Jim and I celebrated his birthday by spending an afternoon at the Morton Arboretum in Illinois. We enjoyed the last sunny, semi-warm days before Chicago devolves into the chaos of lake effect snow and inhumanly frigid winds. It was so sweet to walk hand in hand, the leaves crunching beneath our feet. We truly revel in the outdoors. We even met on a blind camping date, but that's another story.
Earlier in the day, I was looking at a photo my mom had snapped of us the evening we got engaged. We were such babies! I look at Jim's face in the old picture and he looks like a boy to me. Nowadays, we are both showing the obvious signs of age: wrinkles, gray hair, freckles, and our cheeks have lost their soft roundness. While my hair began graying prematurely when I was fourteen (I've been dyeing it religiously since then), it's only in recent years that my...um...carpet started matching the curtains. And Miss Clairol ain't invited to that party.
We are finally understanding what it means to grow old together. As young people, we had romanticized the idea. Now we see how deep that statement is. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are in a constant state of maturation. And what a deep bond to share with another person. To age with your partner in the most intimate, raw, vulnerable way.
Of course, this isn't all a bed of roses. While I feel a super-deep connection to Jim because of our mutual slide toward mortality, I'm not above feeling anxious, sometimes mournful, or self-conscious about aging. When I was younger (and smoother), I never worried that younger-looking women might turn his head. Now I feel an inkling -- just a hint of jealousy -- when a bouncy 20-year old walks by us. Physically, I've begun to feel inadequate in comparison to women 1/2 my age. I bring self-consciousness about my body into my marriage and I do not like it one bit. Poor Jim doesn't understand why I flinch when he turns on our bright, overhead bathroom light when I'm stepping naked from the shower.
I've started thinking: What can I do to compete with women whose bodies haven't started to respond to gravity in the same way mine has? Indulging in this line of thought can cause irreparable damage. Not only does it add a dash of mistrust of Jim (something he has not earned), but it also pits me again other women. We double-Xers already have enough trouble when it comes to comparing ourselves to others...so why on earth am I adding to this damaging phenomenon? I've allowed myself to be brainwashed that it's unacceptable to age, and I've projected my fear onto my most valued relationships. I don't need a cocktail of rejuvenating retinol creams and Glycolic-acid face peels for my forehead wrinkles and uneven skin tone, I need Oil of Olay for my brain.
I think a lot of this has been spurred on by recent health troubles and scares. I can really allow my imagination to run wild, vividly drawing a dark and dreary picture of what will happen if one of our bodies crashes before the other. But ultimately, I believe that living in negativity and fear is a choice. And today I choose the path of evolution rather than devolution. I keep myself from projecting upon our unknown future by focusing on gratitude for the present. Today Jim isn't my caretaker, he's my partner. Today he isn't gallivanting with a bouncy young woman, he's with me. It's been a huge surprise, but my relationship with Jim is teaching me to be present in the moment. Sure, it can be an uphill battle not to pine over my past or freak out about the future. But I don't want anxiety, self-consciousness or fear to be my sister-wives in this marriage. Besides, fighting aging isn't exactly a war I can win, so why expend so much energy to combat the laws of nature?
As we celebrated Jim's birthday on that crisp, autumn day, I allowed my worries to drift away. We held tightly to each other's hands as we stepped together through the woods. Some trees were still green and some were bare, their red, yellow and brown leaves crunching beneath our feet. The irony was not lost on me: It was like walking through a metaphor of the timeline of our marriage. I took comfort in the fact that I couldn't see the end of the path we were hiking. I just put one foot in front of the other, took deep breaths of fresh air, and enjoyed the moment with the man I love.
Follow Robyn Okrant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobynOkrant