Aging Gracefully (Or Not): The freedom of choice

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): The freedom of choice

Natalie Gelman

The freedom to make one’s own choices becomes clearer as we enter midlife.

I have gotten to the point in my life where I pick up a book and if I don’t like it, I put it down. Whether I’ve paid for the book or borrowed the book, I don’t have to push myself to read the whole thing. If I don’t like working in a doctor’s office, I won’t continue to do so. I feel secure, safe, happy, whatever the word is, enough with myself that I can say that and do it.

The best part of being 40 is knowing that I can do what I want with myself. And I don’t feel bad, sick, happy, or anything about it. I can do it and I know how to do it. So right now I don’t know where I am going to go with it, but I know I have the potential to be able to do whatever it is I want to do.

On my 36th birthday, I told my husband I wanted a Mercedes-Benz for my 40th birthday. I decided it was time to openly reveal my closet passion for sports cars. I jokingly indicated that I was giving him four years to raise the money. My 40th birthday passed and there was no car. Six months later I told him I thought a minivan would be a good idea. Ten days later, I wrote the following in my journal:

“I was sitting at a traffic light and a minivan drove by followed by a Porsche 944 sports car. Suddenly I was struck with an insight that prompted me to laugh aloud. I aligned the van with my mother role - the carpooler/grocery shopper/family person. I aligned the sports car with the independent, high speed rebellious person. I saw the dichotomy. Aloud I said, “Don’t you dare buy me the minivan.” I continued to resist the identification of house person as my primary person. I want to hold on to the free spirit, the person that once existed and is surfacing again. Choices. I refuse to have to pick. I think I’ll buy both.”

I wrote the following about my pursuit of freedom:

    ON BECOMING A PH.D
    You see, I couldn’t have done this before.
    The children were too young,
    I was too immature.
    The house needed to be cared for.
    Money was tight.
    Meals were important.
    I was being creative.
    Family demands were great.
    Washing and ironing were priorities.
    My husband was in school.
    I was having babies.
    Women weren’t encouraged to get graduate degrees.
    There was dancing school, soccer, baseball, scouts…
    You see, I can do it now.
    I am older.
    I learned that my family can survive without me.
    I decided that one minute meals in a microwave never killed anyone.
    I genuinely discovered that a father can parent.
    I had to make my life happen.
    I chose to take a risk.
    I realized it was okay to get hysterical about dancing school,
    soccer, baseball, scouts and chorus.
    You see, I am entering middle age and
    If not now, when?

With the awareness of being an adult comes the sense of being in control. There is no need to be accountable to anyone. There is no need to be responsible for anyone. This leads to a desire to take more risks.

I don’t have to depend on other people approving of me or telling me how I should be. I was a lot more free to say, “This is what I want,” because there weren’t any prescriptions. I remember going to the grocery store one Sunday night. It was raining heavily. And I had on shorts and tennis shoes and no jacket or umbrella. And my daughters looked at me and they said, “You are not going out like that!” And I am just saying that is one of the nice things about getting older. They were both into what was right. I didn’t have to care.

I feel in control where I never, never felt in control. I always felt like I was being manipulated by someone unless I stood my ground and got ugly with people. That was the only way I could do it. Now, I don’t have to do that. I just sit quietly and watch someone try to get me to do something. I feel content choosing not to. I am not afraid anymore.

There is a sense of having become diffused in relations with other people. The women emphasize their confusion about their own identity. There is an increased desire for privacy and a determination to separate from other people. There is a sense of concern about having personal wants satisfied as women seek to assert themselves. And, most poignantly, there is the discovery that external things do not provide long term fulfillment. The belief that fulfillment comes with the role of mate, parent and career person is questioned and challenged.

Having reviewed the stages of entering middle age, I would like to give an overview.

It is like a pendulum that moves back and forth in time. It flickers between pain and joy, anticipation and fear, happiness and depression, loss and gain. The process moves from grief to reconciliation and from anger to acceptance. With each swing, we give up more of the past and move into the present with increased fulfillment. Prior to this time, it is believed that life will get better and better, that the future will bring new and wonderful things. We accept the pendulum of life.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at drnataliegelman@gmail.com. Her web site is http://drnataliegelman.com.

Comments

Submitted by Jane Raitt (not verified) on Mon, Jan 6, 2014

Another powerful and provocative piece. Thanks