Shortly after he retired from the Marine Corps, my husband expressed a great deal of discontent, regret, and almost hostile ambiguity about the previous 20 years of his life because he realized he was no longer 25 years old. Despite all I’d read on the subject of the male mid-life crisis, I was still taken about by his reaction to himself.
I saw a strapping young buck when I met and married him. As the years went by, though, I came to see a grown man who only slowly conceded the triumphs of time and still managed to age gracefully, simultaneously respectful of his talents as well as his limits. Everything he’s physically withstood over the last couple of decades hasn’t taken nearly the toll it has on some of his peers; and he’s one of a lucky few to have grown into his looks rather than having peaked in high school or college.
He has always been open-minded and compassionate, and his sense of adventure, work ethic, and sense of humor haven’t suffered. He is more knowledgeable, understanding, and confident than ever. His new beard and mustache complements his eyes and solicits genuine comment from those who knew him before he re-entered the civilian world. He really does have the most beautiful eyes. Thankfully, so does our daughter.
Unfortunately, this is not what he sees at all.
As if he’d never looked into a mirror before, the reality of his reflection hit him like a drunk driver. He sincerely wasn’t expecting what he saw – and I’m still confused about what changed from one day to the next for him. The 48-year-old man who can still run, swim, bicycle, and work circles around most 20-somethings only sees the brushstrokes of time.
When I look in the mirror, I (desperately?) weigh wisdom and knowledge against wrinkles and gray hair. He does no such weighing; rather, he doesn’t take any internal good into consideration, allowing what he sees to override who he is and how he felt before looking into the mirror that fateful day.
Aging is a process that most women are acutely aware of from the moment their mothers introduce them to moisturizer. This usually happens somewhere between the last batch of Easy-Bake oven cookies and the onset of menstruation. We are taught to nip it in the bud even as we’re told the flower of our youth is rotting on the vine.
It would appear to be drastically different for men. To hear my husband tell it, the hands of time wait – and then punch a man right in the face.
He turned away from the mirror and asked me, “When did you realize you weren’t 25 years old anymore?” I wasn’t sure I understood the question. “Well,” I hesitated, “when I turned 26.” His response was a look I’d never seen before – a mixture of hurt and confusion just short of defeat. His eyes seemed to say, “You knew all along and you didn’t tell me?”
I did say — at least I thought I did. I might have been too focused on the changes my own body had endured before and during what was apparently his marathon of delusion.
Women deal with a changing body (and mind) about every 28 days. If she bears children there are yet more changes – some temporary (significant weight gain and loss, swelling, hair growth and loss), and some permanent (stretch marks, scars, bigger feet).
With or without childbearing, perimenopause can bring with it all manner of changes that simply won’t go ignored. I was about 40 when each of my breasts began to act like a pregnant belly. First they grew, and then they dropped. I went from a 36-B to a 38-Long almost overnight.
Do you think the bra-making industry has the decency to carry my new size? Hell, no.
Hot flashes, night sweats, and an overall shift in physique that can only be described as a silent earthquake descended upon my body so gradually that I didn’t think twice about continuing to ignore my dust-laden gym membership card. I was in better physical shape than most of my friends, mind you. I still love to dance, and the waitressing and bartending I’d done while raising my kids gave age a run for its money. Too, I still play a regular game of racquetball with my husband for fun, not fitness.
Do you think my body took any of this into consideration? Hell, no.
If I’d known all this was going to happen, I’d have taken better care of myself. I might also have just let myself go since it was all going to let go anyway. Actually, that’s not true. I did know this was coming, and that’s why I stayed active. There’s no way I’d want to weigh much more than I should at this point in my life because I take my hot flashes out into the bitter cold of winter in little more than light pajamas and boots. It’s not that I care what the neighbors think (and I really don’t, which is one of the few upsides to getting older). It’s that perimenopause makes PMS look like a cakewalk, and I don’t want to go to jail over a miscommunication between me and the neighbor who thinks it’s funny to holler, “Who let the dogs out?”
By the time my mid-life changes became impossible to ignore, I was already busy growing a beard and having deep, philosophical discussions with my hairdresser about the most “dignified” shades of blonde and auburn to cover my increasingly white and silver mane. That I continued to have periods, bloating, weird cravings, and acne is not news to my peers.
It was, however, news to my husband when, in empathy with his realization about how old he was getting, I revealed what really was a secret: how much work it took me to keep from looking like a cross between Sasquatch and a pictorial from National Geographic. He was going to recoil in disgust when I told him just how long I’d had this routine when he suddenly remembered that I’d said “perimenopause” in there somewhere. Sometimes I think he longs for the days of PMS more than I do.
For all his lament about age, he knows that the man who doesn’t say the first thing that pops into his head when confronted by a female about female stuff is wise — not 25.