Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

On Aging and the Lessons We’ve Learned

Me, with my family, on my 40th birthday and on Jackson’s first day of kindergarten.

The topic of aging is probably not too far from most of our minds on any given week. How could it not be when we are bombarded with societal messages, from advertisements to doctors’ advice, about getting older and how to: combat aging; embrace aging; and maintain our health as our bodies age. But the last couple of weeks there’s been a particular uptick in comments on DW about aging, specifically about women who dare to live publicly past the age of 40 and, gasp, even pretend like they’re happy about it! There was a comment last week that was so nasty that I deleted the whole thing, but the gist was:

Women who are 40 and older are no longer beautiful or desirable. There was the comment this week from a 24-year-old female who politely suggested that those of us who read and comment on DW are probably, like, 40, and a bunch of “old hags” who are bored and miserable. True, she seemed off her rocker, but her sentiment is hardly an uncommon one. Even BGM, who who is known for his under-stated commentary (ha), said, in response to a few people saying they’re actually happier as they age: “I think this notion that ‘older people are happier! is right up there with the concept that ‘more money equals more problems!’ Uh huh. Sure. Yeah, right. In other words, it’s pure cockamamie delusional bullshit that people tell themselves so they don’t simply up and blow their fucking heads off.” Well, call it cockamamie bullshit if you want, but I am way happier now at 40 than I was at 24, and aside from the initial days after I got microbladed and looked like total freak, blowing my head off is about the last thing on my mind.

You know what IS on my mind? My kids and their well-being (including organizing play dates for them, taking them to their doctor appointments, chaperoning field trips — which I’m doing again today, signing them up for activities and classes and summer camp, and just generally making sure they are well cared for and know they’re loved); my husband and planning dates with him (tomorrow we’re celebrating the 11th anniversary of our blind date, and I scored a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant a short walk from our place!); planning vacations; fostering friendships near and far; the well-being of my parents and sister and other family members and figuring out when and how to see them next; my health (regular exercise, eating well, cutting back on alcohol and sugar, and getting regular check-ups); my cats’ health (they’re 12 and 18 now — THAT is getting old); resistance (not about aging, but about you know who and his dangerous agenda); my work and how to squeeze it into my life in a way that is intellectually, emotionally, and financially rewarding without sacrificing too much time and energy that I devote to all of the above (not such an easy feat!).

I’d be lying if I said aging wasn’t on my mind at all. But it comes after all this other stuff, and then in the usual ways: I think about the legacy I want to leave behind (most importantly for my kids) and how I can best take care of myself so that I can live long and well enough to enjoy my kids as adults, travel extensively as a senior citizen, and maybe even enjoy being a grandmother one day. And I think about the wrinkles on my neck, the way it’s harder to lose weight now than it was when I was 25, and how the skin on my face is losing its elasticity. But let me tell you, I’d take all of this — every bit of it, even the sagging skin and the sagging everything else — for the life I have now (vs. the life I had when I didn’t worry about neck wrinkles).

When I was young, I worried about whether I’d find lasting love and whether I’d be a good mother if I even got the chance to be. I worried about “finding myself” and/or my calling and “making a mark” and “being someone.” I worried endlessly — endlessly! — about finances. I worried about what people thought of me. I worried all the time about how my actions or behavior might be taken by other people and the way they would judge me because of them. At 40, I don’t worry about any of this anymore — either because it’s been sorted out or because I don’t give a flying fuck — and that’s incredibly liberating — certainly liberating enough to make up for any vanity I feel about my damn neck.

So, yes, I’ve traded young people’s worries with middle-aged worries, and maybe the baggage of each weighs the same. But I’m stronger now after years of training, and I’m better able to prioritize my needs (and the needs of others I want to meet). I have more patience now. And I know in a way I didn’t at 24, 25, 28 that shit’s gonna work out ok. It may not work out exactly like I want or hope for or anticipate, but it’s gonna work out. Whatever problem I have today will be traded for a different set of problems one, two, three years from now. That perspective that I didn’t have fifteen years ago goes a long way in managing anxiety and expectations, and it also gives me some permission to let go and enjoy the moment. Instead of feeling like I have to figure it all out right now, I work on what I can and let time and fate take care of the rest. These are lessons I learned from aging, and they are serving me well.

