As our wrinkles multiply, change becomes paradoxically simpler and more difficult. Yes, we are set in our ways, which I prefer to see as “we know what we like.” We also have greater resources than we did at 15 or 45, which grants us the reward of more.
More time. More disposable income. More knowledge about how to navigate the world.
Gone are the days when I bolted out of bed at 6 a.m., frantically showering before waking the kids/making breakfast/driving them to three different schools, all before I headed to my office for a 10-hour workday. Gone are the days when I pondered, seriously, how much I would pay in hard cash for 30 minutes more sleep.
But if the transition to more “me time” has you feeling lost, bored, depressed, stuck in your ways or like you’d prefer to stay in bed all day checking Instagram, try these.
- Say no.
Most self-help guides trumpet the power of “yes.” Say yes to the dress! Yes to SilverSingles! Yes to your spouse’s plan to take up couples’ falconry! But most women’s problem, after age 2, is that we are pressured to say yes way too often. Yes, I’ll work at the bake sale even though I have a presentation to the head of marketing tomorrow. Yes, I’ll sleep with him, so I don’t hurt his feelings. Yes, I can pick up my snarky mother-in-law at the airport. University of Iowa associate professor Melissa Febos explains in her most recent best-seller, Girlhood, that social pressure on women often translates into a behavior of saying yes, despite what we want. “It [feels] difficult to tolerate disappointing other people,” the 41-year-old author writes. “That actually [can feel] more important than the integrity of our own wants.” So, every day of 2022, say a hard no to at least one thing you cannot stand to do. One of the first things I said no to? “No, I won’t share my dessert.” It may feel strange. It may feel selfish. Ignore those reactions. Living in the “no” can be oddly, beautifully liberating.
- Take a solo trip.
There are few more efficient ways to reinvigorate yourself than getting in the car, boarding a train or hopping a flight by yourself. Take advantage of the special single traveler prices offered by many cruises and tours. A few years back, with only two days’ notice, I cruised around Iceland and Norway. I had dinner with all five of the single men on board and made a lifelong friend from South Africa when we met, naked, in the steam room. Choose an easy destination you’ve never been to before. Pick the bed-and-breakfast or old friend you want to stay with. Pack clothes that you would never normally wear, so you can pretend, then start being the new version of you, you, you!
- Make a new friend.
We can never have enough of these. A 2019 poll by Evite showed that the average American adult has only 16 friends, mostly from high school or college. Most Americans have not made a new friend in five years. There is a man, woman, child, neighbor, old classmate, new classmate, someone who needs what you’ve got to give. Just this week, I befriended a mom and her 9-year-old daughter from Colombia who use my bus stop. Smile. Introduce yourself. Friend them on social media. Invite them for a drink, or tea, or milk and cookies. Even if it feels awkward. Especially if it feels awkward.
- Flirt with a stranger.
At the supermarket. Or the gym. Any line you wait in — the supermarket, airport security, the DMV — is a great chance to make small talk. Regardless of your marital status. Even if you think you’ve forgotten how to flirt. Especially if you’ve forgotten how to flirt! Part of the nice-older-woman coda, particularly if you are married, is to rise above our need for flattery and attention. But we are human. Humans need connection in all forms. Flirting is one of the highest, simplest and most innocent forms of human connection.
There’s a quote often attributed to Gloria Steinem: “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.” A 60-year-old friend who just got divorced remembered how much she loved rowing crew in college. So she got herself a kayak, even though there are few rivers where she lives. Resurrect a dream from your 8-year-old wish box. Go ride a horse. Dance alone in your living room to Peter, Paul and Mary or Fleetwood Mac. Take a ballet class. Buy a skateboard. Have a three-scoop ice cream cone. Tell someone you love them for the first time. Sometimes, in our efforts to please the Village, we pay too much attention to the spoken or unspoken “rules” for women, which multiply as we age. The box we inhabit gets smaller and tighter. No short skirts. No long hair. Arms and neck must be covered! Be quiet. Make chicken soup. Act your age (what does that even mean?) Did you agree to these decrees? Listen to the wisdom of 77-year-old author Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.”
Opaque societal mandates can rob us of the joys of growing older. One of the benefits of aging is to know our power as women — and to use it wisely. To do whatever we want, as long as no one gets physically hurts, even ourselves. That means we can change everything, anything or nothing at all about our lives.