Discover more from Hugo Schwyzer
A Quick Note on What You're Supposed to Look Like at 56
I am at my family’s ranch, resting after our annual Fourth of July frenzy. America’s 247th birthday was observed with great joy and enthusiasm by many loved ones, and it was a happiness.
Less than a month into the reality of another divorce, I’m still shaky. My family is kind, uttering comforting platitudes (and make no mistake, that’s not an oxymoron: platitudes can and do provide real comfort). Several say how much they will miss Victoria; others suggest firmly that I embrace bachelorhood from here on. I have had five weddings, more than any relation in known history and more than almost all of you reading this. A handful of loved ones have had a perfect attendance record, and they have made clear they are not up for a sixth ceremony.
As I’ve said before, “five divorces” is a phrase that lives at the intersection of tragedy and farce. I’ve been experimenting with other ways of saying it. I tried out “I’ve been five women’s first husband” last night, and a cousin said it made me sound vaguely murderous.
On another note, a kind friend and I were chatting this morning. “You don’t look 56,” the friend said. I made a self-deprecating remark that they hadn’t seen me up close in a while.
But it raises the obvious question: who decides what 56 is supposed to look like? What does it mean to "look one's age?" How do we compute whether one is old or young for one’s years?
I am Facebook friends with dozens of people with whom I grew up. I am close to many with whom I went to high school. A lot of us post more photos of our children and our animals than we do of ourselves; we do not look quite as we did half our lifetimes ago. Age has its honor and its toil, and some of us wear the outer and visible signs of the toil more clearly than others.
It is good to retain companions from one’s youth. School friends are yardsticks for how far one has come. They remember things about you that your partners and children cannot, and in particularly hard times, they remind you of kindnesses past, and potential not yet entirely thwarted. They are also useful and reassuring comparison points for what other people your exact age “are supposed to” look like.
Growing older is a lot like junior high. Just as some kids hit puberty before others, growing taller or curvier well before their classmates, so too some of us began to lose hair or go gray or put on weight before others. By 56, though, even the filters and flattering angles can only hide so much. I am grateful that so many of the kids with whom I grew up have become the sort of middle-aged adults unashamed to show their ordinary human imperfections online. It doesn't matter that I first became a parent the same year that another classmate became a grandmother; we may have hit some milestones in a different order, but we are still growing old together. We are saying a long slow goodbye to our parents together.
I do not know what 56 is “supposed to look like.” I look at the old friends whom I met 40 or 50 years ago, and I study their faces and their bodies as best I can through the screen. Their faces and bodies say, we have lived full lives — and have much more yet to do. I am so grateful for Facebook and Instagram for giving me this window into the lives of people I’ve known for decades, and I’m grateful for the reflection those friends hold up.
I just wish I wasn’t so stunned every time I look in the mirror and see this old man looking back at me. Mentally, I feel 31, but every polished surface (and every selfie) makes it clear that I am a full and weary quarter century on from that milestone. One of my classmates says she expects to see 23 in the mirror, and is always confused when the evidence is otherwise. It is good to have people to reassure you that you are not alone.
You don’t have to be anything other than what you are, they say. Grow old with us. The best, as the poet said, is yet to be.