Older: a confession

On what I remember as our third date, I suggested that John and I see What the Bleep Do We Know? at the Beverly Center. We sat through the film, my head on his shoulder, but I had trouble paying attention. See, I had discovered (on our second date) that I was eleven years older than he was—and I wasn’t sure that dating him was such a good idea. Wouldn’t people hold secret opinions of our inappropriately aged pairing? Was something “wrong” with me for feeling so (chemically?) drawn to this tall, handsome, intelligent, young man?

John hated the movie, and rightfully so. It is a bit juvenile; the docudrama style presents a too-simplified resolution to a narrative that stretches in incongruous directions. But afterward, we had a discussion (albeit scientifically limited) about some of the topics which the film explores: quantum mechanics, the limitations of time, and the possibility of multiple realities occurring at once. Here’s some wikipedia for context:

The many-worlds interpretation (or MWI) is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that rejects the non-deterministic and irreversible wavefunction collapse associated with measurement in the Copenhagen interpretation in favor of a description in terms of quantum entanglement and reversible time evolution of states. The phenomena associated with measurement are explained by decoherence which occurs when states interact with the environment. As result of the decoherence the world-lines of macroscopic objects repeatedly split into mutally unobservable, branching histories — distinct universes within a greater multiverse.

Whew. At least there’s a scientific theory for me to throw back in people’s faces when they give me that glance that says “May-December, honey?” I just glance back a look of “decoherence” that responds “Multiverse, dear?”

Of course, there’s also John’s wonderful logic about our age gap, the influence of Cat’s Cradle on his outlook included. It was that same evening, on a drive over Mulholland to get some perspective on our relative sizes within the Los Angelian galaxy, when I asked: “Do you think it’s a problem that I’m eleven years older than you?” He looked over quickly, then back at the road—Mulholland is the type of drive you’ve got to control. He replied, “I think it’s only a problem if we make it a problem.”

And so I have only rarely decided to make it a problem.

John is a great driver, by the way. And he and I are quite a match in our multiverse, but the truth is, fellow quantum physicists, time marches on. Like you, I look regularly in the mirror, where I scruntinize my relationship with aging—rather than my relationship with John—all too carefully. I have developed some lovely laugh lines around the eyes. I say “lovely” because these lines are proof that I’m laughing. There are also the deepening vertical lines in my forehead. I like to call these my “thinking” lines. They’re not so lovely, but I have no plans to stop thinking anytime soon. I must accept the inevetible skin-chasms that will develop from my tendencies to analyze and hypothesize. I must accept that I’m getting older.

When I’m really looking into the mirror, narcissism intact, I see my own multiverse of self: me at six years old in a t-ball t-shirt with bangs that need cutting; me now at thirty-six (bangs still need cutting); and, more recently, I am able to see myself as even older, as, perhaps, seventy-six. I think I am a little in love with my seventy-six-year-old self, since the she/me there seems so resolved, so peaceful and clear, if maybe a little stiff in the shoulders. She’s moved past the thirty-six- or forty-six-year-old me who laments the loss of skin tone, who cries “I never used to have this saggy thing here.”

No, I am not Ms. Woolf’s Orlando (who, in addition to changing genders after a few days of sleeping, lives vampirically over three centuries), still going strong at the close of the novel, but I’m not sure I’d want to be. Even Orlando admits that “All ends in death,” and I’ll try to be cool with that. Maybe I’ll write a personal campaign (ending in my final demise) which will include a promise that, while on my travels toward this ridiculously reduced and evidential end, I will not fall into that other part of the multiverse where Bazaar issues of Fabulous at Every Age and botox injections rule all thinking—couldn’t afford the botox anyway. I will, however, try to make fun of getting older, since there’s not much else I can do about it. To start, I’ll take a few cues from Nora Ephron, who makes certain adept observations about aging in her recent book I Feel Bad About My Neck:

I try as much as possible not to look in the mirror. If I pass a mirror, I avert my eyes. If I must look into it, I begin by squinting, so that if anything really bad is looking back at me, I am already halfway to closing my eyes to ward off the sight. And if the light is good (which I hope it’s not), I often do what so many women my age do when stuck in front of a mirror: I gently pull the skin of my neck back and stare wistfully at a younger version of myself.

