I embrace my identity as a socially awkward introvert who often drops eye contact and may speak three sentences at a party. None of those things speak to my character.
I am about to turn 46. According to the Census Bureau, I am now one year into my middle age. I love this milestone.
Like many of my peers, I spent much of the last two decades waiting to turn into the magical creature known as an “adult.” I imagined an “adult” felt confident in their life decisions and did not feel burdened or overwhelmed by the responsibilities of children or mortgages or careers. That certainty and easiness never came to me, but here are the reasons why I feel gloriously middle-aged anyway:
I Am Happy to Let the Times Pass Me By
I’m on Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t even care to know the names of other social media. I finally purchased my first smart phone this year, but only because I found one for $50. I am happy to let others vet new technology. I will join in once a product has moved beyond fad and has survived five or 10 years.
I don’t like the music the kids listen to. That’s fine, it’s not made for me. My Pandora station is set to songs from the 1980s and 1990s and the only music I blast in the car are children’s CDs that I play for my son.
I pay attention to cultural trends only insofar as they offer a lens into society as a whole. When Miley Cyrus twerked, I read the sociological critiques, but I never watched the performance. I know that song lyrics have become hyper-sexualized, but I don’t need to keep up with each new variant.
I’ve lived long enough to understand that while the world is constantly changing, it’s not constantly improving. I am satisfied to let other people play out each new trend and wait for the movements that have real, lasting value to rise to the top.
I Don’t Care What (Some) People Think
I know it’s a popular idea to profess that as we age we stop caring what other people think of us. That’s a fine idea if you’re talking about dying your hair purple, but not so great as a global philosophy. The goal should be to throw off superficial judgments and instead focus on living our core values out loud.
I don’t care what people think about how I dress. Or the car I drive. I embrace my identity as a socially awkward introvert who often drops eye contact and may speak three sentences at a party. None of those things speak to my character.
I am a lesbian. I stayed closeted for years, worried that others would reject me. In hindsight, I wonder why I ever catered to the hatred of homophobes. I now consider it a badge of honor if a bigot dislikes me. Pride and self-acceptance are values I publicly embrace.
However, in the same vein, if an African American person accused me of being a racist, I would care a lot about that judgment. It would speak to my character. It would show that I am lacking in one of my core values. That pronouncement would lead to self-reflection and growth.
I have sat at many a family dinner listening to racist/sexist/homophobic remarks from the older generation and, always, I stay quiet thinking, “You’re not going to change old people. Speaking up will just get everyone upset.”
I don’t want to be that old person. My 46 years on this planet do not entitle me to defend harmful world views as “just the way I am.” I don’t consider it honorable to brag that “I don’t care what other people think,” as if I deserve to be above all reproach.
Instead, I can say with full confidence that I know what matters to me in terms of my character strengths and deficits and I will work on those without being distracted from my values by superficial or hateful people.
I Understand About the Tides
When I was 24, my life plan was a straight line. Finish graduate school. Find a job in academia. Fall in love. Have children. Publish economics research. Everything was in front of me. I just had to follow the path.
My straight forward plans were sent crooked when my father died that year. Being forced to make an emotional connection to the idea that life is finite upended my aspirations. I realized it would be a personal tragedy if I died only having known university life.
I started broadening my horizons. I moved to Chicago, abandoned my ivory tower dreams, and started to explore my identity as a lesbian. I stopped hiding behind my tired identity of being the smart girl and tried to become a whole person. I had my share of growing pains and my crooked life wasn’t always easy, but it was much more interesting than my old one.
Years later, I was once again swept off my feet when my son was diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero. I was horribly depressed, but the tides had knocked me over enough in my life that I knew it was best to be humble and not fight the universe’s plan for my son and me. He has been the greatest source of good in my life and, once again, this new life is much more interesting than my old one.
All of which means that when I was younger, I valued opportunities that placed distance between me and other people. I made straight As in school. I pursued promotions. I had aspirations of wealth. I dreamed my children would attend ivy league colleges.
However, as people close to me started dying and other challenges, such as depression, invaded my life, I realized that distance can be obliterated by one tragedy, never mind the multiple losses we all endure in our lives. Now, my measures of success aren’t based on accolades that come my way—they are based on my having a positive impact on the world and hopefully making some small changes that will resonate even after memories of me have washed away. I am just glad to still be in the game.
Anne Penniston Grunsted writes about parenting, disability, and family life from her perspective as a lesbian mama. She has been published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamamia, and won the 2014 Nonfiction prize from Beecher’s Magazine. She lives in California with her partner and son.