How are the lessons you’ve learned from aging serving you? What is better about your life now than when you were younger? Would you trade the lessons you’ve learned and the abundance you’ve created to have your youth — and all its baggage — again?

42 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Sachiko-Roxanne May 4, 2017, 8:34 am

    I’m 28 and I can honestly say that I personally am WAY happier now than I was in my very early 20s. I have more money (and the freedom that comes with it), more confidence, and better judgment now and my goodness I wouldn’t wanna relive all the floundering I did in my early 20s. Many of my friends are fearing turning 30 (and some 40) but personally I am excited to age because for me, aging=growth rather than decay. And ironically, physically I am in better shape now too because I’ve learned to manage my mental illness and take care of my body better.

    I don’t know, I don’t yearn for my younger days much at all! It seems so silly to me that high school and college were supposed to be “The Best Years of My Life” because my life has only gotten better with time. I think growing up with many inspirational aunties has allowed me to see the good side of growing older. 🙂

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom May 4, 2017, 9:26 am

      I always feel sorry for the kids whose parent, usually mom, spends most of the kid’s preteen years making them into a kid who is positioned to be popular in high school. There is so much focus on being popular in high school that there is nothing left for the kid to choose for themselves. Then if high school turns out to be the best years of their life they have nothing to look forward to after 18. Even then the best years are an illusion because the kids are being pushed to be the most popular so they are backstabbing each other and looking popular but socially miserable. I’ve always encouraged both of my friends to pick friends based on how well the friend treats you and if they don’t treat you well they aren’t your friend. My daughter is in high school and has friends that are truly friends and because of that my daughter has been insulated from the teen angst that so many girls experience.

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  • avatar

    redhead May 4, 2017, 8:40 am

    AMEN! I completely agree.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie May 4, 2017, 9:33 am

    I’ve learned that all of the little things that seemed so important when I was younger are simply… not really important.

    Part of it is growing older and growing more confident with my decisions. And part of it is not falling into the trap of caring what others have and do. Oh you have a $2k purse? That’s nice. Oh you and your husband stayed in a little villa owned by super-rich-famous-person? That’s great!

    I don’t care what the current sunglasses style is, what heel width is in, where to find the freshest kale or which exercise class is visited by mega-star.

    Do. Not. Care.

    I care if I get enough sleep. If my family and friends are well. If I’m keeping up with my commitments. If I read a good book. If my retirement fund is growing and if my shoes don’t pinch or give me blisters.

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  • Crochet.Ninja

    Crochet.Ninja May 4, 2017, 9:35 am

    I turn 40 this year, and I can honestly say my 30s up until now have been the happiest ever. And I expect it to only get better from here. am I going to get more wrinkly? maybe saggy? etc etc? probably. but who cares?? Being pretty doesn’t exactly help me on things I hold important anyway. Being pretty doesn’t help me bench press or dead lift more. My husband thinks I’m beautiful anyway, so no worries there. Why worry about getting older? it’s part of life, I think we’re much better off accepting it and moving on. my brain is still the same, regardless of how my body ages.

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  • TheLadyE

    TheLadyE May 4, 2017, 9:39 am

    I’m in my mid-30s and oh my goodness I’m so much happier now than I was 10 years ago. There’s no comparison. I’m a thousand times more confident, I’m comfortable with myself, I actually – GASP – LIKE myself. I know who I am. I’m coming into my own in my professional life where I’m respected, encouraged, and my ideas are heard. I’m confident in my ability to make, nurture, and grow friendships and relationships and I have too many friends to count. Literally almost every day I have several interactions with colleagues or friends that make me so grateful to be alive. It’s no exaggeration to say the last couple of years have been the best time of my life.