But I don’t really feel the same seeming self-hatred that she does—at least not yet.

In future dates with the mirror, I’ll try again to see myself at all my ages—and, of course, as me-at-present, gathering wrinkles and experiences. This is not to say I’m immune to the disease that says aging is ugly, but I won’t be trapped there. Luckily, John’s around to check me, to remind me to question the shifting net that calls itself time and the silly importance we give to its gravities. Last week, as I primped for a dinner out with the girls, John complimented my dress. “I don’t look old?” I asked him. “Old,” he said to himself. “Ollllllld.” He moved the word around in his mouth as he put his arms around me. “You look ollld,” he said, dipping me in a mometary dance. “You look so ollld.” It was like he was using the word “perfect” or “gorgeous”—as if he was saying that old is actually perfect and gorgeous. I felt reassured and absurd at the same time. Sigh. He’s a wonderful man, a blessing in my life, but it’s so easy for him to mock the concept: he’s a pristine twenty-five.

And yet… is his twenty-five like someone else’s forty-five or eighty-five? Isn’t he an embodiment of all his ages at once, too? Yes, I will believe that my thirty-six encompasses me in my t-ball shirt in 1976 and me in my garden in 2046 and, yes, I know it’s optimistic—perhaps even “unrealistic”—to think this way. But it’s better than deciding that getting older is, as John so wisely put it, a “problem.”

Once I’m finished with writing this post, I’ll head out to the kitchen for some tea. On my way, John will most likely call “Hi, babe” from his impromptu studio in the living room where he’s writing and recording music. We’ll laugh over something later, as couples do, and my laugh lines may, perhaps, microscopically deepen. Bring on the laugh lines, I say. Bring on the multiverses and all the realities happening at once—even if that means I’m only bringing on the simpler happenings of this reality. Bring it all on. I’m ready for the rest of my life, one which tells it this way: older means, among so many other things, gorgeous and perfect, right?

Older means wiser.

18 responses to “Older: a confession”

  1. bryan says:

    tremain: lots to say about this topic (to be expected, since we’re the same age), but little time now. you had me brimming with tears at the “bring it on.”


  2. Tim Wager says:


    This is positively lovely, just like you.

    Like Bryan, I have much to say on the topic, but litle time (ha ha) in which to do it right now. Perhaps I’ll return as a slightly older self to see what I’ll think then.

  3. G-Lock says:

    Lisa, this is beautiful.

    People who know me well know that I am obsessed with aging. On the surface, I am a nostalgia hound and like to recollect stories with friends and peruse my scrapbooks.

    Not so secretly, I point out my own encroaching crow’s feet and slower metabolism.

    Secretly, I try to reconcile the images of this 32 year old guy – I don’t feel comfortable saying “man” – staring at me in the mirror and the little blonde kid I used to be.

  4. Marleyfan says:

    It looks like I’ll be a little wiser in 13 days; 40 years wise in fact. It seems that many people become more beautiful as they mature. When we become more comfortable with ourselves, the confidence peaks on our face, and within our eyes; I love the assurance that “older” women have!

    My grandma, who is over 90, agrees with G-lock, and says that although she looks old now, she certainly feels *much* younger. I also like that each time I ask grandma how she’s doing, “Oh, I’m not long for this world”, she says with a twinkle. I then ask, how many years do you have left, and she says “well, about 23”.

    G-Lock- I’ll have to agree with you, I certainly don’t feel like a man yet, I like your term “guy”; I feel about 22.

    Nice Post!

  5. G-Lock says:

    Hey, Marleyfan! Fellow Pisces!! I get a little wiser in 10 days!

  6. Marleyfan says:

    I’ll be the first to sing you happy birthday:

    *singing* This is your birthday song, it isn’t very long. Hey!

  7. Sttephanie Wells says:

    What a wistful musing this is, LT–very enjoyable. I especially love, and plan to steal (co-opt), the phrase “thinking lines.” I am still puzzling over what about it, exactly, is confessional–no guilty secrets here, I don’t think, cause this is all of us, no?

