Middle Age Day is coming soon, that chance to celebrate the magnificence of being happily half way, with the treasure of experiences behind us and the prospect of more to come. Only it isn’t coming, is it?
Whilst we celebrate a growing number of other milestones in life, and feel all the better for doing so, the bunting, street parties and rock music have yet to salute the state of middle age. That pivot between youth and older age deserves better than to be treated with an embarrassing cough.
The big jolt felt nationally when broadcaster David Dimbleby announced recently that he was giving up hosting Question Time on the BBC for ‘new challenges’, should barely have registered if we really recognised age as just a number and focused instead on choice, vitality, talent and experience. He is lucky to be a famous person of advancing years. Most of us are not going to be so fortunate when it comes to continuing in jobs we enjoy. We will be parcelled off to the garden just as soon as we reach a given age, ready or not.
For my own middle-aged self, I’m fitter than ever and happier at work. I am far from unusual, and so, I would suggest is David Dimbleby. But our ageist society squanders wisdom and experience. Interestingly, this is not a phenomenon in dynamic, vital Asian cultures, which show reverence and respect for age, notably China.
But we happy, purposeful middle agers are undermined in the West. There may be no cultural agenda, but there’s definitely a commercial one. Advertisers want me focused on ‘rejuvenating’ creams, ‘flattering’ cuts and -nothing-too-tricky on the internet; and some colleagues wonder ‘kindly’ about my enthusiasm for new challenges (undimmed, should anyone find it necessary to ask).
It can be an irritating and lonely place to be unchanged except by the calendar, yet still caught between those easing out to retirement and those with younger drives and ambitions. It should be a strong and admired place.
As a volunteer with the Samaritans I know how particularly and acutely lonely women can feel if alone and unsupported in their middle years, particularly when battered by unsettling advertising of the sort that rarely seems directed at men. They make up a high proportion of callers.
We could start with some re-branding. The word ‘middle’ itself has charmless connotations: the ‘middle way’ is the path of indecision, to be ‘middle class’ privileged and pretentious, and ‘middle England’ the repository of dim prejudices. No wonder we avoid, evade, deny or disguise ‘middle’ age.
So, let’s reclaim it from vested business interests and unkind linguistic associations. We in the midst of it deserve better than a place on a spectrum from introspective loneliness to over-compensating denial. The point when it is reached may be unclear, its signs the stuff of comedy, but middle age is marvellous. Celebrate it.