard. For every man who is enjoying being at the peak of his career as he hits his 50s, there are a dozen others who are struggling with the loss of their youthful vigour or coming to terms with the demise of dearly-held dreams. So, I guess not everyone is a fan of middle-youth – as the trendies call their 40s and 50s these days – like my friend.
But I’m willing to bet that everyone has a favourite decade, depending on their life stories during their period. There are some who plump for their early years, nursing rose-tinted memories of an idyllic childhood. There are a few who actually enjoyed their adolescence enough – despite the acne and the dating disasters – to vote for it as their best time ever. (No, I don’t get it either.)
Then, there are those who felt at their peak in their 20s, as they strode out confidently to conquer the world with all the arrogance of youth. Others felt more fulfilled in their 30s, when they had notched up a marriage and maybe a couple of kids and believed that their lives were finally on track. And then, there are those, like my friend, who love their 40s the most.
I’m sure there are as many people who are enjoying their 50s as they did no other decade, as the responsibilities of children or even ageing parents recede. And there are those who are revelling in happy retirement in their 60s and 70s and they enjoy the fruits of their life-long labours.
I can only hope that when it comes to it, I will be lucky enough to join their ranks. But for the moment, if I had to pick my own favourite decade, I think I would pick my 20s. The torture of incessant exam-giving was over, the agonising indecision about which career to choose had ended. I had a job that I loved, I was making new discoveries every day, nothing seemed impossible, the world was my oyster. And yes, gravity had yet to take its toll. So, that’s why – for the moment, at least – my 20s get the vote for the best time of my life. But what do you think? If you had to choose your own favourite decade, which one would you pick?
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