Monday, February 8, 2010


Tomorrow, the 9th, I begin my second half century of life. It's a weird age to think about in the abstract. Folks tend to make a big kerfluffle about birthdays that end in zero, which seems a bit arbitrary to me. In reality a person is only one day older than the day before, but, in our youth-loving culture, the higher the number of birthdays, the closer we come to being seen as irrelevant by society.

Most of my birthdays ending in zero have been non-events. Twenty is lost in a haze of unhappiness and misdirection. Thirty was headed toward being not much of anything until it turned into thirty-and-haven't-finished-college, which made it a bit of a bummer. Forty wasn't much at the time either, but, in hindsight, I can see it as the beginning of my Great Awakening in which my life began turning into a more fulfilling direction.

And now it is fifty. I come to the number with neither excitement nor dread. In fact, the number has no particular meaning to me by itself. I don't know what fifty is supposed to feel like and doubt that I ever will. The only dread attached to the number fifty is the baggage that other people will attempt to attach to it and me. Of course, there is good-natured teasing about getting "old", which isn't a problem. The problems come when others assume you can't do things, like jobs, because of it. The gradual invisibility which descends on "women of a certain age." The dismissals that occur from others based on nothing but a birth-date. These are the things I am not looking forward to and plan to reject as much as possible.

It's mind-boggling how we collectively approach age. "Really? You look so much younger than that!" No matter what that is. "You're so young for your age." Whatever that might mean. And we're expected to take it as some sort of compliment. As though there is something wrong with the age that we truly are. As though they are surprised that we haven't fallen apart yet. And then there is the very real possibility of age discrimination in the work place, which is the only true downside to the number attached to our birthdays.

So, how do I approach this phenomenon? First and foremost, I refuse to let anyone categorize me as "old." Any young whippersnapper who tries to pigeonhole me is going to be sat down for a few home truths. As far as the world of work goes, I plan to omit any and all references or hints to how many birthdays I've celebrated. And, since I'm frequently told that I "don't look my age," I plan to take out stock in L'Oreal and keep those gray hairs that I've been collecting for the past quarter century well hidden.

Given that I have no idea what fifty is supposed to look or feel like, I plan to continue on in a way that suits me. And that includes becoming a bit more outrageous. Anyone who has a problem with that will be politely invited to go suck an egg.

I don't feel any different inside that I did when I was thirty-five. So I may just remain thirty-five. Okay, maybe thirty-six. Tomorrow will be the fifteenth anniversary of my thirty-sixth birthday. Given that I am blessed (or cursed) with long-lived genes, I could very well end up celebrating the fifty-fifth anniversary of my thirty-sixth birthday. And I intend to go forward as I have these past few years, grabbing all the gusto I can and having as many new experiences as possible.

"We are always the same age inside." -- Gertrude Stein.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chasing 20 minutes

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago and I discovered how much internet dating and job hunting have in common. Having enjoyed(?) both endeavors, it all boils down to packaging oneself in such a way that someone reading your profile or resume will want to meet you to delve into the possibilities further. And, more likely than not, you will miss the secret words and be dismissed out of hand.

In an internet dating profile, you have one paragraph to interest the other person enough for them to even read further. Of course, if your photo doesn't fit their ideal of the 'perfect' person, then you won't even get them as far as the first paragraph in most cases. If you can get them to paragraph two, you have to pack as much information about yourself as possible into as few words as possible for them to even consider sending you a short message. Then, always mindful of the secret words that you don't know, you may write back and forth for a bit until one or the other actually suggests a cup of coffee. Then you are off for your nerve-wracking interview. It is very hard not to feel piles of rejection, even if you aren't particularly interested in the person.

I tried to remain fairly open minded in looking at profiles. Height, occupation, visuals were not show stoppers for me. I did eliminate people whose profiles indicated wildly different outlooks than mine, but I avoided only looking at the tall, dark and handsome sorts in favor of good and interesting men.

I was amazed at what sort of men cropped up and how quickly they made decisions without knowing anything about me. I'm no spring chicken, but I don't scare small children or animals either. And I clean up pretty good. One of the worst ones was a garbage collector who wanted to meet for dinner. As he walked up, I noticed he had immediately decided against spending any time getting to know me. This was confirmed when he said, "why don't we just go across the street and have coffee?" Rejection. And from a garbage man? That one hurt, even though I wasn't all that interested yet. I always figured it would take some time to get to know someone before you could be interested. Silly me. There were several who I rejected out of hand because either they began touching WAY too early, like the first 15 minutes, or their first topic of conversation was sex. Not that I'm not a fan of both things, but not with just anybody and certainly not less than 30 minutes into it.

Out of all the men I met through on-line dating, only one engaged me in conversation from the very beginning and truly wanted to get to know me as much as I wanted to get to know him. Needless to say, he is the one I am with for the long haul.

Job hunting is pretty much the same. You have one or two pages to put down all the right words on your resume so that you may be deemed worthy of an interview for a job. Of course, in all likelihood, the person who is looking at your resume is working in the human resources department, knows very little about the actual job and is scanning for 'secret words'. If the magical words aren't there, it doesn't matter how capable you are, the hiring manager will never see your resume and you won't be seriously considered for the job.

I've applied for jobs whose description did all but say "and your name must be Natalie"; I was so clearly qualified for the position. But I apparently either didn't use the right magic words or they had only posted the job because they had to, having already decided who they wanted to hire. And, in most cases these days, you never hear anything at all from the company. They don't even send out 'drop dead' letters any more.

In both dating and job hunting, your friends and family will try to lessen the rejection with platitudes. "The right job (or man) is just waiting for you." "Clearly it wasn't where you are supposed to be." "He was obviously the wrong one." "There are more fish in the sea." True, as far as they go, but not comforting. What if it (or he) isn't just waiting? What if there isn't any place where you are supposed to be? Sure are more fish in the sea, but clearly my angling skills are not up to snuff. And, after too, too many rejections, the temptation to give up is high.

It all boils down to trying to package yourself so that someone will find you worthy of 20 minutes of their time. And I wonder, how did we allow ourselves to reduced to anonymous words on either a screen or resume? And why are people willing to make snap judgments about just about everything based on so very little?

Half of a century in, it feels as though people have become more distant from each other. I don't know if that is truly the case or if it is a regional difference between where I grew up and where I have lived most of my adult life. As a kid, I knew all the neighbors for several blocks around, at least on a nodding basis. Now, I don't even know all the people in my 13 apartment building. It was even worse when I lived in California. There it took the 1989 earthquake to even get a conversation going with the folks across the hall.

It also seems as though things have sped up considerably over the years. And that fact alone has to meddle with interpersonal connections. I swear nothing makes me want to scream more than "time is money." As if money is the most important thing in the world. I've certainly met people for whom it is, but I don't think that's most of us. And if I am correct, why are most of us allowing that hurry up, abbreviated mind set to dominate how we must deal with things and people? It might be extremely difficult to go against the flow, but if enough of us tried might we not turn the tide? What might happen if we give the person more than the 20 minutes they are desperately chasing? What if we gave them 30? We'd learn more. We'd be showing more respect. And we might just slow everything down to a more human speed. Could be it would be worth it to try.