There is a great deal of attention right now on the Notre Dame linebacker caught up in the online girlfriend controversy. Was it love at first site?
I, of course, wondered if his situation could be related to women of a certain age.
No, I am not talking about going for a Heisman -- at this point, the Heimlich is a bigger concern -- but damned if I don't want to show I still have some fight and fizz in me. Maybe it was the 30th wedding anniversary, the 45th high school reunion, or the latest AARP Magazine trumpeting "The Eight Symptoms You Can't Ignore!" (Wasn't it like a month ago that I was avidly reading Cosmo's "Eight Ways To Satisfy Your Man?")
Whatever has spurred my momentary malaise, it is time for action, to prove I am not invisible, that I am not as predictable as I appear. But how to make mine a more "interesting" story? Several possible scenarios come to mind:
Plan A: Become A Scientologist. I have joined women's groups, anti-war organizations and every gym on the East Coast. So why not this? It would be a great learning experience, a way to "get clear," (as they call it in S) -- which means ridding my mind of all negative thoughts. And hey, Tom Cruise is momentarily single.
But what would my Jewish mother have said? Plus, I hated "the Master" and haven't liked a Tom Cruise movie since Jerry Maguire. Nope.
Plan B: Try Infidelity. When I broached the subject with some friends, "Ashley Madison" was the name that erupted way too quickly on way too many lips. it turned out, this does not refer to a gigolo in disguise, a cosmetic surgeon, or a shrink. No, AshleyMadison.Com is considered the creme de la crème for those seeking "discreet encounters and extramarital affairs." Who knew?
It wasn't long before I realized I could not go there. I am, in fact, perfectly happy with my husband, even if the marriage itself may be at that tender post-kids, pre-Amour stage. Furthermore, I am big on truth and short on memory. If I can't recall where I put my glasses, or the name of that movie with that actress, how will I be able to keep up the lies about where I was last night?
Plan C: Run Away. I admit to some envy when I hear of women abandoning their lives altogether and starting anew, be it in the gray but hip Northwest, or under the soothing sun of Tuscany. I momentarily envision myself munching truffled fries at a Portland bar, while going mano on mano on sports statistics with the guy beside me. And there I am frying up oregano leaves with the Italian gardener after a long day of writing, reading and siesta.
Alas, I would miss my friends, my family, my 92nd Street Y. Furthermore, when I would return for a visit, I would look even older. Based on writing countless articles and a book on beauty, I have come to the conclusion that it is in fact easier to age in front of everyone.
Plan D: Get A Cyber-Lover. Here would be a chance for me to pick out a partner with whom I could be virtually flirtatious without danger. (Not to mention without hormones.) I would be able to brag about him to my drooling friends ... assuming none would be curious enough to ask to meet him.
My imagination takes flight: "Lucien's" photos show him to be handsome in a rugged sort of way. We email regularly, Facebook frequently, and whisper sweet tweets about our secret life. "Lucien" wants to go to second base, and l submissively Skype. He proves to be animated, and I rise to the occasion. Amazingly, distortion makes me look younger!
We progress to phone calls, and I broach the subject: should we meet in person? But he keeps finding excuses not to, reminding me that the original goal was to remain in ether ecstasy. I insist, and make the trek to meet "Lucien," only to discover he is either the invention of a 14-year-old whiz kid or is, in fact, a dirty old man named Ned.
I have been Catfished! Even though I have eaten nothing but salmon for years!
Plan E: Time to get off of my cloud, and back to real life where fantasies are fine but no guarantee.
Happiness is not the domain of the young. In fact, quite the contrary. According to research on age and happiness, older people tend to be happier than young people. Writes Carstensen: "With the exception of dementia-related diseases, which by definition have organic roots, mental health generally improves with age." Older people generally focus on the essential, don't sweat the small stuff, and enjoy their freedoms when their children leave the nest. (According to Carstensen, the empty nest syndrome is atypical. "Children make parents very happy... when they're living somewhere else," she writes.) This "paradox of aging" has to do with a shift our perspectives as our sense of temporal reality changes. Simply put, the less time we have, the more we cherish it and the more expansive simple pleasures become. What age group is the most unhappy, stressed, and prone to depression? The 20-something demographic.
According to Carstensen, "one of the paradoxes of American longevity ... is that medical science has become powerful enough to rescue people from the brink of death but remains largely impotent when it comes to erasing the effects of the lifetime of bad habits that brought them there." In other words, having a healthy lifestyle is as important as having good genes when it comes to age and wellness. Common sense prevails here. If you smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for decades, you'll pay later. Ditto for obesity, drug or alcohol addiction and lack of exercise. According to a Harvard University study that's been tracking longevity since the 1930's, there are seven lifestyle choices that don't necessarily trump genetics, but that certainly give us an edge: Don't smoke. Drink in moderation only. Exercise regularly. Keep your weight down. Cultivate stable emotional relationships. Get an education. Develop good coping skills for handling life's fast balls.
We work long and hard. Our mid-lives are often filled with the stress of parenting, trying to save for retirement, and juggling multiple jobs. Then we're supposed to retire and do nothing for the next 30 years. "There is something wrong with this picture," writes Carstensen. Carstensen calls for creating a new model where "work is less demanding and more satisfying throughout life." The operative word here is "throughout." Putting off pleasure and fulfillment until our much later years is not only folly; it's unhealthy. Writes Carstensen: "Time after retirement is the only stage in life that has been elongated. The problem isn't you, it's the model, which was built for short lives, not long ones. It makes no sense to cram all of the work into the beginning, and all of the relaxation into the end." Adds Carstensen: "The beauty of a longer but more moderately paced career cycle would be that we could have more leisure throughout life, more time with our children while they are young, and remain engaged in our communities as we age, giving back some of the expertise we've accumulated throughout our time in the work force." A new "menu of options" would include part-time work, volunteer work or taking on an entirely new career.
The Scarcity Myth is precisely that: a myth. Longevity isn't feeding population growth. Booming youth populations in third world countries and other complex demographic shifts are the real problem. Writes Carstensen: "Bottom line: Population growth is an issue, but Grandpa living longer is not the problem. The true issue is that the gift of increased longevity is unevenly distributed around the globe. In some parts of the world where the youth population is booming, those children may never have the chance to grow old." Meanwhile, the aging workforce is a truly massive force to contend with.
According to Carstensen: "Aging is inevitable. How you age is not. You will very likely spend about three decades of your life as an old person. Deal with it. Death is the only alternative. If you can put behind you the fantasy of eternal youth, you can begin to plan seriously for what comes next. You can begin to think hard about the type of old person you want to be..." Carstesen cites the burgeoning greying demographic as proof that that we will all, invariably, face old age together -- both in our local communities and as a global community.