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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

On The Cusp of Turning 80

I'm not trying to rush things. I won't turn eighty until July 2025. But my husband and my best friend will both "celebrate" their eightieth within a matter of months. And that's gotten me thinking. It's funny because my husband tells everyone his age whenever he can. He thrives on the feedback: "Wow! You don't look your age!" or "I hope I'll be in as good of shape when I'm in my eighties!"

I get it: we all like compliments. Hell, I'm no exception. But in the back of my mind are all the anti-ageist women I've met since starting my podcast, "Older Women & Friends." They want to change the narrative and suggest a possible response that asks, "What do you think a (fill in the blank with age) 80-year-old looks like?" The idea is to chip away at stereotypes of older women and men in our culture and the bias that we are unattractive, weak, forgetful, slow, and on and on.

Last week, my guest on the podcast was 89-year-old Katharine Etsy, author, psychotherapist, and social psychologist. Her book, Eightysomethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness is an upbeat look at the 128 people she interviewed and the surprises she discovered along the way.

Katharine (No, that's not a misspelling.) went into a funk when she turned eighty. She realized that she was according to our culture, "old" and had trouble accepting her age. But then she figured that somebody must know how to "do" the eightysomethings right, and she decided to write a book. The experience changed her life.

There is so much good news!, Aging is not like it was with many of our grandparents. Sure, very few people say 'Oh, I can't wait to be eighty or ninety,' but most of the men and women I interviewd are active and pain free. The stereotypes that we are weak, boring, cranky, unhappy, frail, unable to learn new things are just not true.

Yes, but what about the loss—the loss of family members, dear friends, and some of our faculties?

One of the key secrets to aging well is to learn how to manage these inevitable losses. We need to grieve, to mourn, and to move on, no matter how long that takes.'The paradox of aging is that we see the other side. But that thougt makes us grateful to be alive.

Sometimes, older people (and younger people, as well) are uncomfortable with talking about themselves and their challenges. There is a tendency to be stoic and keep our problems to ourselves. "Self-disclosure, to be vulnerable, is a skill," says Katharine. Friendship is another "secret" to aging well. We have lots of time for old and new friends. Some studies show that friends become more important than family. It's key to reach out and make new friends.

Katharine organizes friends into three basic categories. Of course, this is not a hard and fast definition: friends can fall into multiple categories.

  • Helpers - those friends who can jump in when you need help, like driving you to pick up your car once it's been repaired or helping with packing for a move to a new apartment.

  • Confidants - During tough times, these friends are there for support, whether it's the death of a loved one or the challenges of loving a new man or woman. They "get" you. And Katharine doesn't hesitate to add: these are friends you can hang out with and have a good time.

  • Forever Friends - These friends go way back. They've known you for decades and have shared important times that a new friend does not. Katharine shared a friendship with a girl she met in kindergarten!

Surprisingly and happily, there is much to look forward to as we age, even in our 80s and beyond. Katharine is enthusiastic about turning 90 and hopes that her book and blog will make a small difference in our culture's attitudes and about aging.

Katharine is one fantastic woman. I urge you to listen to my conversation with her on my podcast, "Older Women & Friends." Here is the link:

And here is where you can learn more about Katharine and her blog, which I highly recommend.

Until next time.


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