Age discrimination

Recently, an 83-year-old friend of mine let me interview him about what it is like to be old.

Grant with his second novel
Grant with his second novel

 

This came about when I bumped into him at the supermarket one morning.  We sidled up to each other.  “Hey Grant, how are you?”

“Well!” he paused, eyes twinkling.  “I am just astonished at being old!  How amazing it is.”

I wanted to know more.

On my way to our meeting, I stopped off at the library and told the balding white-haired man behind the reception desk, “I’m on my way to interview Grant about being old.”

“Shh…we don’t talk about that,” he said dramatically.

“We most certainly do,” I said, my back rising like a cat’s.  Being afraid to say the word “old” is age discrimination and ageism against yourself.

Grant and I had a beautiful conversation that was filled with caring, tenderness, spirituality, wonder, intellect, poetry, emotion and mystery.  Tears and laughter.  Afterwards, we agreed it is to be continued.

Then he had emergency heart surgery and afterwards, got married to his partner, Clifford, of 40 years.  Congratulations!

While I am awaiting his return from the U.S.,  I want to bring up the issue of age discrimination.  I asked Grant if he felt age discrimination.  “Yes,” he said.   My ears perked up.  I was poised to write.

“As you know, I’m very social and I entertain a lot.  I’ve noticed I’m not invited to parties like I used to be.  Because…I’m… irrelevant.  I’m not young and promising.  I don’t have the contacts people think they need or want. They think I’m of no use to them.  I’m viewed as stuffy and stuck with no possibilities, no future.”

I have just begun to consider age discrimination in my life.  I first noticed it whilst flying.  Most everyone is younger, and I’ve discovered they are not interested in talking to me.  Number one, they’re afraid I’m going to be a chatty Cathy.  No worry there. I zealously cherish my solitude on an airplane.  I just think it is polite to chat a minute with someone you’re going to be smushed against for the next 8 hours.  Lately, they are not interested in finding out who I am, what I’ve done, where I’m going, and why.  Okay, I’m a writer.  I love human nature and like to hear everyone’s stories.

They’re not interested in me because they see a cheerful grey haired woman.  No romance or zhuzh there.

It makes me sad.  We’re vital in different ways.  We have gifts, stories, inspiration, gems for anyone who cares to engage.

I feel age discrimination when I walk into a restaurant alone for dinner.  A young woman sitting at a table for one is intriguing, dangerous, possible.  But an older woman?  It doesn’t matter that I am sitting in the chicest bistro of art crazed Basel.  It doesn’t matter that I am wearing Issey Miyake and carrying a Freitag bag.  They don’t stop to consider that I might be someone worth knowing.  All they see is an older woman dining alone.  Perhaps my presence makes them fear this for themselves.

These are only two instances.  I  will report on more as they occur.

Do you have any stories of age discrimination to share with us?  It’s really good to talk about.

xo Liza

 

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4 thoughts on “Age discrimination

  1. It seemed to happen overnight, this being irrelevant, invisible, because I moved back to the states just when I was showing my age. At least, in Mexico, grandmothers have status. So, in the checkout counter in Kentucky, I was invisible; in Merida, I was loved. The difference in the young women’s interaction was strongest.

    The first hint I was on to something was when I was stopped by a federale and played the grandma card. It was a lovely experience.

    So what is the difference? What old ladies did I cherish and respect when I was young? Why did my mother go from being a shy invisible woman to a beloved customer and client? Ahhh, they have played the loving, sweet grandmother that thinks you are wonderful.

    In the States, especially, women are hard on other women.
    Everywhere younger people are hustling, fearing time and what they don’t know.
    In general, mothers tend to see their daughters as extensions of themselves and fall too easily into criticism.

    Now, when approaching a desk or checkout, I think, “I am their loving grandmother.They are wonderful and need encouragement.” I just think it and look at them.

    Damn. It works. Sulky tattoo goth girl melts. I have found men need encouragement, too.
    I imagine what their lives are about and send good thoughts that way.

    Socially, it is hard to shift from striving to achieve to being a cheerleader for others.
    I am working on asking more questions of others and being encouraging.
    Some of my favorite older ladies have just been cheerleaders, great super grandmas. Comforting to just see their faces light up. I liked best, the older ladies that had substance, seen and done a lot, were genuinely interested in what I was doing and thinking and then gave input from their own lives.

    Their calmness helped me relax. I do feel an obligation, now, to age well, and be a role model for younger folks. It is a relief not to have to network or worry about time. People do seem to find me a bit mysterious but I think that is because I find them mysterious. Plus, I need help, a lot, and younger folks just love to feel useful.

    1. Ruth, thank you for your thoughtful sharing. The all accepting cheerleading grandmother is a value to society and to ourselves. A smile goes a long long way too. Just smiling at my interactions gets me a lot of currency.

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