Graydar: What do you notice most?

Graydar: The realization that you too are now among the older set.

OK, I'll go first. 

1. I've become a lousy judge of age, especially of anyone under twenty-five. Fifteen-year-olds, especially girls, look nineteen to me, nineteen-year-olds look twenty-five. 

It works both ways! My doctor, around thirty and just out of medical school, casually referred to me as "an old person". 

2. Salespersons use certain tactics less. They do not, for example, tell me they "bought one just like it"; they rightly figure I may not want what a youth wears. I get sticker shock, but am careful not to say so. That's probably related to no longer working, but jeez Louise, $300 for a sweatshirt? $125 for a tee shirt

Not my dress!

Occasionally a sales associate seems utterly paralyzed in dealing with me; when I was shopping for a dress for Etienne's wedding, I had my best service from those over forty or so. Younger staff seemed unsure of what to suggest to a 67-year-old who wanted no truck with bugle beads. 

3. A prudish strain has hit out of nowhere. When I see a young woman on the street in shorts that offer a view I find gynecological, I wonder what she is hoping to communicate, and also worry for her safety. I had my own minis, halter tops, and what one date called "your gownless evening strap", so I'm doubly shocked, first by by her display and then by my response.

I'm noticing welcome changes too; these include, 

1. Small pleasures deeply satisfy, and now there is time to enjoy them: children playing in the park, two guitarists giving a spontaneous concert on the bus, the waft of blooming linden trees: all experiences I would have rushed past even at fifty. The more I take in these small pleasures, the more I find them.

2. My ego is still there, but moved back many rows. When I meet friends still immersed in work, I am reminded of the demands of a career, of the competitive nature (especially in large corporations), and of how a certain drive carried me both upwards to achievement and down toward exhaustion. I have ceased to miss that intensity.

3. Not long ago, one of my sons ran a burdensome errand on my behalf, unasked. "Ah, 'taking care of Mom' begins", I thought to myself. I was grateful—if a little surprised—that this era has dawned.


Related to that, since I went to grey hair, I get offered a seat on transit during rush hour, nearly every time. Sometimes I accept, to reinforce my neighbour's kindness; other times, especially if disembarking in a few stops, I thank the person warmly, but stay upright. 


It's your turn, and you don't need to be my age to contribute. Some readers may notice the changes earlier, like the first time you walk into a restaurant and think the music is too loud or when you dig a pair of stilettos out of your closet and think, Whoa, I wore those?


45 comments

Unknown said...

Ah, yes. Crossing the Rubicon.
People in their 20s, 30s and sometimes even 40s will call me "honey" or "dear" in casual or business interactions. I don't know what motivates this: that I am older and harmless and will appreciate the kindness? It's a mystery.
I also have noticed my children occasionally seeming to worry about me the way that I used to worry about them.
I still work, full time, and there seems to be an assumption that I wouldn't be working. I picked up a to go lunch at a local coffee shop. The clerk asked me if I was going to take the lunch back home (surmising that I couldn't possibly have a job.)
I suppose the upside is that younger people may feel freer to strike up a conversation.

Janice Riggs said...

I have a clearer view of what's really important - little things that would have driven me mad 20 years ago now are just wee blips on the radar. Cooking problems? A wardrobe malfunction? Just part of the deal of being alive, and a good story to tell later!

mary said...

good question! I'm almost 65, still working. I can honestly say I love this whole aging thing that has brought me greater peace, understanding and calm. what I don't particularly like is having become "invisible!" I've always enjoyed fashion and accessories and shoes and good haircuts and was "rewarded" with approving glances or (appropriate) comments. Now? Mostly---***crickets***. I think I still look great, but see-through, I guess!

Duchesse said...

Unknown: The Rubicon beats the Styx! Somewhere I have an entire draft post on being called "dear(ie)", "honey", etc. Mostly I let it go, but if it happens before my morning coffee I have said, in a neutral tone, "Excuse me, do we know one another? Because "honey" is a term that implies familiarity." Two "dears" in a week, recently- did not like it.

