Irish Examiner, May 8, 2016
“Dye your white hair. I don’t want people to think I have a middle aged son.”
That’s my mother talking. She is past the 70 mark.
“No,” I reply, firmly. “White is the new brown – except when it comes to bread. Brown bread is better for the bowels … as you get OLDER.” I thought the emphasis on OLDER might shut her up. It didn’t… and it didn’t silence the nagging voice in my head saying “she’s right, you’re middle aged… you’re middle aged…”
Webster’s dictionary defines middle age as being between 45ish and 65ish. I’m 49, so I’m over that threshold. I don’t feel middle aged, old or tired. I’ll be very happy to live another 50 years, even if it’s just to annoy everyone around me, demanding my bag be changed or my Zimmer frame be polished.
I am part of the Pope’s Children generation. We were the crowd that emigrated, came back, cheered on Jack Charlton’s men, shook off our National Inferiority Complex (remember that?) and started the Celtic Tiger. Many of us are now redundant or struggling to find our feet again as self-employed people.
Having to start out again is, in many ways, keeping us mentally young, dynamic and hungry – unlike our parent’s generation, who were well settled at this point.
That sounds a bit bleak, doesn’t it? Middle age doesn’t have to be about struggling or settling for what you have. It has plenty of benefits. Here are 21 reasons to enjoy being stuck in the middle…
1 You’re brainier than your kids
Yes, it’s true that we tend to forget, er, what was I saying there? Oh yes, we forget things as you get older. However, science has finally proved that middle agers are smarter than youngsters.
The brain is divided into two hemispheres, with each side specialising in different operations. According to the University of Southern California, young folk use only one side for a specific task, while middle-aged adults are more likely to activate both hemispheres at once. This means we use the full might of our brains to solve problems.
Kids are halfwits. We’re fullwits.
2 You never lost it…
Age is not a factor in being sexy. You can be drop dead hot in your middle years … or just look as if you are about to drop dead. The choice is yours. You can either take care of your looks or go to pot. The March edition of Marie Claire ran a chart of its sexiest men alive. Guess what? It was full of 40-somethings – and a few 50-somethings. David Beckham is 40, Bradley Cooper is 41, Idris Elba is 43, Gerard Butler is 46, Brad Pitt is 52, George Clooney is 54… Need I mention Jack Nicholson? He’s 79 and still has it.
Ladies, ask yourself this question: who would rather a night out with, Orlando Bloom (39) or Jack the Lad? Enough said. Men, there’s hope for us yet.
3 It’s never too late to lose it …
Advancing years bring advancing waistlines and – most horribly of all – moobs (man boobs). The good news for moobsters is that it’s never too late to work on getting fit.
A recent study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found men who keep fit were seven times more likely to have a healthy old age, even if they only took up exercise when they retired. One study shows men aged between mid-twenties and mid-fifties will lose only 5pc of their fitness if they exercise moderately and consistently every week. So throw away your man bras, and get exercising.
4 The older the fiddle…
All the greatest musicians in the world are in advanced years. Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Elton John… OK, forget about Elton (unless you want to look like Anne Robinson’s granny.)
Music and performance keep you young – especially in terms of grey matter. Researchers at Northwestern University in the US have found that musicians aged 45 to 65 excel in memory and hearing speech in noise compared to non-musicians.
That means guitar-strumming oldies are better than youngsters at hearing conversations down the pub – and remembering them. Maybe that’s not a blessing
5 Hair (1)
The appearance of grey hairs can be traumatic for some men. I will happily admit to being depressed as hell when I started to go grey in my late 20s. I began dyeing my locks and only let my natural lack of colour come through when I was fully grey in my late 30s.
The only benefit of going grey young is that you appear to age less slowly than your dark-haired peers. I’ve been white for years and my mates are only catching up on me now. The ageing process is more obvious with them. I’ve always looked old.
