Talking To Younger People About Growing Old

A reminder of aging comes at the treadmill in the gym. At 85, Robert Goldfarb notices the graphs for runners’ heart rate goes up to age 70 and stops. It’s a reminder that he is “now officially one of the old-old.” Writing for the The New York Times, his article Talking To Younger Men About Growing Old reminds us that a lot of the frustrations with aging come not from our bodies, but from the way we are defined totally by our age, not by any other factor.

At age 85, Goldfarb is a competitive runner. Yet airport employees come rushing over with wheelchairs and offers of early boarding. (Frankly, I’d take those offers even if I were 55…or 35.)

Goldfarb finds that men his own age don’t want to talk about aging. As he says, men of his generation “regarded feelings as something to be endured, not discussed… Men in my platoon didn’t embrace when we parted after serving in the Korean War. Closer than brothers, we settled for a handshake, knowing that’s what men did.”

What Goldfarb describes is a cohort effect, which many people confuse with an aging effect. We often associate aging with the behaviors of our parents or grandparents, forgetting that when we reach their age, we won’t be like them.

I look at the 30-somethings in my gym who participate in boot camp classes. These classes didn’t exist when I was their age. In particular, women just didn’t do the kinds of exercises we do in class, unless they joined the US Marine Corps (and maybe not even then). Thirty years from now, these totally fit women won’t be moving like their great-grandmothers.

If you want another example, we used to see little old ladies riding on the buses, all dressed up to go shopping. They’d carry a tiny shopping bag from a high-quality store – just one little bag, which suggested they were shopping just for something to do, and felt they had to buy something. They’d be wearing heels and hose, with full make-up.

I remember telling a Canadian colleague, “One day these women will be gone.”

“Where will Eaton’s be?” he teased, referring to a Canadian store that somewhat resembled Macys.

Today Eaton’s is gone and so are the old ladies. I ride the bus in gym shorts and see women of all ages in jeans, sweats and yes, shorts. They wear short sleeves with their bra straps showing, sandals and sneakers. They shop on the Internet and make friends on Facebook.

Cohort effects trump age a good deal of the time.