Ten years ago, before I'd had any kids and back when I was still in my mid 20s, I went to dinner with a friend who was in her 40s. Over far too many drinks and a large plate of nachos, she started telling me the truth about aging: "Some day, you will notice it's been months since a man has hit on you. You will simply become invisible. It's the death of your inner hot girl," she said with a laugh.
I shook my head. No way. Never. Besides, this woman was gorgeous. She looked at least 10 years younger than she was. But she insisted: "It happened to me at 38."
Last month, I turned 37, and at some point on my birthday, I also thought of her. We lost touch long ago, but along with remembering her easy smile and sense of humor, I realized something else: She was right. It had been a few months since I'd heard a cat call. Had I heard my last one and not even realized it?
It's Not Just Me
Trust me. It will happen to you, too. One day you will find it's been months since any guy flirted with you at the bookstore or gave you the side eye at the bodega. You tell yourself it's because you had a baby and that would be "inappropriate," but you wonder if it's not the squirming infant that's a turn-off, but you.
You and your crow's feet and strands of gray hair that must now be fought with monthly salon trips rather than every eight weeks. It smacks you in the face. You are old. Okay, older, anyway. Approaching 40 and middle age.
Suddenly you got there even though you didn't want to, even though you knew it was coming. But it's still a surprise.
It Used to be Easy
10 years ago
It's not like I was some kind of model or beauty queen. I was no Gisele Bundchen. But I definitely got my fair share of cat calls and date requests like most reasonably attractive women who have time and money on their side. If you know how to play up your assets, it's easy enough to look sexy. And when you're young, it's easier still.
I have never been someone who liked makeup or too much primping. I am an all-natural kind of gal. It's a look that worked well for me in my 20s and early 30s, but now, I'm noticing, I need to work harder.
That no-makeup look that was once dewy and fresh is now just kind of sad and tired. My pulled-back hair that used to seem peppy and light now just looks like I don't care. Hairs have started to sprout in places I'd rather them not be and I shudder to imagine what's under the hair dye I religiously have applied monthly to the tune of an ungodly sum of money.
I used to go out and get compliments, free candy at the movie theater from college-age ushers, or even (OK, just one time) free gas at the gas station because, according to one slightly frightening attendant at a full-serve station, "you are too cute to pay." Hey, free gas, right?
No one is making that offer anymore. In fact, I am starting to feel invisible.
A New Freedom
Some of it is liberating. There is a certain amount of power that comes from no longer expecting people to find you attractive. It's easier now to demand what I want without apology because I no longer have the pressure of appealing to men's desires. That ship has sailed.
That said, it's like a piece of me is missing. The part of me that identified as young and pretty is gone. I am not decrepit, I realize. I'm hardly the crypt-keeper. But there are dozens of women more than a decade younger than me who are now the "cute" ones. No one calls a 37-year-old tired mom of three "cute."
It's OK, really. This is no pity party. I don't lament getting older. I am all too aware that some people aren't given that opportunity. My mother died at 45 and I tell myself daily that I am a scant eight years from that age. I hope to be alive then and I hope to be as vibrant and happy and in love with my whole life as I am today.
But it's not easy aging. I have these indents running from my nose to my mouth that I didn't even know were possible. And yes, I probably should go and put some moisturizing lotion on right now to combat them. I now need to think about breast exams and possible mammograms as well as dermatologist appointments to deal with all that sun damage I never worried about when I was in my teens. It's not the most fun I've ever had in my life.
Looking at the Positive
But there are good things, too.
I no longer scatter my energy in trying to be attractive to many men. Now there is only one whose opinion I care about and he tells me I am beautiful every day. Instead of worrying about my weight and whether I will fit into a bustier top, I now eat what I want and really enjoy it. And while I would never give up exercise for anything (I love to run!) I no longer do it just to look good in my clothes. It's for me now, for my health, for my happiness.
Best of all? The number of honks and "hey (insert disgusting term of endearment here)"s from strange men when I'm out has petered out too. Getting older has its perks. I may not get cat-called like I used to. But I do have other blessings.
Along with the gray hair.
Do you still feel attractive even as you get older?