Grey hair on a man is (apparently) attractive. Think of George Clooney, John Slattery, Jose Mourinho, Richard Gere… And on women too: Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Lagarde…
Silver has become so fashionable among the young that women like (the irritating) Kelly Osborne and Lady Gaga are actually dying their hair grey.
So rejoice in your silvery tresses, or as Tom Robinson (almost) sang: ‘Sing if you’re glad to be grey.’
6 Hair (2)
One of nature’s cruellest jokes is that as men get older, the hair loss on our heads is in direct proportion to the hair gain in our noses and ears. I have often thought of letting my nasal hair grow and back-combing it.
There is nothing good about hair loss. Sure, people will cite Jason Statham, Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel as baldy role models, but they’re all muscly action men. Most men look crap without hair – but there are some solutions. Regaine (Minoxidil) does work for 80pc of men. At very least, it makes your hair look thicker. Then there’s Finasteride, if you can get it.
Hair transplants are not so expensive any more. Gone are the days of the ‘Frank Sinatra plug’, where the recipient’s head looked like a cornfield after being devastated by locusts. Look at Louis Walsh. He had a hair procedure and looks great. Really. And he’s 84. Fair play to him.
7 You’re NOT a technophobe
Are you sick of younger people smugly implying that they are better at technology than you? I am. The phone addicted tweeters and Facebookers seem to think that technology passed us by – when, in fact, we are the generation that invented smart phones and Twitter.
Two of the founders of the micro-blogging site are in their 40s (Evan Williams, Biz Stone). The founder of eBay, Pierre Morad Omidyar, is 48. Steve Jobs was 52 when he launched the iPhone.
Today’s tech happy kids are ‘consumers’ while we are the ‘creators’. Be proud.
8 You don’t need to worry about peer pressure
Be flamboyant… you don’t have to care what anyone thinks about your clothes. Many middle agers like to blend in. That’s why Dunnes Stores is awash with beige, taupe and stone-coloured clothes. And tanktops. And sensible trousers.
Buck the trend and start wearing way-out clothes: yellow paisley, crushed purple velvet, patterned flares… go mad. Why? Because middle aged people have one word at their disposal that youngsters don’t: ‘eccentric’. It’s a great catch-all for ‘eff you’ behaviour – dressing included. You’re now old enough to be eccentric. Embrace it.
9 Enjoy life in the slow lane
Two words: ‘better insurance’. And two fingers to the boy racers who have to pay through their noses for it.
10 You don’t have to live with your parents
As you are middle aged, you probably own a house, and are not on a waiting list for a one-bed box in a back field in Mullingar.
11 You can go to Pilates classes without making women feel uncomfortable
When you’re in your 20s and 30s you can’t really go to pilates or aerobics without having a question mark placed over your masculinity. Or being accused of being a lecherous git.
When you’re in your 40s you have the catch-all excuse: “I have a bad back. It’s the only thing that works”… while continuing to be a lecherous git.
12 Dancing is a weapon
Most of my youth was spent propped against a wall in Peekers nite club in Dun Laoghaire. I was a crap dancer. Sometimes I would get very drunk and attempt to moonwalk, or do the robot dance beloved of Kraftwerk fans. In the main though, I knew I had a better chance of scoring if I stayed stationary.
Now, as I am married and just don’t give a toss, I dance whenever I feel like it (except on the bus, or in A and E waiting rooms). I even moonwalk with abandon, even though I know I look less like Jackson and more like Jack(Nichol)son.
Here’s the best bit: Dad dancing is a great way to embarrass your kids. So use it as a weapon to mortify them.
13 You can be rude to young folk and get away with it
Old people often conflate rudeness with ‘directness’. At a social event recently, my 70-umph mother poked a young journo colleague in the tum with her walking stick. “You’ve put on weight,” she said.
Perhaps she thought her ‘honesty’ might spur him to lose a few pounds. Whether it did or not is moot. I just enjoyed his discomfort. I later heard someone consoling him with the words “she’s getting on and doesn’t really mean it”.
I’m now thinking of getting a walking stick.
