When I was ten, I realized that I would still be alive for the year 2000. That was exciting for about a minute—until it dawned on me that by then I would be in my forties. “Never mind,” I thought, “that’s so old I might as well be dead.”
I was raised on a steady diet of Disney princesses (young, lovely, and passive) and Disney villains (evil, aggressive older women). So it is no wonder I internalised gendered ageism by an early age and took a long time to outgrow it. Turning forty was depressing. By fifty I began to see the ageism thing as a bit of a hype. And by sixty I was through my second divorce, had resumed dating and was writing erotica about Women of a Certain Age. My sixties have been the best decade ever.
The secret society of women over sixty
My children were grown, I was about to retire, and life was grand. I joined the secret society of women over sixty whose members enjoy more freedom than at any time in decades. It turns out retirement is rather like college—if college did not include homework or tests.
As I write, I’m on the edge of turning seventy: the perfect moment to reflect on why this decade of the sixties has been so great.
First, there is time.
Not everyone has the privilege of retirement. And some of us are caretakers of grandchildren or ill spouses or much older parents. But for many of us, including me, the children have flown from the nest and work diminishes or ends. Those of us who had to mount a pitched battle to take two weeks off per year now enjoy grand vistas of time. Did we envy the independently wealthy? Suddenly we possess the most important thing they have: Control of our time. It is like being let out of a cage.
Second, there is indifference.
Do you worry about what people think of you? Whether you are cool? Whether you are dressed for success? Do you walk the narrow line between feminine/passive and masculine/aggressive, seeking the perfect level of assertiveness? In my sixties, I achieved the quasi-nirvana of not giving a flying fig.
Third, there is a new level of self-care.
I go for a long walk every day. I lift weights, I dance in my nightgown, I read all the books on my TBR list, and I volunteer for projects that are near and dear to me. And, equally important for self-care, I keep an Anti-Bucket List of things I am no longer willing to do. Top of the list: No high heels ever again.
Fourth, there is romance and sexuality.
Contrary to how we are socialized, we can just keep going as long as we like. As Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, once said, “Learning and sex until rigor mortis.” When we date in our sixties we may end up kissing several frogs before finding a prince; yet it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. I was 62 when I met my terrific partner through an online dating site. I recommend Joan Price’s book, Naked at Our Age, for more on this topic.
Fifth, there is the return to creativity.
I set aside my passionate desire to write books when I became a full-time worker and a mother. I’m not alone; many of us turn away from the creative joys of our youth when we grow up. Even when we have time, it’s easy to judge ourselves about the pastimes that bring us joy—as if play needed to meet a certain standard. Making peace with our Inner Critic is one of the key developmental tasks of our sixties.
As I write my own fiction and teach workshops about playful writing, I see women reclaim ourselves through creativity. It’s the most magical gift of my sixties. By following our passions—whether writing or painting or learning about dinosaurs—we fully inhabit our vivid lives, which are completely different than the stereotype of women in our sixties. And when we share our creativity, through publication, through showing our paintings in galleries, we push back on the negative social narrative about women our age.
Savour each day for the privilege it is.
My sixties have been a grand adventure, and I treasure every memory of this marvellous decade. How much longer the ride will last is impossible to know, but I plan to live in joy as long as I can. My resolution as I transition to my seventies is to savor each day for the privilege it is.
Written by Stella Fosse