  8. ssw says:

    Great post Lisa. I hope we get to meet sometime. I wanted to bring up how alarming and depressing the messages are about how we should look as we age (namely, that if you do it right, you can hide it, deny it, control it–that there is a perfect way to live through it). We get bombarded with so many false images and messages–and not enough examples of real bodies, real lives–who do i see everywhere i turn? kate moss. I would vehemently deny that I want to be like her but somehow, those images over and over again as beautiful go somewhere in our collective consciousness and play into our self-perceptions.
    i don’t usually choose to watch tv, but i was turning on a show for my daughter and tyra banks was on tv, with a roomful of women in red bathing suits, with their weight in a big sign on the front. it was so raw and liberating and unusual. tyra, all 160-165 lbs of her was on to discuss this recent obsession everyone has with “HOW FAT SHE IS” and her response was to celebrate women’s bodies, the range of who people are, etc. In this segment, she brings a few people up to tell their stories (very quippy, dramatic, but still) it culminated in each women bringing up their foible (my legs jiggle when i walk; my thighs rub up against each other; i never lost that last 15 lbs after the baby, whatever) and then collectively pronounced “SO WHAT?” together. It just touched me so much. I wish i had more ‘so what’ moments (and then truly believed them!)

  9. Demosthenes says:

    Great post. Age, and aging is not always a topic that one hears about often, and it is refreshing to hear another persons thoughts about the subject. This post is also written very well. Great job.

  10. W2 says:

    Diane Keaton’s got a terrific perspective on aging, particularly on her aging face. She eschews plastic surgery because “I’m stuck in this idea that I need to be authentic … My face needs to look the way I feel.” She has an incredibly eloquent quote (somewhere) about how an actor’s face is their mask, and how so many actors, in the quixotic quest against aging, deprive themselves of an expression-full mask by going under the knife. I think she is far far more interesting, more beautiful today at 61 than she was at 32 winning her Oscar for Annie Hall. L’Oreal couldn’t have picked a more lovely spokesperson.

  11. Jeremy Zitter says:

    i love the idea of a “scientific theory” justifying your cradle-robbing.

    just kidding! there’s no way john’s 25, anyhow. i think he’s, like, at least 50 years old.

    and this was a lovely, elegant, fascinating post…

  12. Lisa Tremain says:

    bryan: 1970 rules! See you in 2046.

    G-lock and Marleyfan: Pices happen to be the wisest of the zodiac. Drop more knowledge here, please.

    Hi Steph: You’re right, the post is confessional, but mostly from me to me. You know how you gotta admit things to yourself sometimes…

    ssw: I wanna meet you too! But feel like I know you– and am really liking Tyra Banks these days, even with America’s Next Top Model skewing her message a bit…

    demosthenes: if anyone happens to be a representative of what old is, that would be you, yes? This link shows why old is cool.

    And, Miss West, what did you think of Diane’s dress on Oscar night? Quite sexy and age appropriate, in my opinion.

    Last but not least, JZ: You’re lovely and elegant too…but…aren’t you actually currently in the cradle yourself?

    Loving you all at the Whatsit.

  13. JZ says:

    yes, but i’m only in the cradle emotionally and intellectually…

    and if “pices” [sic] is the wisest sign, how come they can’t spell pisces?

    oh, you know i love you…

  14. bryan says:

    Here’s this from today’s Times.

  15. Beth W. says:

    What a lovely post, Lisa! My little brother is quite a catch isn’t he? I was reminded of a lyric he wrote, “In my mind I’m 87 years…In the flesh I am but still a child.” He has always presented a very grown up self.

    In related agism things, earlier this week a woman I work with asked my age and then decided that my 27 years was too old for her 24 year old son. ok

    love you lisa and I’m glad neither you or john has made the age thing a problem

  16. bryan says:

    ooh. i love it when little details like this get leaked. so beth is john’s sister. older sister. by two years. which means i’ve met your brother, beth, last summer. and stand a reasonably decent chance of meeting you sometime, i suppose.

  17. W2 says:

    Loved DIane’s dress. Was glad Cameron Diaz decided to tuck her dinner napkin into her dress — proof she’s on the binging side of a breakup.

  18. Lisa T. says:

    jz: it’s me, the leo, who can’t spell, not the piceses [extra sic].

    love you all, especially future sister-in-laws.