Go back to home page of Unsolicited Advice from Tiffany B. Brown

Meditating on Middle Age

An old rusting tug boat that’s run aground. Its white paint is peeling. ’Point Reyes’  is painted across its bow.

Getting older means feeling like this boat some days. Photo by Nick Jio on Unsplash

Amil Niazi, over at The Cut writes about turning 40 in her column The Mindf*ck of Midlife:

But what you can’t outrun — what we don’t talk about enough — is what it means to really age, how time reshapes us. No amount of Botox, cryo baths, or epigenetic age-reversing can stop that heartbreaking moment when you have to decide how to care for an elderly parent, racking your brain to negotiate the puzzle pieces of working, parenting your little kids, and bringing your dad to his now-frequent doctors’ appointments.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through my forties, and I’m having ~feelings~ about it. We’re doing grownup shit like co-owning property, making an estate plan, and buying new windows. It’s all too much like adulthood, and we don’t even have kids.

My face has caught up to my age all of a sudden. I got carded well into my thirties. Now, my grays are the first thing you see. My eyelids droop. One of my chin hairs is white. A few of those hairs are white. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been because I lift weights, but my shoulder sometimes hurts if I try to scratch that one spot in the middle of my back that neither arm can comfortably reach.

I don’t think I feel 46. I still want to have adventures. I want to change careers. I want to do other things with my life. I still, after all, have a life to live. I’m just not as young and free as I once was. As Niazi writes:

I don’t want glossy affirmations about how I can still look good at 40; I want to know how to navigate a career change without spending another decade in school while caring for school-age kids and still paying my steadily mounting bills. I want to have conversations that contend with the loneliness that sometimes comes with this stage of life and how to make friends when you’re starting over. I want someone to admit out loud how much of our culture and society is geared toward the pursuit and presentation of youth and how that maybe kinda sorta fucks with your head a little the older you get.

I’m not old, exactly, but am I too old to start something else? Is it worth the financial and emotional toll that such a shift would require? How long would it take to make such a change? And what would that change even be?

Sometime in the last half decade, I realized that I am no longer the target demographic. Pop culture is for the kids. Jay-Z, the rap icon of my twenties is 53 and a dad. 2 Chainz is a dad. Some of my rap favorites — Heavy D, Phife Dawg, DMX — are no longer with us for health reasons (although in DMX’ case, it was also due to drugs). The culture no longer caters to my age group. My age group is taking Losartan and Lipitor, putting mom into palliative care, and trying not to catch long COVID.

I was never especially cool, but now my age prevents me from ever being a cool kid. Or a hot mama. At best, I can be a lukewarm lady.

In some ways reaching middle age is freeing. I don’t have to be cool. I care less about trying. I know things, including when a situation won’t work for me, and a half dozen recipes for tofu.

In other ways, as Niazi put it, it’s a mindfuck. You still feel like yourself. You still feel, mentally, whatever age was your favorite age — in my case, that’s 32. But nothing else about me is 32. No one perceives me as 32. I’ve spent time with actual 32 year olds and know that I am not 32.

I don’t know what I was expecting about getting older. But I really didn’t think I’d ever be this much of a grownup.