Maybe it’s because we’ve lived a little, because we’ve experienced some of the most terrible traumas and some of the most wonderful joys. Maybe it’s because life has rubbed away the edges of our fraying nerves, but I’ve noticed that so many of my friends who are around the same age of semi-retirement as me just don’t get so het up about things that would have roused them to a frenzy a couple of decades ago.
Jane Fonda, both praised and disparaged for her anti-war activism in the 1970s and ongoing protests since, said recently she doesn’t get upset about things anymore – personal or professional. These days, Fonda says she’s much more relaxed about being an older woman in Hollywood and suffering barbs about being told to dress her age. It took her “oh, about 65 years” to get to this point, she says. (She’s now 79.) “That’s the good news: it’s never too late. Even later in life, you can become who you were supposed to be.”
As you get older, you accept people more for what they are – faults and all – rather than getting upset or angry at perceived slights or hurt feelings. And our friendships are a lot deeper and stronger. Not for us the need for admiring Facebook friends (though of course some of our in-person friends may also know us on Facebook). Not for us the social or career-ladder-climbing friendships that last as long as we can be useful to each other along the way. We follow the tried and true – the ones who are there when we’re in most need, who never question our side of the story. Now we’re all that little bit older, we seem to have more time to talk with each other rather than speed date over hastily arranged drinks after work. And when the conversation starts flowing, so do the confidences, the admissions, the funny things that have happened – and the laughter.
There’s nothing like a few good belly laughs over a couple of wines with a few good women we’ve come to trust. Many years ago, when several like-minded women worked with me in a smallish business, we formed such a good bond that we still get together quarterly at what we call our Sozzle (the thinking woman’s drinking society or the drinking woman’s thinking society, we can never remember). We don’t get quite a sozzled as we used to in our younger years, but the wine and the confidences still flow and we share secrets we wouldn’t share with many others, sometimes not even with our other halves.
The older we are, the less likely we seem to need to hold back – we’re much more frank with each other than we were two or three decades ago, probably because so much has happened to us in the intervening years, so many big and sometimes life-threating events, that we no longer sweat the small stuff. It’s so much easier to admit to the stupid things we did when we were younger. And so much easier to talk about the old guys at work who used to feel us up when no one was looking or make suggestive remarks to us when other women weren’t around. Who knew sexual harassment was so prevalent? Certainly none of us until we were emboldened enough to share our shameful secret among good women friends.
Although our Sozzle members have been working for several different organisations and companies over the years, we still have that common bond forged from the 1980s on, and we still find the shared secrets and occasional belly laughs very good for the soul as well as our endorphins – the body’s own feel-good chemicals. Laughter, apparently, also decreases our stress hormones, increases our immune cells and generally makes us better – physically as well as emotionally.
Generally, then, we’re less stressed and more chilled.
Scientific studies have also shown that we’re also wiser past 60 because, unlike young people, our brains are no longer ruled by the chemicals that fuel emotion and impulse. Our brains also slow with age, but a slower response allows us to develop greater insight, making our response more thoughtful and ‘wiser’. If only we could have reached this point earlier and save ourselves so much angst!
A friend of mine had this taped to her toilet wall and it never failed to gain approval: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves And satin sandals … And make up for the sobriety of my youth.”