Janice Riggs: I have noticed it goes both ways; some persons mellow, some become more easily thrown. Your camp has more fun!

mary: Let's just do it for ourselves and the enjoyment of those who know us!


Duchesse said...

Unkmnown: Oh, and furthermore, I just go nuts when I read or hear a young person call a person of 70, 80, and especially 90 "cute". This infantalizes elders; those persons usually get a disproportionate piece of my mind.

Carol Woodard said...

I, too, have noticed a shift in my attitude these past few months. I recently turned 61. At work I want to wage one more battle (and win) and then slip under the radar until retirement. I will still do my job the best that I am able and be responsive and accountable to my students, but I will leave the passion for the youngers. I do want to retire as early as I can as I have known too many who put it off and then passed away or their spouse passed away or encountered devastating illnesses and never got to enjoy retirement. Re: the "honey" thing-it's annoying and off putting but climate change, American politics, gun violence, and hunger bother me more.

LauraH said...

What have I noticed? Feeling more relaxed, more go-with-the flow rather than trying to control everything, less judgemental, more willing to chat with people I meet casually, more plans for travel, more willing to spend time and money on me. I'm not sure if the changes are age-related, retirement-related or widow-related, probably a combination. The thing that bothers me most is the way my face seems to be slipping downwards....but since I don't intend to go under the knife, I'll just have to live with that. I admit I was put out when I began to be offered a seat on the subway a few years ago in my late 50s....do I really look that old...yikes. And going to the theatre mid-day I notice the place is full of old people...so what am I doing there :-) And I'm always taken aback being called honey or dear, sounds patronizing to me.

On balance, the positives far outweighs the pinpricks, these are wonderful times and I'm enjoying life.

Duchesse said...

Carol Woodward: The sense of contribution at work changes; in the last years, I was sparked by mentoring younger colleagues.

I agree there are far more pressing issues that someone using a familiar form of address. But I also think it's off-putting to us because it connotes condescension or diminishment. Behind the "dear" are some serious issues (the rate of poverty among elderly single women; needed changes to end-of-life care options; revamping of social security and health benefits; ageism in the workplace, sometimes leading to job loss.) Does the form of address imply a tendency to discount elders, or is it a mindless habit?

Here in Montréal, I am addressed daily as "Madame", which I like. It's used for women of any age (usually above 30 or so) and carries no sense of presumed familiarity.

Lori said...

I like madam, here in the states they call you ''mam' which for some reason I find off putting... don't know why :-) other than that, I enjoy that with aging I have become more comfortable in my own skin, gray hair and all :-)

Duchesse said...

Lori: Ma'am, the informal contraction of "madam" is generally used in the US as a courteous form of address from a younger person to a parent or older person, as in "Yes, ma'am" and, IME, not as often these days in a salutation, such as "Good morning, ma'am". When I was training as a long-distance phone operator (and does that date me!), we were taught to use "ma'am", but it seems rather quaint now.

And who can forget Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Tennison, saying, "Listen, I like to be called governor or the boss. I don't like ma'am; I'm not the bloody Queen. So take your pick."

Unknown said...

Responding to some of your comments, I adore "Better the Rubicon than the Styx." That may have to be my motto for today.
I believe it was the New York Times that said that part of the appeal of Bernie Sanders to young people is that they view someone they perceive as old and cranky as cute. .

Madame Là-bas said...

I'm a lot less self-conscious and more self-aware than I was in my younger years. As my early conditioning and aspirations fall away, I have a different perspective on what really matters to me. As I am more comfortable in my skin, I tend to be less judgemental. AG (after grey), I am offered more seats on transit and young Mexican men offered me their hands at archeological sites last year.
I do prefer "Madame" to "sweetie" but so what!

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Oh what a fun post...