    Admittedly, I am apprehensive at the thought of middle age (as it’s staring me down from not too far away, and mostly that’s because my mom went through menopause starting around 43, yikes) but if with age comes confidence and wisdom, then I’m sure I’ll enjoy it too.

    Also, my little dog is 9 and she’s as happy and healthy as she was 5 years ago…and I feel more emotionally and intellectually prepared to take excellent care of her as she ages. So we’re all good over here!

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  • Diablo

    Diablo May 4, 2017, 9:55 am

    I think there are trade-offs throughout life’s stages. Think of stages as in the theater. You wear different roles at different times, and they fit better or worse, and bring better or worse benefits. i turned 51 last week. It was a lot easier psychically than 40. When I was young, I had the angry young man thing. i was a punk and a shit-disturber (I guess i still am a bit). I acted brave, but felt assailed on all sides by a world that didn’t want to know ME, didn’t want me as I am. I tried to make myself into the right character (ie – employable). But there was freedom, chance, opportunity. And also emptiness. At 51, I know a lot better that I still am who I am, and can’t really be anyone else. I have come to peace with it, and found a way to be more genuinely myself and still be reasonably successful at life. Not wealthy, but not poor. somewhat satisfied with my place in a chaotic world. And I have love and a stable relationship, which is more a factor in my overall happiness than money ever could be. The bigger challenge in life at any age is figuring out HOW to be happy. As a great Wilco song asks: “Can you be where you want to be?” Well, can you?

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray May 4, 2017, 10:30 am

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Wendy. I’m sorry I missed specifically that comment and shit storm that must have followed that you deleted and also generally the past several months (year?) of Dear Wendy! I’m popping into say hi though and that I when I get a chance to read here and there I do but haven’t been following as much as I’d like to. I hope everyone is well, even you old bags who are 40+….. Muah!

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    • Diablo

      Diablo May 4, 2017, 3:56 pm

      Addie! Wha’ happen’ed, the internet break where you live?

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    • SavannahAnna

      SavannahAnna May 4, 2017, 6:21 pm

      AddieP!! I’ve missed you!

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  • avatar

    csp May 4, 2017, 10:33 am

    I am 36.
    So I think aging has pros and cons, just like everything. Do I miss my 18 year old body? YES! Every damn day. I feel like I work out and I don’t see the results and I am so aware of small pains and injuries. However, I treated my body like a garbage can for my 20s and now I am much more in tune with my diet and exercise. I mean, in college, I would party all night, go to the gym the next day and my sweat would smell like alcohol. Now, if I tie one on, I feel hang overs for days!
    With my career, I am finally in a place where I am respected and I am confident in my abilities. I can look at my career and my life and be proud of what I have done and how I spent my time. I feel like I am good at using my time well and feel proud of the life I built. What I love about my 30s is that I own the life I have and the decisions I made completely on my own. This is now my life where before it was my parents’ life.
    Lately, I have been going through a small mid-life crisis/reflection. What has been hard is seeing how many problems and hardships people have gone through. I mean, I have friends that are millionaires and I have friends that still live at home. I have friends who have lost parents and siblings and partners. We have friends who are divorced with kids and friends who have never really dated. There is more pressure and more responsibility but all my experience have made me better equipped to handle it.
    I have found that when people hold on to their younger selves and bodies, they many times are really unhappy with where they are in life. If you think about your youth and the freedom and the potential in front of you at 18 too much, I think it is more the feeling that you squandered it. But if I had a magic wand, I would cram the mental, emotional, and professional growth into those size 3/5 shorts in a heartbeat.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse May 4, 2017, 11:02 am

    I am so much happier now than when I was younger! I definitely had my wild youth but now I’m happy to be a mother and a wife. It’s very fulfilling.

