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Michele Willens Headshot

Face It: We Are Never Too Old To Change

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I have started doing something that I have not done in probably 40 years: I have started to share my dessert.

This is no minor feat, and not merely about getting over an eating disorder that has plagued me since boarding school. It is about being able to change something in myself at a time when we are told it is unlikely, if not impossible.

Advertisers have long dismissed those of us at midlife and beyond as irrelevant. This is due largely to the assumption that folks like us grow even more dependent on, and reluctant to depart from, our favored flavors or habit or meds or whatever. I always thought this was an odd assumption, particularly since the "forever young" generation will do anything to prolong the years. Find me an enticing new wrinkle-free anything and I am there. Maybe I don't switch cereals as fast as my teenage son, but frankly, I also don't switch the channels as fast (perhaps because I can't figure out the damn remote).

I am not speaking here of the older generations being willing to try new things. (I am not going to start tweeting or get a Kindle, so there.) I truly believe that is easier for us Boomers, who consider ourselves the inventors of experimentation. We tried pot, we try pilates. We loved Simon and Garfunkel but are happy to embrace just Simon. But change... well, that is different. While we were all about demanding it in our rebellious years, we were usually referring to change in our government's policies or in our universities. Admitting that we as individuals could do or be better was another thing.

Regardless of generation, as we all age, we become more rigid in our routines and choices. We may become risk-averse, more uncomfortable around noise and crowds and shorter on patience. It may just be easier to stay put. I certainly watched this with my own late parents and am highly attuned to how I may or may not be falling into similar patterns.

This is why I reward myself for finally being able to share a dessert, something I automatically refused to do for so long. What else have I done, I began to wonder, that is about actually changing something in my daily life? I have weaned myself from my usual -- and highly convenient -- Y fitness center (where I prided myself on being the youngest, which is not saying much because median age is about 80), switching over to the intriguing yoga studio several blocks further. The classes are more challenging, and now I am the oldest person in sight, but I am hanging in there and feeling great.

I finally cut my hair to a more age-appropriate (though oddly more youthful) Sally Field length. Speaking of Sally Field, I finally changed my 10 p.m. Sunday habit of watching her increasingly deteriorating television series. And I switched to "Treme," which is hip and complex and far more demanding. I would flaunt my sharp right turn in the face of the advertisers, but HBO doesn't have any.

For years, I went every morning to the same Starbucks to read my newspapers. No, I have not started to read my papers online, but I have switched to another little coffee place that I had walked by many times. Now I am one of the regulars, with a new batch of morning pals. Speaking of pals, who says you can't find new ones after a certain age? As time becomes ever more precious, I have gradually phased out those who valued friendship a bit differently than I do, even if we had history on our side. At the same time, I have bonded with both men and women whom I have met in recent years.

Can we change our innermost habits, not to mention demons? I am trying valiantly to not become the unstoppable worrier of my forebears, fighting off my usual pessimistic leanings and replacing them with a more laissez-faire approach. Probably hopeless, but hey, it's worth a try. Can we force ourselves to learn to relax? To live in the moment? To let the dishes remain dirty overnight? Let's do it and show them wrong.

One anorexic year can do a lot of damage to the psyche. As a result, I will likely never have a day when I don't plan out what, or at least where, I will eat. I will never be able to just grab a handful of M&Ms. But then again, I thought I would never eat a dessert unless I had it all to myself.

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