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I've Waited My Whole Life To Be A Middle-Aged Lady

How my sedentary tendencies have finally caught up with my circumstances.

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photo of author and her daughter outside hiking sitting on a log
Dan White
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I’ve waited my whole life to be a middle-aged lady.

A lot of women my age bemoan the loss of smooth skin and tight abs, but I think the advantages of finally going at my natural speed are worth a few laugh lines and whatever is happening with my neck.

After all, I’ve had a whole lifetime to prepare for this time of my life.

I was a kid who was born with a smorgasbord of fears. By the time I was 6, a small sampling of things that frightened me included:

- balloons
- bumper cars
- open stairs
- glass elevators
- fireworks
- the deep end of the pool
- the shallow end of the pool
- the dark
- the dentist
- big dogs
- little dogs
- those horses that move up and down on carousels

I had a crippling fear of heights, which limited my popularity on the playground. The best I knew how to do was work around my many fears and find enjoyment where I could.

My anxieties turned free-floating in my teens. While my peers were sneaking to parties and begging their parents for first concert tickets, I binged on sci-fi trilogies and later on bodice rippers. I tried hard to find my people in college — and I did find friends who were nerdy and cool — but even among oddball characters my bookish behaviors were always considered out of the norm.

I turned 45 in May and have been delighted to find that my sedentary tendencies — my need for long stretches of quiet and lack of stimulation — have caught up with my circumstances. Suddenly, the qualities that made me seem like such a curmudgeon and fussbudget are aligned with my age.

Perhaps I have been a middle-aged person trapped in a younger body my whole life. One of my favorite pastimes is going to yoga classes, where I can do downward facing dogs and an occasional push-up and feel like I’m Katelyn Ohashi, but only because the postpartum mom next to me can’t reach her toes. Occasionally a yoga teacher harasses me to “grow my edge,” and I have to fake trying for a handstand. But that’s only about two minutes of the class. For the rest of it I get to lie in the dark and nap guilt-free, so it makes up for it.

I know middle age is supposed to be brutal, and I have had some difficult times — the death of my mom last year being the hardest of all. I have many of the worries and disappointments that accumulate to make midlife a drag. My body is aging, there’s no doubt about it. And yet there’s still joy to be found in the small moments of everyday life.

Middle age is supposed to be the worst of times — literally. According to recent research, people my age are the least happy and have the highest levels of anxiety. Even people in their 90s are doing better in terms of life satisfaction than my current peers.

I felt no shock, or even mild surprise, when the writer Jonathan Rauch characterized the midlife slump as a "self-eating spiral of discontent." I'm fairly certain I was born into that downward coil.

Many of my friends are learning to cope with the new anxieties — caring for aging parents, dealing with tweens, managing their own health scares. It can feel like being strapped into the Millennium Force Roller Coaster, so I’ve learned to find joy in riding the kiddie cars.

I used to have to scramble to find people to go on a hike through the redwoods or to a trendy museum exhibit, but now everyone I know spends their leisure time in a similar way. “Let’s meet for tea or a walk” is a more common invitation these days than meetups at a bar. Trivia night is a big outing, and there’s a renewed interest for Gen Xers in the comforts of analog activities we enjoyed in our youth, like playing Scrabble and Ping Pong.

In many ways I’m happier because I no longer feel like I’m out of sync with my peers or that I need to somehow learn to step on the accelerator.

As a result, I’ve found some stronger connections. My friendships feel filled with more empathy, as now we have time to listen to each other (or at least read each other’s texts).

Sure, there are some drawbacks to bodily aging. My creaking knees won’t let me run on the beach anymore, but that’s OK. Middle age means the rest of my world is finally slowing down to my optimum speed.

Amy Ettinger is the author of Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America (Dutton/2017).