The middle years.

In case you’re wondering, here’s a quick checklist to help you determine whether or not you have entered the middle years of your life.


  1. The time it takes you to emerge from the bathroom after your morning ablutions keeps getting longer. If, for instance, you need to not only shower and shampoo, but must also: put fancy skin-doctor-recommended cream on the dark circles under your eyes; apply body lotion; apply sunscreen to face and neck; apply not one but two leave-in conditioners to the hair that already has been conditioned in the shower; apply not one but two different kinds of cream to that wonky bone at the very bottom of your leg/top of your foot, because decades of being a little-smidge pigeon-toed have thickened and discolored the skin on those bones to the extent that a loved one once asked you “What happened there? Did you get kicked by a horse?” — you’re middle-aged. (You may also be a woman).
  2. You’re attracted to middle-aged people. If you look at beautiful people in their early twenties and think “well, aren’t they silly and cute!”, but notice a cute, gray haired, wrinkly parent on the school playground and find yourself thinking “hubba hubba!” — you’re middle-aged.
  3. Certain songs bring you back to a certain place and time — you just can’t remember why. This happened to me just this morning. A song from the early 80s came wafting out across the kitchen (and in a delightfully illustrative bit of coincidence, I now can’t remember what the song was), and I was there, man, in an instant: BOOM! Transported back to an emotional state, filled with a kind of pleasant longing. And I have no idea why. If this happens to you? You’re middle-aged.
  4. You have glasses. Sometimes. More than once now, I have sent my children off to look for the glasses that I can’t see very well without my glasses. I tell them that my grandmother used to pay me a nickle to do this task, and that the glasses were more often than not someplace clearly visible. They laugh, while I weep a little, on the inside. If this happens to you? You’re middle-aged.
  5. You use a multi-tasking facial cleanser. If you clean your face with a product containing both alpha hydroxy, “to smooth fine lines,” and salicylic acid, “a proven blemish fighting ingredient” — because you not infrequently have pimples on top of your wrinkles? You’re middle-aged. (And, again: Possibly a woman).
  6. You have come to realize that each day really, truly only has 24 hours. This is the one that gets me the most, actually. I’m not a big fan of the wrinkles, or the lost eyesight, but the real sorrow is the growing realization that I will literally never get to do all I want to do, whether it’s seeing the world or visiting friends or writing letters or reading books or watching movies or watching my kids — I’ll never get to it all. I joke that I will die with a pile of unread books next to my bed, but I now know, in a way that is only just beginning to hit me, that I will also die with unknown beauty on stage and screen, unseen glories over the horizon, and unspoken words in my heart. The hours will pile up until each day ends, the days will pile up into all the years, and the time will come when the years will close and be done, whether or not I’ve read enough about Lincoln, whether or not I’ve gotten to see Liam Finn perform again, whether or not I’ve wandered the streets of Paris or Yazd. Whether or not I’ve found that friend from whom I haven’t heard in so long, and we’ve spent another day with coffee and laughter…. If you, like me, are getting a little weepy right now? You’re middle-aged.
  7. If you’re reading this list and it all sounds like I’m speaking a foreign language – you’re not middle-aged. Yet.
  8. If you’re reading this list and it’s making you smile at the memory of a more innocent time – you’re not middle-aged.
    You’re old.

And, because I love you, Liam Finn:


  1. I am only a year younger than you, Em, but I do not yet have these emotions or issues quite yet.
    My vision has not yet left me and my skin regimen hasn’t changed.
    I am not yet in the lamenting stage…though this may be more because I am truly entering a new stage of my career and this has blinded me to my middle age issues!

  2. Laughed at #2. It’s amazing how many good looking 40 somethings are out there. Who knew. Well it never did occur to me when I was in my 20-30’s, but then we lived in caves and ate raw meat until dad discovered fire.

  3. dave in texas

     /  August 28, 2009

    Or if your morning ablutions include the use of denture adhesive.

    I laughed at #2 as well. As I put it some while back, there are now exponentially more gorgeous women than there used to be with whom I have absolutely no shot.

    As a corollary/adjunct to #6, what I realize as I grow older is how little I actually know. It’s so much different than 35-40 years ago, when I had all the answers to the world’s problems.

    My goal, which I think I’m well on the way to achieving, is to completely blow past curmudgeon and go straight to old coot.

  4. boxspelunker

     /  August 30, 2009

    Hello! You may not remember me, but I knew you on Jezebel back before the commenting snafu. I just got your PM today (because I do not check them like… ever) and I’m sorry that things went down the way that they did. I don’t like the new system either – Tier 1/Tier 2 is total crap, and I support your decision to leave, but I will miss your witty and insightful comments.

    But so as not to threadjack and to actually make a comment on your post: I do many of these things, yet I am not middle-aged. 3, 4, and 6 are all me. I will hear a song (or smell a weird smell) and BAM I am somewhere else, remembering something that isn’t too clear. It’s a weird feeling of nostalgia, but for many of them, I can’t remember what I’m remembering.

    Glasses. Phooey! They are a pain, but I am too blind for the contacts. The worst is when someone thinks it would be funny to hide them. IT IS NOT FUNNY YOU STOP THAT NOW.

    Glad to see you’re still on the internets!

  5. Lady Fabulous

     /  August 31, 2009

    Oh god Em! I’m only 28 but I kinda do all that already! (Hellooooooo George Clooney!) Now I has a sad. 😦 OR I just look fabulous for middle age! I’m not really sure which yet.

  6. Ayoshe

     /  September 2, 2009

    early 20’s here, signing in as middle-aged – that list is pretty much me…

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