    The best thing about a 24 year old saying we are all old bags is….time and gravity come for us all….Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

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    • avatar

      Sachiko-Roxanne May 4, 2017, 11:11 am

      On behalf of all 20-somethings, I am very sorry for this commentor’s nasty remarks! Also, signs of aging start to appear in our mid twenties even so Ms. 24 years-old is in for a rude awakening real soon…

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  • avatar

    Rangerchic May 4, 2017, 11:13 am

    I’m 41. Mostly what I’ve learned is the world is not black and white. You simply can’t be rigid on everything nor control every little thing that happens-that makes for a miserable life. The world is full of wonderful grays, as it should be. I’ve learned to be more open, more patient, and less judgmental. I am a much happier now than in my 20’s, probably even most of my 30’s just because of a lot of issues my oldest daughter was going through (mental illness) and my youngest for feeling neglected. We are finally getting to a place of happiness, open communication and leaving resentment behind. It’s been a long hard road but happy to be where we are now 🙂

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  • avatar

    Kate May 4, 2017, 11:14 am

    A lot of you probably didn’t see the batshit comment that was deleted. But what was interesting about it was that this person obviously had a very malicious intention to break me (and some other women) down and make me feel bad about myself – but he totally missed the mark. It was all about saggy boobs and fat asses and looking in the mirror without makeup. Basically like, trying to get to me with a fear of not being attractive to men. He doesn’t know me, and none of it hit the mark. There are things he could have said that might hurt my feelings if he knew me at all, but I came away thinking, oh! So this is what MEN must fear: not being attractive to women anymore. Got it. I think if you’re someone who’s attractive to the opposite sex, you probably always will be. Droopy boobs aren’t going to make you invisible. I don’t know, it was just so silly, and I’m sure if it hadn’t gotten really creepy, Wendy would have left it up.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse May 4, 2017, 11:18 am

      Omg, that sounds really disturbing. What a creep. Was it someone who has commented before?

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      • avatar

        Kate May 4, 2017, 11:39 am

        Yeah, but infrequently. Definitely not a normal or ok person.

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    • Diablo

      Diablo May 4, 2017, 5:30 pm

      Kate, I agree Wendy might have left it up. I’m sure lots of people would have taken up the fight. But I also respect that she didn’t want the discussion to devolve to that level. My M, like you, has never given much thought to being attractive to men. She wouldn’t, btw, fit a standard model of beauty (nor would she have when she was younger). Now she is 54, not thin, not firm, not looking 35 at all. But she remains very beautiful, both physically and as a person. I continue to be astonished how much stock so many people put in shallow surface qualities. That has little to do with beauty. And not just because looks fade and change. i look for how warm and kind someone looks. I look for intelligence and compassion in the eyes. The prettiest girl in the world isn’t very beautiful if she has a stuck-up angry entitled look on her face. And I’m sure no one was ever primarily attracted to me for my looks. I can’t be alone in this, can I? But please don’t say “men,” or I’ll be forced to say “women.” You know very well there aren’t any such things, not as broad generalized categories. That kind of thinking is good for comedy purposes, or for rabid red pillers, but for for “people like us.”

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      • Diablo

        Diablo May 4, 2017, 5:32 pm

        NOT for people like us. Sorry for the typo.

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      • avatar

        Kate May 4, 2017, 5:51 pm

        No, you’re not alone. I look for humor in the face and eyes and could never hook up with someone I don’t know fairly well so I know they’re not a douche.

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      • avatar

        Kate May 4, 2017, 5:57 pm

        And I meant, his comments were definitely an insight into his own insecurities. Like, oh, I guess men think like this. Not *every* man though.

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  • avatar

    Ron May 4, 2017, 11:15 am

    I just turned 70. It threw me for a couple of days, but now back to happy equilibrium. My 60s were a happy time and I’m hoping the same for my 70s. It’s a time of life when you are as free as a kid to do whatever you want to do. Turning 55 was such a weight lifted — Rule of 80 met, if the company wanted to fire me, big deal — so very liberating, the sense that you need to constantly jump through hoops at work and may have just missed a few — totally gone. It really helps to be in a happy, long-term marriage. The total trust which comes from decades of sharing the highest highs and lowest lows and knowing and loving (or at least learning to tolerate) all of each other’s little quirks. I talk to former colleagues who just left or are still at my former Fortune 500 employer and it has just become a more stressful rat-race with each passing year. It is a great relief and removal of stress to be away from that.

