Monday, 14 May 2012

Turn back the clock

Social media is wielding an uncomfortable yet addictive brand of torment for me: facebook has begun colluding with my midlife crisis.

These days, it is impossible to close the door on any chapter of my life due to the surviving evidence - ever present and all too visible.There, on the social-networking site to which I am - guiltily - party, are images of people from my past I thought I put to bed. Sometimes I have not seen their faces for decades, and I confess that the intervening years can cause me to wince. It’s rather like looking in the mirror after ten years without reflective surfaces: a brutal reminder of the passage of time which, thank goodness, is softened by the ritual of daily ablutions and glances in high street shop fronts. Seeing your teen-peers in full-flung middle age is a tactful reminder that they are not the only ones for whom the passing years bear scars.

Unfortunately I am not immune to a flurry of curiosity, leading me to do some detective work of my own. It’s always interesting to sneak a peak at the lives of friends who have drifted away through circumstance, a pleasure to rekindle online-friendships and actual in-the-flesh meets with some. But while I scroll through their once familiar faces remarking with shameless nosiness on the direction of their lives, there’s also a bitter-sweet undertone to the remembrance of things past.

As if my own insecurities about middle age aren’t bad enough, shortly after his 40th birthday my husband comes to bed with a few of his own. I’m reading and he poses a question so startlingly unexpected I lower my book and stare at him, amazed. 

‘How could I cut my hair to make it look as though there’s more?’ I’d always thought my husband didn’t have a vain bone in his body. He’s barely added to his wardrobe since 1995 and grows a hoary fisherman’s beard in the winter to save time shaving. Male grooming products are not on his radar. Yet here he was, asking for advice on defying the toll of passing years. Before I can gather myself to respond, he continues. 

‘What do you think about a comb-over?’ 

Silence, mouth open, then laugh.

‘I’m serious,’ he says. ‘Do you think I could grow it a bit longer around the edges to disguise the bald-patch?’ 

‘A skinhead,’ I say, ‘is probably the most dignified solution.’ He disagrees. 

‘My head’s the wrong shape, I don’t have the face for a skinhead,’ he protests. ‘There must be a way to cut it or grow it to make it look as though there’s more. Obviously a hair transplant would be best, but doing an Elton John isn’t exactly an option.’ While I’m amused by his concerns, I’m also rather moved by his insecurity. There’s something poignant about my own husband clawing to turn back the clock. 

With a disturbing image of Rab C Nesbitt on the Hamlet ad in my mind, it’s a good thing I have charge of the hairdressing equipment in our household. The outcome of the nocturnal revelation was a rather more careful cut next time I set scissors to hair and some carefully chosen words when he asks ‘How am I doing on top?’ 

When I look back to my youth, I remember feeling that I was young, while other people were old. It’s as though that was my status in life: young. It was obvious that my youth was desirable to elderly and middle-aged relatives, made them a little misty-eyed as they recalled their own. But I don’t remember ever putting my youth into a life context. I felt invincible. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that my attitude changed, when my life was threatened by illness and my own mortality dawned on me, probably a little sooner than it would otherwise. 

Although physical decline after prime can be hard to bear, of course the alternative is far worse: not to age is to die young. And although our bodies may begin to fail us, our minds continue to grow. With age comes wisdom, and that’s a journey to embrace.

While we can fight the inevitable with denial, defiance, exercise, a nip-and-tuck, clever clothing and ways too many to mention, I have found on the occasions I am able, the best way is to adjust my attitude. I have tried to banish the image of a hilltop bearing an enormous ‘40’ from my mind, but rather see life as one long journey, onwards and upwards, punctuated by events rather than numbers. 

And while my husband’s own midlife crisis was temporarily unsettling, it was strangely comforting too. Along with all those faces online, whatever the decade, we’re in this together.

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