The awkward years. Again.
edited: Tuesday, September 08, 2009
By Richard Sutton
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, September 08, 2009
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When you reach a certain age -- get ready for a change you never really expected....
(c)2009 by Richard Sutton, All Rights Reserved
The awkward years. Again.
Remember how uncomfortable you felt most of the time when you were between, say 12 and 18? Someone once called these the awkward years, and I readily agree. I remember. I’ve watched it happen as our daughter grew through the transition of her teen years, and I’m beginning to notice it with my older grandson. Making the transition from childhood into adulthood is awkward.
On the plus side, eventually it’s over, and you leave it behind you.
Or do you?
I was lucky when I was in my early 20s, to meet and marry the most beautiful, intelligent woman I’d ever seen. Really lucky. We built our lives together. Each of us had careers, and when she retired 7 years ago, from her college teaching job, I still remember there was little of the “what do we do now” feeling we had both been expecting. It didn’t feel like anything had changed except the amount of time we now had together.
The last few years she taught, her male students hadn’t hit on her as much, but she was at the top of her game in every way. She came home one day, with an anecdote about having been waiting in line to speak to her department chairman – he was advising a group of female students – she stuck her head in the open doorway, and asked for a moment to ask a short question. There was no response. It surprised her, and when she turned back from the doorway, a colleague told her: “You’re 50 now. You’re invisible.”
We both laughed about it, but over the first few years of retirement, she noticed it happening with increasing frequency – especially in check-out lines at supermarkets, or in clothing stores. She would wait patiently, even sometimes attempting to converse with someone younger on line, but as she aged, she felt less and less like she was even there – being overlooked, rebuffed, or ignored. We spoke about it, and wondered what was going on.
Of course, as a man, I’m not too swift on the up-take, so this year, 2 years after my own retirement, I began noticing a similar awkwardness in the way I was treated when out in the world. Almost as if I was fading from sight. This year, my beard finally joined my hair in going white. I’m not a small guy – 6'3" (for now) and well past 265 pounds, but I began getting a feeling for what my wife had mentioned to me years before. Younger people began treating me like I wasn’t there.
This week, we had spent a few days on our boat, and were returning home through the North Fork of Long Island farm country. We decided to stop for some heirloom tomatoes, and I was thirsty. We pulled into a parking space at a busy farm stand, and while my wife gathered vegetables, I found a line for a cold drink. There were a few people ahead of me, and I smiled, and waited – trying to be patient while the orders ahead of me were filled. The four patrons on line ahead of me were younger, smaller men – just a bit over 5'5", and were pleasantly speaking to the clerk behind the counter. I watched my wife, waiting patiently behind another woman who was getting her order weighed, and awaited my turn.
Suddenly, a group of women that had come into the line well after she had begun to wait, slid over– en masse – to the empty space at the counter next to her, and her clerk, having completed the transaction with the woman ahead of my wife, immediately turned her full attention to the other, younger women that had come in from behind my wife – almost as if she wasn’t there. Invisible.
As it happened, just at that moment, the last of the guys in front of me took his roasted corn, and left the counter. As I stepped up, the clerk, with not so much as a glance, left the counter, and slid over to the vegetable counter to begin ringing sales there. Almost as if I wasn’t there. Invisible.
Just what is it in our culture, that decides when to flip on the invisibility switch? Is it a wrinkle here or there on our faces? Is it the appearance of grey or white hair? I don’t feel any different inside then I did at 45, but clearly, despite having an idea of my place in the world, it’s time for another awkward transition.
Now maybe it’s a hard-wired, genetic pre-disposition our species operates within. It could be that when we are clearly past the child bearing, prime hunter stage of life, that we are set aside as no longer being vital to the species survival. Maybe seeing grey or white hair sets off a brain chemical that tells the receptor: Invisible Person – pay them no mind. Maybe it’s connected with preparing the surviving members of the species not to rely upon those that will soon enough cease to exist. Seems a little odd, as those of us who’ve been around the block might have some useful experience or ideas, but there it is.
Maybe it’s nothing more than rudeness, but I could swear that I don’t remember as much rude behavior when I was younger. Maybe it’s the crush of the growing population, or maybe it’s the frustration of dashed expectations – I wish I knew. I just know it feels awkward.
The awkwardness of being newly invisible is pretty close to the awkwardness of finding hair growing where it didn’t before – you feel like a freak. And what’s worse, I thought I was through with that!