There Are Things They Tell You About Midlife — And Things They Don't

by Jessica Collins
Originally Published: 
Gravity Images/Getty

There are things they tell you about middle age. The hots are hotter and the colds are colder. You’ll have to pee a lot and you won’t be able to hold it. Your boobs get bigger. Your nose gets bigger. Your eyes get smaller, swallowed up by your eyelids. Everything sags. Your face gets gaunt and jowly like one of those rubber masks of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan. Something menacing, something sinister, something you don’t want to look directly at.

Your hands and feet get veiny and wrinkled and scaly. You get lines in your neck, lines under your eyes, lines around your hips and nipples, lines across your belly, lines. Your hair will thin. It will amaze you how upsetting it is. You’ll understand why old ladies always have short poofy hairdos. You’ll think, maybe I am a hat person.

Gravity finds you. But also:

Your life will get small. The responsibilities swallow you, they become you. You spend your time in a rush. Life shrinks down to a to do list. A series of routines. “Groundhog Day.”

It becomes less important to fill your life with idle chatter and clapping hands. All the people you used to know fade into the chorus. You find them on the internet, on tropical vacation and at soccer games, their faces squished into 1080 x 1080px. You will recognize them but you won’t.

You will long for silence. Find yourself generally and wholly irritated, rattled by noise. You’ll think about when you used to stand in crowded dark rooms next to giant amplifiers feeling the low hum of bass move through your body, and the press of people pushing up against you in waves. How your ears would be ringing for days afterwards. How you would put on a record as loud as possible and let it fill you with desire, sorrow, joy, angst.

You will see your children get older. You’ll look up one day and realize they’re taller than you. Their faces, their bodies, their voices, their thoughts will astound you. You’ll see yourself, your family in them, but mostly you will see them become themselves and you will realize they are no longer yours. You’ll look back at pictures of them when they were babies and you’ll think about all of the grand ideas you had about them, about yourself. About what kind of parent you would be.

You’ll no longer tell yourself how different you will be from your own parents. How you’ll give them what you never had. You’ll catch yourself aggravated, exhausted. You’ll lose your shit and then, you’ll hear your father’s bark. Your mother’s stern silence. You’ll catch yourself in the mirror and see your father’s eyes, your mother’s hands. You’ll catch yourself in the mirror and understand that becoming them was inevitable.

You will learn to take everything less personally. You’ll stop worrying about impressing people. You’ll realize nobody gives a shit. You’ll realize nobody ever really gave a shit, but it will hurt less than it used to.

You’ll see videos of girls in their 20s, young girls, you’ll think — that could be my kid. You’ll look at their faces and they will seem alien, foreign, other worldly. You’ll listen to their voices, you’ll think, I have no idea what this person is talking about.

You will see your parents get older. You’ll have to reconcile some 40-year old version of them in your head, looming, with the frail creature in front of you — ashen and soft. You will repeat yourself, speak more slowly. Leave out details. Let things go. Tell yourself, it’s not important. You will take care of things, be helpful, learn to love them in a different way.

You’ll spend as much time thinking about money as you used to thinking about sex.

You will feel nostalgic for obsolete technology.

You’ll realize you can no longer wildly eat, drink, consume, screw. Burn the candle at both ends. The highs stop outweighing the lows. You’ll trade sensuality for efficiency.

You’ll spend the next 20 years trying to undo all the damage you did to your body over the last 20 years. There will be skin creams and serums, injectables and sheet masks, teeth whitening lasers and cellulite massagers, yoga poses and spin classes, surgeries and therapy sessions, support garments and arch supports, supplements and superfoods, check ups, check ins and check outs. None of it will break the spell of aging. But you will try.

You will have a crisis. It will feel like psychic death. Demonic possession. You’ll think about those movies where the balding beefcake tells his boss to shove it and reaches over and kisses the secretary. Or drives his car into a 7-Eleven. Or sprays a can of gasoline on his house, lights a cigarette and torches the place. Or buys an RV and starts a meth lab in it. You’ll realize that you are the balding beefcake.

You will find yourself no longer able to fake it. You will wake up in the morning and put a $20 in the swear jar. You will see people standing in the middle of the sidewalk looking at their phone and you will be unable to contain your rage. You will lay on the horn, flip off shitty drivers. You will burn dinners and forget about the laundry and watch the weeds take over the front yard and think, I have zero fucks to give.

You will feel like the walls are closing in. You’ll decide to get rid of everything you own. You’ll clean out your closet, clean out the cupboards, you’ll haul it all away. You’ll wake up at 2 a.m., you’ll spend hours on the internet buying memorabilia from your childhood — rookie cards, action figures, first editions, original pressings. When it arrives in the mail you’ll think, why did I buy this?

You’ll quit your job or your job will quit you. You’ll think, I should have been an architect, I should have played guitar. I should have taken all that money I spent on American beer and Parliament Lights and bought a little casita in the desert. You’ll think, maybe I could sell real estate, maybe I could start a business, maybe I could be a travel writer.

You’ll buy a new car, a sports car, a classic car, a bicycle, a plane ticket, a train ticket. You’ll think — I gotta get outta here.

You’ll think, maybe I need a hobby. You’ll try macrame, knitting, cross stitching, paint by numbers. You’ll throw them all in the trash, half-finished. You’ll bake things, make things, that no one will eat.

You’ll sit in a crummy church basement with a bad cup of coffee and you will admit to complete strangers that you are powerless before God. You won’t be able to stop thinking about powerlessness. About the word power. You’ll realize that power has always been an abstract concept, and exclusive to men. Coercive power, informational power, engine power, electric power, star power, political power, sexual power, reward power, personal power.

You’ll think about Betty Friedan, Simone De Beauvoir, Anais Nin, Erica Jong. You’ll think about Phoebe Waller Bridge. You’ll think about Shirley Valentine getting pounded by a moustached hunk on a yacht. You’ll think about Tina Turner in fishnet stockings and Cher in a fishnet bodysuit and Jane Fonda in a leotard and you’ll think, those horny bitches were on to something.

You’ll have erotic fantasies about Eddie Vedder in a Cubs hat, dancing with his daughters. You’ll get in the car, go for a walk, get in the bathtub, you’ll think, I could disappear.

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