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Aging Is Inevitable. Becoming Invisible to Society Shouldn't Be

by on October 21, 2019 5:00 AM

There is a line from a TV show from the late 80s and early 90s that has stuck with me over the years.  The show, “Thirtysomething,” followed a group of young adults who were moving out of their 20s and experiencing the inevitable milestones of their 30s.  Dating. Careers. Marriage. Children. I didn’t actually watch the show when it was on — even though I was a thirtysomething — but remember binge watching it during reruns on Lifetime a few years later when I was home on maternity leave with one of my kids. 

One of the characters, an advertising executive who was facing job stress, marriage stress and other TV drama stress, commented that he knew he was finally getting “old” because he had become invisible to college coeds. Invisible at age thirtysomething.

I wonder how that character would feel now as he would be approaching his 60s.  

I sometimes think about that line when I find myself hurrying past older people in the grocery store or at Target or on the highway. 

I think about that line when the ages of the presidential candidates and their ability to think and process and problem solve are brought into question. 

I thought about that line this past weekend as I was driving back from visiting my mother ,who is living in a memory care unit.  

I think about that line sometimes when I notice that people seem to react to me differently than they did even 10 years ago.

People who study families and aging know the research. Even though we live longer today and stay healthier longer, how we view older people has remained pretty much the same. Our society values the young, healthy, active and engaged. The old days of respect and attribution of wisdom and experience to our older citizens are no longer. While people are staying in the workforce longer both by choice and because they have to, older people often say they feel as if they have faded into society’s background.

The changes are subtle. Retail staff that don’t see you. The patronizing comments made to and about seasoned citizens in television, in the movies and on the internet. Hints from co-workers about “what’s next for you.” Subtle messages that your ideas, suggestions and contribution are no longer relevant.

In short, getting older kind of sucks.  

A friend of mine came back from a recent high school reunion and I asked her if she had fun. She looked at me devilishly and said “I can’t believe I graduated from high school with all of those grandmas.”  Conversations that centered around health issues, joint replacements and retirement communities. Buying into the message that we are somehow “less than” because of how old we are. She said, “It was fun but also horrifying. Do we actually have to get old?”  

I’ve decided that I’m going to fight it. While there isn’t much I can do to stop the years from rolling by I don’t have to take it lying down. Case in point: I recently went to see my eye doctor, who noted some changes in my eye sight and pointed to some things we need to monitor. When I asked him what causes the changes he was identifying, he smiled and said “Birthdays.”  OK then. I’m wearing contacts as long as I can. No granny glasses for me. If Oprah can say that 50 is the new 40, then 60 can be the new just-over-40.

Fighting this aging thing is going to take some effort.  Staying up to date on trends. Taking care of our health. Eating well. Making good choices. As the inevitable changes in our bodies start to happen, we don’t have to let them define us. Stay moving. Stay active. Stay current. We need to celebrate each laugh line and embrace our many and varied life experiences. We need to seek out new ones. We need to continue to grow and to learn something new every day.

Age, as they say, is just a number. 

I thought about the line from “Thirtysomething” over the weekend as I looked around the yoga studio. It was a power yoga class in a heated room with athletic, youthful bodies on the mats all around me. I smiled to myself as I noted “I am the oldest person in this room.”  I am going to keep going as long as I can. I am going down kicking.  

Aging is inevitable. Our bodies change. The focus of our lives shifts. Our social networks reconfigure.  How we spend our time takes on a new perspective. The one thing that remains the same is how we feel inside. The way we feel inside is no different at 13 than it is at almost 60.  On the outside, we don’t have to allow ourselves to be invisible.


Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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