Ever have that moment at a party or playground when you think, “Everyone here looks really old. What’s with all these middle-aged people?” And then you realize, “Oh right, these people are my age. They don’t just look middle-aged. They are middle-aged.”
And guess what, Paige. So are you.
Yes, I do talk to myself this way. (People would be horrified by how not nice I am to myself.) Anyway, it’s true. Whenever I use the term “middle-aged” with friends, they get annoyed or roll their eyes. “Paige, we’re not middle-aged..” We’re not? Really? How long do you think we’re going to hang around here? I’m staring down the proverbial barrel at my 43rd birthday and if I’m very lucky, rounding the middle of my life’s bend. That’s not bad news. It’s simply the truth.
There are so many ways in which getting older is fabulous. The hard-fought wisdom. The I-simply-can’t-be-bothered-to-give-a-toss-about-that anymore attitude (over things that would have crippled me a decade ago). But that’s not what this post is about. This is about what sucks about it. Sorry. But some of it does.
First, in France, the “madame” thing. I am obviously well within the age territory where being called “madame” (instead of the coveted “mademoiselle“) should be entirely expected. And it is. But here’s the truth: Hearing it still stings the teeniest, tiniest bit.
And on the increasingly rare occasions when someone slips me a “mademoiselle,” oh la la, la joie! It’s absurd. I fall instantly, madly in love with whomever has said it and leave that encounter evaluating exactly what caused the error. Did I dab on extra eye cream last night? Does my leather jacket say “fun and youthful”? Is that poor fool near-sighted?
It’s ridiculous. Particularly when you consider that the moniker “mademoiselle” actually has nothing directly to do with age. It’s intended use is for unmarried women. (Think what you will). Any woman, once married — be she 19 or 39 — becomes a “madame” apres le mariage and technically remains a “mademoiselle” until that day comes. And if it never does? She’s a “girl” for life. (There’s practically a whole movement here devoted to abolishing the word. But I digress.)
I still remember my early days in Paris, newly married and ready to shout from the rooftops about my happily wedded status. I was 30 and heard the very occasional “madame.” Back then, I thought it was great. Silly, silly girl.
Of course all this pales compared to the real stuff. The skin that doesn’t fit quite like it used to. The achy lower back that won’t go away. The realization that I might be too old for some trends, like city shorts worn over opaque tights or those Isabel Marant high-heeled tennis shoe things. (Okay, so maybe those are bad ideas anyway).
I take heart in the idea that French women age pretty well. (Yes, I know I’m not French. Details, details.) I’m often awed by the elegant older women I see in Paris, dressed impeccably, hair just so. Rarely dowdy or worse, desperately clinging to looks that are far below their years. They seem confident, lovely and still very much engaged in the French game of life-as-seduction.
From left: A. Devlin/Press Association; R. Duvignau/Reuters; Kamel Lahamadi. (NYTimes.com)
Not bad role models for a middle-aged girl like me, eh?
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Want to read more about the French game of la seduction? Here’s a post I wrote a while back for the HipParis blog. Hope you like it.