I was chatting with my older sister about our mother’s heart. It’d been out of rhythm for a month or so, and she was going to need a minor surgery. Mom wasn’t taking it so well at first, naturally, and my sister said something surprisingly astute, “I think the problem is that this is the first time mom couldn’t control the clock. I think she’s just tried to keep up with fashion to keep looking young. When she went gray, she dyed her hair. But this heart thing, it’s out of her control.”
Ultimately, my mother’s surgery went fine, but what my sister said about controlling the clock is something I’d never thought about before, and I think it has something to do with being a man. I don’t worry all that much about getting older, outside of body pains. I worry about my weight, I suppose, which is getting harder to manage. Sometimes I bitch about how old and dad-ly I look driving our minivan, but when it comes to something like going gray, I haven’t given it another thought. I just assumed that, at some point, I would, and that would be that. I never think of dyeing my hair. I’d just let it happen.
My wife and I are in our mid-30s. Neither of us have started to show much of our age outside of a little extra around the midsection and some wrinkles around the eyes. We don’t drink or smoke, and we both exercise. We are both, for the most part, vegetarians. I feel that we have aged well. In fact, I find my wife more attractive now than I did when we met.
However, little of that gain in attraction has to do with her looks and has everything to do with how much we have grown together. We’ve been together for 13 years. We’ve had three children. We’ve bought a house. We’ve lived in three states. Together we’ve earned five college degrees, most of them while raising children. I’ve grown to trust her more than anyone else in my life. I look in her eyes and I see wisdom. I feel comfort. I feel confidence. I feel love.
Mel and I often argue about who’s the smartest. She usually brings up that I have a higher-level college degree, but the reality is, she’s the smartest person I know. I trust her advice over anyone else’s. As hard as it is for me to accept it, she is almost always right.
And because of all that growing together, all that wisdom, I’m kind of excited for her to go gray because it feels like a reflection, a symbol, of how wise and wonderful she actually is. Because the thing is, I feel like Americans are a little too obsessed with youth when it comes to attraction. Supposedly (according to societal standards), men are allowed to proudly show their signs of aging while women are not allowed, but I personally find my wife’s stretch marks and C-section scar a reflection of her dedication to our family. It’s evidence that she made one hell of a sacrifice to bring our three children into the world. She’s beautiful. And those three kids are, hands-down, the most rewarding parts of my life.
And maybe that’s why I’m excited for my wife to get some gray hair. I don’t see it as a reflection of age. I see going gray as a reflection of wisdom. I think it will show the world that she has lived and learned, and to me, life experience is attractive.
I’ve told my wife that I’m excited for her to go gray. I have a good friend who went gray early, and she once told me that when people comment on her hair, no matter how well-meaning, what they’re saying is, “When I see you, I see something our society has deemed a flaw. For every person who compliments my gray hair, I wonder how many others are noticing it and thinking, ‘Man, her hair looks bad.’” These comments, rather than making her feel confident, have actually made her insecure. And to be honest, I hate that. I hate that the world has made it so a compliment can be a source of insecurity.
So I’ve never tried to tell my wife why. Part of the reason is that I don’t want what I see as a compliment to be a source of insecurity. And the other half, well, that’s because I’m not 100% sure if any of this makes sense to anyone but me. So I suppose that’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m trying to write this all down because what I want more than anything is for my wife to really know wonderful she is, and how beautiful she is, and how she just keeps getting more attractive to me as time goes on.
Please keep in mind that the last thing I would ever do is prevent my wife from dyeing her hair. My wife makes her own choices — as it should be. I want her to feel confident in herself, and if dyeing her hair is something she decides to do, then I want her to do it. But I also want her to know that I fell in love with who she was, and I’m growing deeper in love with who she’s becoming. And while I know that this essay is not going to change the perceptions of others when it comes to women going gray, I’d love it if everyone, not just myself, started to look at things a little differently.
I think we’d all be happier if we took a step back and admired the aging process, particularly with the people we are spending our lives with. It would be pretty cool if we stopped looking back, wasting time worrying about getting older, and started admiring our growing wisdom and dedication. Because the fact is, we can’t set back the clock, but we can look at what we have, and how far we’ve grown, and enjoy what we are becoming. Gray hair and all.