Something unexpected happened when I turned 50. Actually, it started the year before as I began to feel the big 50 steadily approaching. I stopped caring — not about myself — actually quite the opposite. I began truly caring about myself as I began to care less about how I sound, how I am perceived, what people think of me. As I looked around at my girlfriends who were all either approaching their 50th birthday or who had long since been there, I realized we all shared this feeling. What a surprise it was — rather than anticipate my 50th birthday as a dreaded, ‘over the hill’ event, I actually feel like it gave me a new freedom; a freedom to not take so much so seriously. I don’t mean to imply that I’ve become rude, insensitive or the like. I simply do not bother with many of the things I felt bothered about before and I laugh more. Now, I’ve always been an assertive, outspoken person, so what is actually different? I’ve been wondering what this phenomenon is all about because this is a unique and quite wonderful experience that many of us women share.
One recent morning, I saw it more clearly when I was with a group of 5 women that I meet for breakfast twice a year. We had been neighbors and periodic walking buddies, but over the years, schedules and moving to other neighborhoods made getting together less convenient. We keep up with each other and the news of our families by this twice a year breakfast where we celebrate our birthdays. Something had changed and getting together this last time was different. Three of us just turned 50 and two will be celebrating their 50th birthday this year. Our usual catching up and conversation had a different quality — it was irreverent and fun in a whole new way as if no subject was any longer too taboo to talk and laugh about. We exchanged birthday cards and gifts that made us laugh so loud at ourselves that other people in the restaurant couldn’t help but smile and wish they were in on the joke.
One of my friends mentioned the Red Hat Society for women 50 years and older, which celebrates ‘acting your age’. This made me realize that the feelings I have are more than a personal experience and are shared by so very many women. My curiosity, fueled by my background in psychology, made me think about this common bond. I realized that as we turn 50, we are catching a glimpse of our mortality and making a choice about how we want to feel and live the rest of our life. By now, we know what is important and what isn’t, what needs to be taken to heart and when we can laugh unabashedly at ourselves and at each other. We’ve been doing all, or almost all, of the things we’re supposed to be doing for 50 years and we’ll continue (most of them anyway) because these are things we want in our life. But now that we’ve lived 50 years — for the next 50 let’s laugh out loud at ourselves a bit more and a bit louder and make everyday just a little more fun! After all, there’s a lot to smile about.