Clerks in the grocery store offer to help carry my bags to the car and they eye me up and say we best distribute the groceries well so the bags are not too heavy for when you get them home. The young men call me Ma"am...the first time I heard this I turned around...were they meaning me?

I feel no pressure to dress or act a certain way...being rather "invisible" offers a freedom that I quite enjoy.
Most of my friends are grey or going that way and we still feel "young" in so many ways. We listen to Adele, go to plays and concerts and dance in the aisles while still wearing jeans.

Like you I worry about some of the younger women and their rather skimpy outfits...but not that long ago I wore halter tops and wore them without a bra! My Mother was mortified...times change as does our attitude...
I am really enjoying life from the gray side.

materfamilias said...

I love this post, K, and will be thinking about it through the day. Still recovering from a bout of food poisoning, so not enough energy here to consolidate and articulate. I'm thinking, though, about the balance between the commonalities of experience due to age and the way individual personality and presentation inflect those -- we share many experiences as over-60s, but depending how we dress, how confident we are, how quiet or strident or fussy or flexible we are. . . Perhaps because of the work I did, I found that many young people are really keen to spend time with an elder who blends experience with interest in the new. . .
So fascinated to find how much now, though, I'm seeing my mother's perspective, understanding her better each day, wishing she were still here so that I could tell her so.

Duchesse said...

Mme: There is (for me) a "so what" but perhaps it's subtle; my pique is similar to when I was a young manager in a corporation and would sometimes be referred to as a girl by my male peers or senior executives. If I could privately and even lightly indicate why so many grown women did not enjoy being called a "girl" in the workplace, I could promote social attitudes I wanted to support rather than tacitly comply. But, I had to choose my spots, and I am an outspoken person. In fact I think I'd rather be called "an old bat" or some such than "dearie"!

hostess: Don't know about you, but ma'am seems more respectful to me than "honey" or "dear". Here, "madame" is the only term of address tendered except the very occasional "ma chère", which is only said to me by women over 40.

The other day I addressed a very young man (18?)stocking groceries as "sir" and he cracked up.

dana said...

I was shocked at the change from, "what is the date of your last period?" to "are you still having periods?" at the gynecologist's. I mean really. The answer is yes. If I say, "Lawd honey, I think it was the Clinton administration," then you'll know your answer! Testy, is that what we become, too? Grrr

SewingLibrarian said...

Having moved from CA to TN, I get called ma'am here a lot. I don't mind it as it seems to be a sign of respect for women who are older or in a "higher" position. "Higher" isn't exactly the word I want. Example: clerks say ma'am to customers. I don't have a problem with that. I DO have a problem with being called honey, dear, etc. And I hate being addressed by my first name by people I don't know, especially at medical offices.
As for the whole age thing, I don't like being invisible, but I've decided the only recourse is to be as charming as I can be to those I spend time with. Charm can go a long way.

Duchesse said...

dana: If the nurse or physician's assistant is young, she many not even know when the Clinton era was!
I swear this was an actual conversation recently:
Nurse: Are you sexually active?
Me: Yes.
Nurse: With how many partners?
Me: One; I have been married for thirty years. (I realize there are married persons with more than one partner, but I was answering for me.)
Nurse (incredulous); Thirty years with ONE GUY??????

Duchesse said...

Sewing: Some US language sites locate "ma'am" as Southern and Midwestern regional usage. I grew up in the Midwest and was not taught to use "ma'am" until that phone operator training. (My parents insisted on "Mrs" and surname, never first name.)

In English-speaking Canada and the NE US, as time passed, I noticed that any honorific was dropped, or I was addressed with the awful "Miss" (even when over 50). Did someone tell salespersons that "Miss" is flattering to older women? But I still feel a warm, nostalgic glow when addressed as "Lady", as when a NYC cop said, "Lady, you can sit there all day but it's still a No Parking zone." I feel like I'm in a Damon Runyon story.



