The New York Times
Philip Galanes, July 12, 2015
TONY, NEW YORK: I am a not-unattractive 47-year-old man. It used to be that when I walked into a room or down the street, women would notice me. It’s not as if I pursued their interest; I have been happily married for 16 years. But lately, I seem to have become invisible. Younger women (and men) have mostly stopped seeing me, and those who do call me “Sir.” What are my options?
PHILIP GALANES: Welcome to middle age, Tony. And enjoy your final two years as a coveted TV viewer, at least according to the Nielsen ratings firm. It may be true that fewer people sit up and notice when we saunter into crowded rooms. But the upside is increased freedom to explore who we are without so much scrutiny or expectation from the outside. Embrace your irrelevance to youth culture. Focus on your experiences, not on how important they make you. And watch the excellent “Cucumber” and “Banana” on Logo or Amazon TV, a wry and heartbreaking pair of shows about how rough life is at all ages, but especially ours.
JIM ABBOT: First, Tony, please ignore Philip’s implied equivalence of (1) focusing on your experiences and (2) watching television. Something about that just seems wrong.
Second, as self-appointed spokesperson for men in late middle age, I want to register my extreme discomfort with reference to anything that takes its title (according to Wikipedia, and I sincerely apologize to my readers for the following) from “a urological scale of erection hardness, which consists of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber.”
I mean, Philip, please. Is that really necessary?
Third, as to the observation that being invisible to younger people allows us oldsters to “explore who we are.”
That’s one way to deal with aging.
Here’s how Roger Angell, who will be 95 in September, describes the challenge in “This Old Man,” which appeared in The New Yorker last year (February 17, 2014):
We elders—what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel?—we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends—old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties—and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser. There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA—a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.
So there you have it, Tony. You asked for “options.” Galanes and Angell are telling you that you don’t really have any. Just accept your predicament and get on with your life, understanding that you can now enjoy less “scrutiny or expectation from the outside” as you “explore who you are.”
But is it true, Tony, that you’ve lived 47 years and still need to “explore who you are”? Or do you have a reasonably good idea by now? And is navel-gazing really the way you’d like to spend the next few decades of your life?
Angell is closer to the mark, I think. Take comfort in the fact that you are “honored, respected, even loved,” which means that you’re not exactly “irrelevant” to youth culture. Say instead that you’re expected to act your age, and that doing so is essential to earning that “honor” and “respect.” The nice thing about that — and this is the part that Galanes gets absolutely right — is that you do have more freedom, which you can use to indulge your peculiar passions, your idiosyncrasies, your eccentricity, even if involves wearing a goofy hat, digging in the dirt, sweating through your clothes, and in general, looking like a crazy guy in public.