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    • avatar

      csp May 4, 2017, 11:23 am

      I love this answer 🙂

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    • avatar

      Kate May 4, 2017, 12:45 pm

      I look forward to getting to that point. My parents are 67 and spent decades working for a big computer company, and then stints at PWC, IBM, Fidelity. Maybe 5 years ago they both went to work for a nonprofit with a mission they strongly believe in, because they weren’t really ready to retire when the time came that they’d saved up the money.

      They live in Cambridge, go to work together in Boston 4 days a week, and take long weekends on the Cape. The best part is they say and do whatever the hell they want, because this place isn’t going to fire them, and if they do, so what?? Who cares? They’d have to give them like a year of severance too. My mom LOVES being this bad bitch who can say exactly what she thinks, after 40 years of political bullshit. And she just got promoted to a new job that pays 30% more! My dad handed the real work over to a younger PM and just kind of oversees things. They have the life.

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      • avatar

        anonymousse May 4, 2017, 4:57 pm

        They sound like the best! Goals.

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  • avatar

    Not a Princess May 4, 2017, 11:58 am

    Whether you ripen or rot as you age is entirely up to you: your character, your body, your attitude.

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    • avatar

      LisforLeslie May 4, 2017, 1:38 pm

      I like this phrase very much. Ripen or rot…

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    • avatar

      csp May 4, 2017, 2:53 pm

      Love

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  • Portia

    Portia May 4, 2017, 12:59 pm

    Yeah, I’m not 40 yet, but I don’t think I’d want to go back to my 20’s. I had a hard time the year after college and the year I moved with Bassanio to another city, and I would probably have a hard time the first year wherever else I moved in the future, but I do feel like those experiences made me more equipped to handle those issues and feelings. It also took me until I was almost in my 30’s to join the non-academic workforce, so I still don’t feel totally settled in my career and sure of that. So I still have anxiety about that, but it’s different because there are now jobs/careers I know I don’t want, so the narrowing down process doesn’t seem so daunting. And I feel less anxiety over what I feel like I should be doing, because those things are less of a given than I used to think.

    Also, I feel like I have less patience now. I put up with BS less, am more likely to call people out, and feel less bad about cutting toxic things/people out.

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    • avatar

      LisforLeslie May 4, 2017, 1:42 pm

      I have less patience for nonsense but more patience overall. I’m not sure I can explain it well but if someone wants to pass me on the highway, I’ll go into the right lane, where as I used to just drive aggressively and block them. If someone’s deeds and words are incompatible, I’m going to keep them at arm’s length.

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      • Portia

        Portia May 4, 2017, 1:56 pm

        I’m pretty sure my road rage is genetic and will never go away, lol.

        But I get what you’re saying. Maybe my patience is more uneven now whereas before it was more evenly distributed. Maybe more empathy? I’m not sure, but your comment’s encouraged me to think through this a little more​…

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  • avatar

    MissDre May 4, 2017, 1:37 pm

    This link seems appropriate: http://www.mydomaine.com/life-lessons-hillary-kerr-2015/slide24

    “23 Things I wish I’d Known at 23”

    It’s not super deep or anything but there are some good points

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    • avatar

      K May 4, 2017, 3:41 pm

      I like her idea of having a stockpile of greeting cards laying around. I try to buy in advance, but inevitably end up having to go out last minute and buy one for certain occasions!

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      • avatar

        anonymousse May 4, 2017, 4:58 pm

        I totally stockpile. It’s really because I love quirky cards.