Jane in London said...

Here in Britain, women of my age are called Madam. Or 'Modom' by sales assistants who are trying to be posh! I love it - makes me feel like my Great Aunt Essie, who was a terrifying maiden lady with a thousand-yard stare.

lagatta à montréal said...

Great post. Basically, it is against patronising people and treating them with contempt. Very young people get that in another way; they are assumed to be shoplifters and dangerous "loiterers".

I am not your mother, or necessarily anyone's mother. I am not senile. I'm not a "dear" or "dearie". Eff off to those who treat older people thus.

I love your sons; they are fine young men, but you could simply remind them that we have to help each other.

Mardel said...

I hated it when people told older women they were cute, or described them as such when I was a young woman. I felt, and still feel it is belittling and a dehumanizing, although people have told me that is too harsh. Now that people occasionally use apply that term to me, I find I still feel the same way, but from the other side of the fence. I feel the same way about being called honey or dear, and haven't yet figured out if this is ageism or a Tennessee thing. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.

Otherwise I am far more comfortable in my skin than I was as a young woman, and with that ease comes a bit more patience with others. I am also far less rushed and stressed; but I don't know if that is age or retirement or just being on my own again.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Perhaps I was not clear; I definitely appreciated the errand he ran for me, and was pleased he thought of doing it, unasked. A shift- from my role as care giver to (for now occasionally) care receiver, has been happened, though.

Mardel: Why in the world are elders called cute? Unless some persons are cute from infancy right through? But I don't think it's that.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Sorry, that should read "has happened".

Beth said...

Hah!!!

Beth said...

No one has called me "dear" yet but I'd be inclined to punch them. OK, not really, but come on, so patronizing! I too am grateful for "Madame" and also for the genuine respect that comes now from some young people. It's not something I expected but I was pleased when it started; they are gentle but sincere, and I am a little amused but gracious. Not being a mother, this kind solicitousness surprised me but they must feel I deserve their respect, and that's actually so nice!

Beth said...

No one has called me "dear" yet but I'd be inclined to punch them. OK, not really, but come on, so patronizing! I too am grateful for "Madame" and also for the genuine respect that comes now from some young people. It's not something I expected but I was pleased when it started; they are gentle but sincere, and I am a little amused but gracious. Not being a mother, this kind solicitousness surprised me but they must feel I deserve their respect, and that's actually so nice!

Beth said...

Hah!!!

Leslie Milligan said...

I grew up in the south and was taught to always say ma'am. The family recently traveled to Bali to celebrate the in-laws 60th anniversary, where I found myself responding to my 7 year old niece with "yes, ma'am". She feigned displeasure, but I couldn't and didn't stop. I learned my good manners from older, more experienced relatives, so why shouldn't she?

Diane said...

I've been "Ma'am"d since I was 16 years old. Apparently it has something to do with what is called a RBF - Resting Bitch Face. My resting face looks angry although I am simply thinking, reading, whatever.

Yes, I've been shocked at how little young women wear in public but have had to remind myself I wore similar outfits when I was that age. Shorts and a T-shirt, no bits hanging out however, that's more than I want to know about a stranger.

As I age I find I'm not thrown by much any longer. Situations I would have found dramatic and horrifying barely rate a response these days.

When someone calls me 'dear' or 'sweetie' I respond with 'honey' or 'sweetheart.' Only when I'm feeling quite cranky though.

Duchesse said...

diane: I'm still trying to reconcile being called ma'am with RBF. One of my acquaintances had Botox because she had facial lines that made her look angry when she wasn't. (It worked.)

Susan said...

Duchesse, I've been supporting my lawyer husband in a month long trial starting last week--I'm i court everyday all day long. I've made friends with another lawyer's wife--she was born in 1972---I was a junior in college by then. I find myself listening patiently to stories about her life--finding it so different from mown.