14 Specs appeal
You know the advert where Celia Holman Lee squints at the camera and tells us how she has undergone corrective laser eye treatment? Have you thought about getting it? Are you sick of your glasses?
Don’t be. They are de rigeur among young hipster types. In fact, there are many shopping outlets which now sell glasses that have no therapeutic value because specs are sexy. Embrace the short-sighted nerdy look. You’re finally in fashion. In fact…
15 You’re so out of fashion… you’re back in fashion
Fashion repeats itself in 20 year cycles. In the late 1970s, the 1950s were cool. In the 1980s, we harked back to the 1960s. In the 1990s it was the 1970s… and now the 1990s are on the way back. Kids are paying a fortune for new versions of those scratched old Wayfarers you bought on the way to Santa Ponsa in 1992.
All the old clothes that lurk at the back of your wardrobe are now vintage. Just lose that gut and you’ll be way ahead of the fashion police.
16 No more red rags to a bull
The onset of menopause can be a source of depression to many women – but it has some benefits. According to the American College of Gynecology, 85pc of women experience one or more PMS symptoms each month, but after menopause, life is cramp, mood swings and irritability-free.
This is good news for middle aged women. And even better news for middle aged men.
17 You can wash your hair less often
Who the hell would want to be teenager? Raging hormones, spots and greasy hair. You may be old, chum, but at least you don’t have acne, or lank oily hair. In fact, the older we get the less time we need to spend shampooing our locks.
This is because glands below the skin on your bonce become less active during middle age and the scalp accumulates less oil and sweat. The result: older folk can wash their hair less often. Most women won’t admit to this though, as it means less time at the hairdresser.
18 Dangerous sex (1)
Sex is less dangerous in middle age. (Only if you want it to be.) When I was a young chap in the 1980s, the most terrifying byproduct of (rare) sexual shenanigans was a broken back.
“If you ever get a girl pregnant, I’ll break the sweeping brush on your back,” my mother used to say, adding: “and I’ll do the same to her.” I don’t believe she would have, but since that threat was levelled, I’ve never been able to pass a road-sweeper without an odd mixture of sexual desire and fear.
The sex scene is a lot more ‘fraught’ these days. According to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Control, the number of Irish people with STDs has risen sharply over the past decade. The incidence of gonorrhoea increased fourfold while syphilis and chlamydia doubled. Young adults aged 15-25 account for 14pc of all syphilis cases, 39pc of gonorrhoea and 67pc of chlamydia.
Ergo, sex is safer in middle age.
19 Dangerous sex (2)
Here’s the good news: sex in your 50s can be something to look forward to because, for the first time in your life, you have the time and energy to enjoy it. (The days of sleepless, baby-filled nights, and juggling parenthood and work are well gone). Also, being middle aged means your partner has less chance of getting pregnant. You both can enjoy uninhibited romping without the side effects of the Pill (high blood pressure etc).
Here’s the bad news: the menopause can sap your partner’s libido. But help is at hand. Where us men have the little blue pill (I don’t need it, thanks), there is now a ‘pink pill’. Addyi (Flibanserin) is the first FDA-approved treatment for female sexual dysfunction. Woohoo.
20 It’s all ahead of you
Have a goal. Optimism will keep you healthier longer. One of the benefits of middle age is that you’re now officially worldly wise. You’ve seen it all before. The knockbacks you get will have been softened by years of … er, knockbacks.
According to Harvard University, optimism is good for the heart and general wellbeing. So is a good sense of worldly-wise humour. Researchers in Tennessee have found that voiced laughter boosts energy consumption and heart rate by 10pc to 20pc (that’s anywhere from 10 to 40 calories).
So don’t cry over spilled milk. Laugh at it. By this time tomorrow, it’ll be free yogurt.
21 You can always have the final word.
Dad-dancing may be a great way to embarrass your kids, but we middlers have an even more devastating weapon when they’re giving us grief about being old farts. It’s the following statement:
“IT’S ALL AHEAD OF YOU.”