It was a late night at Foxwoods when my guy announced he wanted to stay up and gamble. Because I have as much chance of understanding craps as I do learning to speak fluent Mandarin, I headed up to our room for bed.
I was already in the elevator when the doors opened and about 10 young men — all in their twenties and not exactly what you’d call sober — got on. They had their overnight bags with them and between their bodies and the luggage, I was pretty much pinned against the back wall.
One of the young men was particularly loud and sloppy. The others, aware of my presence, seemed a bit embarrassed by their friend’s antics. “Where are the lay-dees? Wherecanwefinethuhladies?” he slurred as part of his running commentary.
Suddenly, I felt a nudge. At first I ignored it because, being in such close quarters, I was sure one of the guys had just bumped my arm. But the nudging persisted until I turned to the tall, handsome young man standing next to me.
When we made eye contact, he said, quietly, without any hint of sarcasm or malice or innuendo: “How does that make you feel?”
How does that make you feel? In other words, how did it make me feel that his friend was asking where the ladies were while I, obviously a female, stood among them? How did it feel that his friend had not counted me as a viable, desirable woman?
Luckily, the doors opened at that moment and, with an eye roll and a smirk, I pushed my way out.
But the experience stayed with me and I think I’ve figured out why.
First, how I see myself isn’t necessarily how others see me. Most of us, even as we age, still feel young. And then, seemingly suddenly, our outsides and insides no longer match, like one of those unexceptional movies in which the personality of a 13-year-old girl invades her mother’s body. So, no matter how much Botox you inject or how many Pilates classes you attend, you’re still the age you are and everyone else can see that. Even if you look good. Even if you look great. You’re still a 50-year-old woman to a 25-year-old guy.
Second, I remembered how I felt at their age about people my age. They were old. Even if they weren’t. A college professor of mine had a very beautiful, sexy wife (I only realize now) who was probably no older than 35 but, to my college-aged self, she was ancient. The same follows for the elevator guy and me. And just as my youthful opinion of the professor’s wife had no bearing on her life or self-image, nor does the drunken guy’s have any on mine. I’m old to him and that’s just fine.
Third, I’m happy to be in this phase of life. Youth may be wasted on the young but it also belongs to them in both its splendor and struggle. I look at younger women and not for a moment do I wish I could turn back. No. Thank. You. I saw a t-shirt once that read, “I’d rather be 40 than pregnant” and that basically sums it up. (I think I just felt a tidal wave of collective amens-to-that from the menopausal contingent). I’m not saying there aren’t things I wouldn’t change, but the end result of being where I am and who I am now is well worth the wrinkles, stretch marks and the bumpy ride.
Lastly, there are young men whose opinion of me I do value. They’re my three sons and I’m their Mom, Momma and Ma respectively. In the same situation, I hope they’d conduct themselves — not like the loudmouth guy — but rather like his friend, who showed surprising sensitivity to an old lay-dee like me. I’m pretty sure they would.
In fact, craps-table aside, I’m willing to bet my old, sorry butt on it.