Updated: Jun 12, 2020
In this article, Anne Mayer talks about how she always feels good about herself, even as she ages, and tells you how you can too.
DON’T GIVE UP
I am an old woman and I am determined not to give up. As women we keep coming to moments where one life vanishes and a new one sets in. From being children cared for by our parents, we leave home. Perhaps we marry and set up our own households.
If we do, in what seems no time at all, our children grow up and do not need our full-time care as they finish their education and establish their own lives. Having been active parents, we are suddenly mothers-in-mothballs. About this time, we become aware that builders on construction sites no longer wolf whistle when we walk by in revealing clothes. We hated the harassment but, goodness, how we miss being visible. Now no one seems to see us at all.
Simultaneously, we move from one job to another until the day we realise that we have just left our final full-time post. We are no longer someone from somewhere but just an ageing person who used to be good at her job.
In some cases, we are widowed and are no longer half of a partnership but an elderly lady on her own, socially much less desirable for dinner and lunch parties.
When we have walked over all those bridges, what do we do? Many of my friends have thrown themselves into very active “grandmother-ship” and baby sit regularly so that their daughters (and occasionally sons) can get on with their jobs and lives. I admire those women but do not envy them.
I have never wanted to do anything other than live the life I slowly built: children (long grown up), grandchildren whom one loves but does not babysit, work I adore continuing freelance and in smaller quantities but still there, many friends of all ages and a thriving social life. My married life was extremely happy and we were great companions, but I also maintained a lot of independence and whizzed around London with my wonderful Freedom Pass, combining a bit of work with a lot of pleasure.
I won’t pretend it has been easy to go on being the ME I recognise. When I left my final job as head of press at the Royal Court Theatre, after a decade, I was so wedded to it that I was unable at first to adjust. I routinely introduced myself as “Anne who used to work at the Royal Court”, had a Pavlovian desire to charge out of the gate at 8am to go to Sloane Square, and wrote a sad story about a woman who had a bright red coat with a zipper up the front, which I was wearing as my winter coat at that time. In the story, the woman in the bright red coat has taken the same tube to work for years but when she vanishes and the police are searching for her, they cannot find one person who can ever remember seeing her. The invisible woman in the bright red coat was, of course, me, but not the me I wanted to continue to be.
At that time, and for the only time in my life, I spent about 18 months talking to an incredibly wonderful therapist. I don’t know what technique she followed, but she encouraged me just to talk to her about what was on my mind and over that period, we sorted out a lot. The ME I recognised came back and I began to look forward rather than back. She also encouraged me to regret only one thing and let everything else go. I instantly knew what that would be: on leaving university I was offered an amazing job helping two famous archaeologists on a dig in Samothrace, in Greece, as well as helping them open and run a small museum on site. My first husband insisted we get married and I obediently turned down the job, to be replaced by a classmate who became a hugely well-known archaeologist herself. Not taking that job was the worst decision I ever made and it was easy to let other things go.
But this blog is not just about my life story. It is about women of a certain age who have crossed all those bridges and wonder how to go on living an enjoyable and fulfilling life. There is no formula as we are all so very different. But there are broad guidelines, and in following them I am fairly contented with myself and the world, even as a newly widowed 86 year old in pandemic lockdown.
Stay as healthy and fit as you can. Keep up your appearance; wear decent clothes, some make up and whatever makes you feel good within the boundaries of your age. Three inches of pancake and features frozen by Botox will fool no one.
Have a busy life with friends of all ages, including your own children and grandchildren. Like yourself and stay engaged with the world; if you find yourself entertaining, so will others.
If you can find part-time work, even if you are in the increasingly rare position of being able to live on your pension or savings, grab the opportunity. Accept positions on boards and/or as school governors. Experience counts.
Develop other interests. I have singularly failed to do this enough (a minor regret) and watched with envy as my businessman husband took up painting, piano lessons, cooking and gardening after a career in financial services.
Do your own housework. It provides good exercise and a pride in your surroundings which echoes pride in your appearance.
Above all, do not picture yourself as a frail, older woman who has outlived her usefulness. You can still be a vigorous participant in life, even life under lockdown.
Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright). "Look forward rather than back."