When you’re middle aged you spend a lot time trying to figure out if you are young or old. It’s as if that clarification would make death seem further away or your actual youth seem like something you didn’t only dream. But the truth is you’re neither old enough to impress anyone or young enough to interest anyone.
How old am I? Well, as it turns out, I am too old to be Shanghaied. Look, if you’re middle aged and looking for a definition of your age or some kind of metaphor to illustrate the passing of time other than the one of a kind wrinkle map on your face, this might be helpful.
I’ve been too old to be Shanghaied for some time now. I’m only just coming to terms with it. I found out, much to my surprise, a night out a while back with some of my high school friends. We had just spent an unreasonable about of time, energy, and discussion weighing the financial implications of getting a pitcher of mojitos versus individual mojitos, a debate that, seriously, was enough alone to let us know we were old. Mojitos in hand, I was talking about how my cousin working in China for a year and I was toying with the idea of giving into my wanderlust and going to see her and touring around China by myself. I half-jokingly told my friends I was nervous about being Shanghaied. Well, one of my friends, dead seriously, looked at me and said, “I’m pretty sure you’re too old to be Shanghaied.”
And there you have it. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Because, holy hell, there it is!
You know, I spent a lifetime as a woman in America, and the world, guarding against being abducted and sold into some kind of sexual slavery and then, just like that, I was too old? Screw you, patriarchy! Women in their forties would be awesome to Shanghai!
Well, apparently, it wasn’t the relief you might have thought it would be.
Even as I write this I realize how insane these thoughts are, but, hey, that’s what aging is like; it’s confusing to define yourself when suddenly the world is discriminating against your age even for the worst things ever. And, I’m not sure there’s a male middle-aged equivalency to this watershed moment. Too old to be a stable boy? Too old for the military? Yeah, that might be it! Like, guys are like, for years you’ve been threaten to draft me and suddenly I’m too old to be taken captive by the Taliban? Screw you!
Like I said, none of it makes sense. But that’s the middle years. If being a teenager is about identifying yourself as something tangible like, athlete, musician, dancer, scholar, being middle aged is about being unable to identify yourself with any real satisfaction. I’m pretty sure what’s left for me as a woman in terms of how the world identifies me is invisible.
The more I think about that, I might be okay with that. For years I had to be a “girl,” which in the 80s defined me as worthless in gym class, bad at math and science, and a gossipy, whiny, wimp. Then I was slapped with “mommy,” as if none of the years I existed before that mattered in the least, and nothing about me was beyond being summed up with, “she has kid.” As if.
Nice try, patriarchy. I’m way more multi-layered and complicated and interesting to be identified by any of these labels, including old. And, I’ll never be the kind of invisible you’re hoping for. Sure, you might not think I’d make a great sex slave, but not only are you wrong about that, you’re underestimating the power of invisibility. Just when you stop considering women as powerful and threatening, and ignore us in all movies, TV shows, and media campaigns, holy shit, we become both. Our invisibility is our super power, fools!
My hypothetical argument with the patriarchy aside, and I’m just spitballing here, but maybe both the struggle and the joy of being middle aged, is that it is indefinable. Because I don’t feel like I’m this thing that’s super summed up and neat anymore. I feel more fluid and mosaic and free and impossible to describe accurately. Because part of me still feels 17, while another part of me sees a funky old woman wearing huge dark-rimmed glasses and a cool outfit and relates to her as my future, closer than I would have ever thought.
I feel like a bunch of contradictions that make zero point zero sense and amount only to my unique collection of atoms making their way through my years on earth.
The truth is, I haven’t changed much over the years. I didn’t get less interested in having a good time or laughing until I snort or being myself. I’m still super opinionated, sarcastic, and über fun. All of which is easy to see when I’m with my friends from high school. Other than our smart math on mojitos, we are exactly the same as we were in high school. It’s why nothing in the world will make you feel ageless like being with the kids you grew up with. They see your essence and you see theirs.
Look, in a perfect world no one gets Shanghaied. And I’m definitely not complaining that I’m too old to be Shanghaied, but it was a bit of a slap in the face to get that comical piece of reality. In a world that worships youth, especially in women, there’s something incredibly hilariously poignant about being too old to even be abused. Now, I’m sure there’s some sicko out there with a middle-aged fetish for sex slaves, so I’m going to shut up now. Also, in case you were dying of curiosity, the mojito pitcher was definitely the way to go.