Also, I watch the young women lawyers in the trial and realize I'm not at all young anymore. It's a revelation.

SewingLibrarian said...

It might help if older women stopped wearing pastel-colored track suits that look just like the sweat pants and shirts I used to buy for my preschool daughter. I'm sure no one here dresses that way, but lots of old ladies do. My mother did after 80 or so.

Julie said...

It was a relief to read so many other women expressing their displeasure at being addressed as "dearie" or "sweetie", etc. It really annoys me and so many times I've written a mental essay of what I want to submit to a magazine, newspaper, whatever. It seems to be the preferred expression of cashiers and waitresses. If they are addressing everyone they serve, no matter the age, the same way I'm not offended.

Three words that are used together, "little old woman", could describe me. I'm definitely little and a woman and can now be defined as "old" since I've retired. This probably earns me more of these cute salutations. If the situations warrants, they'll sometimes find that "sweet" doesn't go along with that three word phrase.

The one thing I've discovered as I age is that I refuse to feel or think of myself as old, just as someone who has seen more of life and can't be bothered to be upset about some things.

Julie said...

Thanks for the term RBF. iPad that. I developed a very deep eyebrow frown, probably from poor vision and sensitivity to light. A few years I decided to try Botox for just that area. It made a huge difference. Once that area quit frowning, the deep line almost disappeared. I still use the Botox but it isn't needed as often as they suggest. I still have other lines and wrinkles, those I can deal with.

Duchesse said...

Sewing: Every locale has its version of what I call "Jammie Wear", what a woman (and sometimes man) wears when comfort, access to shopping, and sometimes accommodation to decreased mobility means it's too much work to get dressed as one used to. It's usually some version of the track suit. Wash and wear, low upkeep, comfy- and yes, apt to come in pastels.

But even if a woman of 80 or more chooses to wear tops with little appliquéd kittens, she should still be addressed as what she is, an adult.I read a piece somewhere about a 90ish woman artist who always dressed in one combination: a white man's shirt (with a black cardi if it was cold) and black yoga pants- thought I might do well to copy her approach one day.

Julie: That three-word phrase is so loaded. You get to be "petite" or maybe "short" for many decades, then suddenly "little" as soon as "old" is appended. I refer to myself as "old" to the horror of a few of my friends, who immediately retort, "YOU are not 'old'". Well, I tell them, the government sends me a cheque every month, with the words Old Age Security on it, so someone thinks so.

Until we own "old" with self-respect, we cannot fully advocate for the kind of world we would like, not just for ourselves, but for everyone, young or old.





lagatta à montréal said...

Duchesse, yes, I did understand that one of your sons went out of his way to do a complicated errand for you. They are fine young men; you and Le Duc have brought them up well.

As for "old", isn't it also because it used for worn-out or useless things? Not that people should be called antique, aged or vintage (like furniture, cheeses and wines) but "old" tends to have negative connotations.

Mardel said...

Duchesse, I agree with you that we need to learn to own "old" with self-respect. Why does old have to mean useless? It can mean broken-in, gracefully weathered, or comfortable, as in "this old thing", which when I use it means well-loved.

But people are not things. And as I figure it, at 57, although I may not look "old", I am in fact in the final third of my anticipated life in terms of the expected average lifespan for my cohort. The average lifespan of a woman my age in the US is 84. By that accounting, I am already in the final third, or old age. Of couse no one knows how long they will live, but I still find the categories convenient, and far from restrictive. I know I am not "aged" and yet I am also increasingly leaving the concerns of middle-age behind. That does not mean the end of vibrancy, of creativity, of usefulness. Of course this system would upset many, as it is likely that 29-year old would dislike being thought of as middle-aged, just as much as most 58-year olds dislike being called old. But numbers are just numbers and only symbolic of what we wish them to mean. There are other markers we can use instead. Perhaps we need new categories, new ways of describing and respecting the aging process, maybe even a 4-stage plan, modeled on the hindu, but perhaps not as restrictive in our more indulgent age. I do know however, that I don't want to be considered "young" anymore, and that such an assessment seems to negate the wisdom and acceptance that seems to come with working one's way through those middle stages, and arriving safely somewhere else, where there is, by the way, plenty of life remaining.

