Recently the New York Times ran a piece which once again addresses the question of what constitutes being “old” in America. The writer, who is 61, says that the question of “what is ‘old,’ anyway?” is very much on his mind and is on the minds of the 70 million Baby Boomers who are older than 50. He adds, by way of illustration: “Dinner conversations are now hyper-focused on how to stay young or at least delay old.”
Those sound like pretty damned boring dinner conversations!
It seems like we see these articles with regularity, as we Baby Boomers fight desperately to avoid association with “old age.” The article linked above, for example, quotes a researcher who says that somebody who is 60 years old today is “middle-aged” and true “old age” doesn’t occur until men hit 70 to 71 and women hit 73 or 74. Wanna bet that those numbers move back even farther as the bulge of the Boomer generation moves closer to the dreaded “old age” cutoff, to the point where, in a few years, people are saying 80 is the new 50?
It’s pretty ridiculous — and kind of pathetic — when you think about it. Some people in the Baby Boom generation have always seemed more focused on how they are perceived than how they feel about themselves. Now that they are aging, and they don’t want to be seen as “old,” they struggle to convince everyone that a different definition should apply. But the efforts aren’t working, and people still use the same criteria to define who is “old” — things like whether you’ve got gray hair, or for that matter any hair, and whether you’re approaching retirement at your workplace. If you have enough of those criteria, you’re going to be seen as “old,” whether or not some researcher argues that advances in longevity really should change the definition.
If all Baby Boomers were really as rebellious as they like to think they are, they wouldn’t care about public perception. If you’re seen as old by others, so what? The key is what people think about themselves, not the labels assigned to them by others. Baby Boomers would be better off if they stopped talking about “being old” at dinner conversations, and started focusing more on what they personally still want to do with their lives.