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    • Copa

      Copa May 4, 2017, 3:49 pm

      One time, when I was driving behind a truck with a ladder on it, that ladder fell off. On a freeway. Thank goodness it was later in the evening when traffic was light and I was far enough behind that I had time to react. I know first-hand that advice is solid. Haha.

      I also like her advice on toxic friendships. I walked away from a handful of people when I was 25ish, but it was easier because I was a transitional point in life. Last year, I walked away from the first friend I made in my city — and the one I spent the most time with — and it sucked. But it wasn’t a good friendship anymore, and I knew it.

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  • Copa

    Copa May 4, 2017, 3:28 pm

    I’m 30, and I think in my mid/late 20s I became super comfortable with who I am as a person. I love that about myself — I love not worrying what anyone else thinks of me — and I hope it only gets better.
    .
    I still worry about whether or not I’ll ever find a partner to share my life with. Sometimes I worry less than other times, but I do still worry. I’d like to think that being confident in who I am will help with this, but it does make me sad that the rest of my life could potentially be nothing but strings of disappointing, short-lived relationships like the past couple years have been. And I worry about finances, though I don’t agree that finances are a “young people’s worry.” A lot of my friends actually seem super unconcerned with financial things that genuinely worry me, like retirement savings.

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    • veritek33

      veritek33 May 4, 2017, 4:22 pm

      I struggle with the same internal thoughts (lifelong partner) despite being much happier in my 30s than I was in my 20s.

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  • avatar

    Taylor May 4, 2017, 3:45 pm

    Love this Wendy!
    I’m going to chime in as another vote for being happier as I got older. I wish I could tell my 20-30 y/o self to CTFO, but since I can’t, I’ll take the happy I have now =)

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark May 4, 2017, 4:20 pm

    Three Big Lessons.
    .
    1) Aging sucks. It just does. End of story.
    .
    2) The people who DESERVE great success the least (other than Madonna) will always, ALWAYS be the ones to succeed. Don’t believe me? Just wait.
    .
    3) Tragically dying young? Vastly, vastly underrated. I cheated death oh so many times? And for fucking what? Eh, not very much, I assure you.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark May 4, 2017, 4:50 pm

    PS — The worse thing about age ISN’T that it makes you so fucking cynical — but rather that it reveals you were RIGHT to be so cynical all along…
    .
    Missing THIS fucked up administration and the sheer fact that HRC now refuses go the fuck away already would have certainly been best simply never seen.
    .
    America has truly gone to hell and — honestly? Game Over. The days of America being something to look up and and be proud about is long, long gone. Oh, and NEWSFLASH! All this feeble, vapid marching in the streets (of which I’ve done wayyyyyyyy to much of) while screeming the most idiotic of chants ISN’T going to bring it back. Not by a long shot.
    .
    I’d weep for the future. But why fucking care.

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  • avatar

    Ange May 4, 2017, 7:00 pm

    I dunno, I’m super happy to be secure in my marriage and having a much more stable life in general than I did in my 20s. Better job, more money, a lot less aimlessness but I also miss my mad party days here and there. I think a lot of that is tied to my health though. I’m currently on 3 different medications to manage my arthritis and they aren’t working that well, my knee will never be the same after the second surgery in December and I’m only 36. When you can see the future narrowing substantially as your body deteriorates going back to those carefree days where you could wear heels all night with impunity sounds damn good at times!

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  • avatar

    Anon from LA May 4, 2017, 10:03 pm

    You know what I like about aging? I think I’m a little more forgiving of myself. I don’t expect myself to perfect all the time–or at least, not as much as I did when I was younger.

    I think (and hope) I’m getting better at recognizing that we all have struggles and problems. That person who’s career you’re envious of? They’re jealous of the fact that you don’t work a gazillion hours a week. That picture perfect family you know? They wish they had as much free time as you do. That couple that drives nice cars and takes lavish vacations? They hate their jobs and compensate by spending money.

    Nobody’s life is perfect. We’ve all got problems. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong–it’s not your fault life is hard, so it’s okay to forgive yourself now and then for not being perfect.

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