Poppy Buxom said...

I sort of enjoy the invisibility, but then, after 40 years of carrying this rack everywhere I go, I deserve a break.

I'll bet nobody notices Queen Elizabeth II's rack ... so, that's something to look forward to.

Duchesse said...

Beth: I too have received the kind attention and interest of younger adults, and enjoy that. The "dearie"s come from middle aged persons. I wonder if this is an unconscious way of denying or refuting their own aging.

Poppy Buxom: Because of your username,is it accurate to infer that attribute is something you wish to acknowledge ;) Um, perhaps Prince Philip notices?

Mardel: Your remarks made me think of what humorist Loretta Laroche once said, "When I'm old I don't want people at my funeral to say, 'Wow, she looks great.' I want them to say, 'What a wreck! She really lived'." And the old joke, "Middle age is 5 years older than I am."

There are classifications used by some health care providers and social scientists that call 65-74 "the young old", 75-84 "the middle old", and above 85 "the oldest old."


Chanterelle said...

Invisibility, check. Physical nuisances--needing sensible shoes makes me sad (but at least I can keep walking with vigor).

As for dear/honey/sweetie: I actually use it quite a bit, with strangers of all age, both sexes. It's a gentle way to acknowledge someone before issuing a request or correction. Beats "hey, you" or even "exCUSE me." NYC is too crowded to get overly worked up about the attitudes and behavior of people around you, most of the time. (perhaps I get away with it because of my age)

People do sometimes offer me seats on public transportation, but at 66 I probably don't yet look old enough to be mentally labeled "little old lady." At least I hope not.

There are plenty of energetic seniors in the city who are out and about, taking advantage of the city, but I suspect that will change as the price of real estate continues to rise. Ten years from now older people will be less in evidence here, resulting in different behaviors toward those who remain.

Duchesse said...

Chanterelle: You do get away with it because of your age, and maybe your sex. I've been called "honey" or "sweetie" all my life, and my acceptance of that depends on whom it's used by, and where. If addressed in NYC by someone who does not know me, I would rather be addressed as "Hey", as in "Hey! Watch your back" than "honey".

I had to give feedback about local preferences for terms of address to a British male who reported to me; he called all women at work and our clients "love" or "luvvy". He received everything from raised eyebrows to direct "Excuse me?"s. But there are indeed cultural habits, I agree.

In ten years I'll be pushing eighty if I'm lucky, and the number of persons who can call me a term of endearment because they are genuinely close to me will have dwindled- it has begun already. Perhaps I'll just be grateful to have anyone to talk to. However, many elders to whom I have spoken really dislike the presumed familiarity of those "honeys" and "sweeties".

water said...

Context - American South, so dear, honey is a given at any age. I am now old enough to be addressed as m'am. I do not dye my hair so it is quite clear. My pet peeve is being addressed as "Miss." I'd rather be honey! I will compromise on Miz, another Southernism. And I do give wait staff in dimly lit restaurants a pass; who knows, maybe I do look like a "Miss" in that warm candlelight! But in the grocery store, I am clearly not a "Miss." The last time I made a stink about this, telling them that they needed their vision checked - they gave me the senior discount, about 10 years too early! ha!!

Duchesse said...

water: Oh, I love their offer! In the South, I have occasionally been called "baby girl", at well past 50.

In her elder years, my mother (a native Midwesterner) lived in FL, and this was an actual exchange:
Saleswoman: "Honey, do you want me to find another size for you?"
Mom: "Please, would you call me 'Mrs. C..'?"
Saleswoman: "Mrs. C., honey..."

Laura O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.