More than a birthday: women who turn 50 celebrate
Something unexpected happened when I turned 50. It actually started the year before when I started to feel like the big 50 was constantly approaching. I stopped caring, not about myself, actually quite the opposite. I started to really care about myself when I started caring less about how I sound, how I’m perceived, what people think of me. As I looked at my friends who were approaching their 50th birthdays or who had been there a long time ago, I realized that we all shared this sentiment. What a surprise it was: instead of anticipating my 50th birthday as a dreaded ‘over the hill’ event, I actually feel like it gave me a newfound freedom; a freedom not to take so much so seriously. I don’t want to say that I have become rude, insensitive or anything like that. I just don’t bother with a lot of the things that bothered me before and I laugh more. Now, I’ve always been an assertive and outspoken person, so what’s really different? I have been wondering what this phenomenon is about because this is a unique and wonderful experience that many of us share.
One recent morning, I saw it most clearly when I was with a group of 5 women who I meet for breakfast twice a year. We had been periodic neighbors and walking companions, but over the years, schedules and moving to other neighborhoods made meeting up less convenient. We keep up with each other and the news of our families by having this breakfast twice a year where we celebrate our birthdays. Something had changed and meeting this last time was different. Three of us just turned 50 and two will be celebrating their 50th birthday this year. Our usual meeting and conversation had a different quality: it was irreverent and funny in a whole new way, as if no topic was too taboo to talk about and laugh about. We exchanged birthday cards and gifts that made us laugh so hard at ourselves that other people in the restaurant couldn’t help but smile and wish they were in on the joke.
One of my friends mentioned the Red Hat Society for women 50 and over, which celebrates ‘acting your age.’ This made me realize that the feelings I have are more than a personal experience and are shared by so many women. My curiosity, fueled by my background in psychology, made me think about this common bond. I realized that as we turn 50, we are catching a glimpse of our mortality and making a decision about how we want to feel and live the rest of our lives. By now, we know what is important and what is not, what is to be taken seriously, and when we can laugh out loud at ourselves and others. We’ve been doing all, or almost all, of the things we’re supposed to do for 50 years and we’ll continue (most of them anyway) because these are the things we want in our lives. But now that we’ve lived 50 years, for the next 50 we’re going to laugh out loud at ourselves a little longer and a little louder and make every day a little more fun! After all, there is a lot to smile about.