Category Archives: middle age

Being middle age and gay and feeling invisible

In the Times’ Booming column, gay men talk about aging out of a community that prizes youth and beauty. Steve Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrows Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners, (Workman, 2011), offers advice.

Q. Dear Civil Behavior: Your comment in a recent column about gays at midlife finding themselves “suddenly invisible — aged out by the young, restless and beautiful” resonated loudly with me. At 59 I am single and almost friendless. I live in Philadelphia, which has a reasonably sized gay community, yet I feel like an outsider. Many of my friends died two decades ago and my contemporaries have started retiring to Florida. I would like to go out dancing sometimes, but I don’t feel comfortable going to bars anymore. The Internet seems full of people looking to do drugs. I remember the distaste we all once had for “old people,” but I’m tired of staying home on weekends. Do you have any advice? —Stephen W., Philadelphia

A. Dear Stephen: Believe me, I understand “the middle ages” can be difficult for anyone, gay or straight. After all, wasn’t it Phyllis Diller who cracked: “Maybe it’s true that life begins at 50 … but everything else starts to wear out, fall out or spread out.” The ability to laugh — and laugh at ourselves — is key to our happiness.

Still, there are some unusual and disproportionate challenges to aging within the gay community that your experiences highlight. “Many L.G.B.T. older people experience high rates of social isolation,” says Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for G.L.B.T. Elders, an organization dedicated to helping older members of our community. “We’re twice as likely to be single and to live alone, and three to four times as likely to be childless. And many of us are estranged from our families of origin, and so are only half as likely as our heterosexual counterparts to have close relatives to lean on for help.” Adding salt to these wounds, a 2004 study, “Old, Gay, and Alone?” reported that 44 percent of older gay men “feel disconnected from or even unwelcomed by younger generations of L.G.B.T. people.”

To read the rest, click here.


Five Ways to Look Fabulous After 50…


I spoke to reporter Alyssa Shaffer at about what you need to do to keep in shape.

“If the legendary fountain of youth really existed, it’s a pretty good bet you’d have to bike, swim, walk, surf or stretch to reach it. “There’s an enormous amount of research that shows that the best thing by far you can do to stay healthy and vibrant is to exercise,” notes Patricia Cohen, the author of “In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age.” “Science shows that to whatever degree you can add movement to your life, you’ll benefit significantly.”

That’s something these five vivacious, and successful, women have discovered first hand. A few of them are recent converts to their favorite pastimes; others have been working out or playing sports for decades. But all have found that being active (and eating well) not only keeps them looking beautiful, but – more important – makes them feel happy, energetic, and in love with life. Let them inspire you to get moving….”


Living Through the Middles Ages – The Times starts a new blog for boomers

“It won’t be a nostalgic trip back to 1965. It won’t be one big Springsteen concert.” That is how Michael Winerip introduces The New York Times’ newest blog — Booming — which is aimed at….you guessed it, boomers.

He continues:

“Come to Booming to be informed and entertained and feel at home. We will showcase essays from readers in their 50s writing about their lives, but also essays by 25-year-olds describing their parents’ lives.

If you loved Jose Feliciano’s 1967 version of “Sunny,” we’ll tell you why you might also like Ben Howard’s 2011 version of “Only Love.”

We are going to ask some of you the secrets of being married for 30 years, and others, the secrets of getting divorced after 30.

Booming will have plenty of serious features geared to this demographic — about Medicare, Social Security, unemployment trends. We’ll have experts to answer questions on aging, retirement, investing and sex.

You’ll hear about books, movies, magazines and blogs that we think you’ll want to investigate. Or to stay away from.

But most important is you. Our generation is getting through the middle ages in 78 million ways. We want to hear your stories. Welcome.”

I hope to write for it down the road if my handlers in the Culture section will free me up.

The Benefits of Middle Age Fitness


The always interesting Gretchen Reynolds points out that while Americans are living longer, they are not necessarily living better. The increase of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease are up thanks largely to overeating and inactivity. (“The Weight of the Nation,” a great documentary series on HBO by a friend of mine John Hoffman offers a fascinating look at our collective weight problem.)

“Those adults who had been the least fit at the time of their middle-age checkup also were the most likely to have developed any of eight serious or chronic conditions early in the aging process. These include heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and colon or lung cancer.”

There is hope, though. A new study shows that even longtime couch potatoes can dramatically improve their health by starting to exercise in middle age.

“Being or becoming fit in middle age, the study found, even if you haven’t previously bothered with exercise, appears to reshape the landscape of aging.”

”…the results show, in essence, that being physically fit “compresses the time” that someone is likely to spend being debilitated during old age, leaving the earlier post-retirement years free of serious illness and, at least potentially, imbued with a finer quality of life.”

Read the whole story here.


Bobbie Ann Mason convinced me to go to Louisville, KY. A great book town. The bourbon’s not bad either

I spoke to a wonderful crowd at the Free Public Library in Louisville about “In Our Prime” last night. Again and again people in the audience rose to talk about how much they think a positive attitude about aging and being involved makes them feel younger and healthier. I also discovered a new drink there: Maker’s Mark and ginger ale. Salud.


My new best friend, Leslie Blodgett…

New York Times readers will remember this June 2011 magazine profile of Leslie Blodgett, the chief of Bare Escentuals cosmetics and QVC star. I was surprised and blushingly flattered when she wrote me a fan note about my book, “In Our Prime.” She was especially interested in the chapters on advertising and the Midlife Industrial Complex. We met for coffee at the Times today, and what was so amazing about this cosmetics mogul is her own perceptive critique of the beauty industry, and the company’s attempts to avoid the demeaning messages embedded in so much advertising. Now that I have a goody bag of Escentual treats, I can hardly wait to start swirling and tapping.

Am I there yet? New study on when middle age begins and ends…

As I’ve noted before, middle age is a land with indistinct borders — there is no clear year where it starts and ends.  Dictionaries and researchers don’t agree and neither do survey respondents, whose answers shift depending on their age, gender, race, and profession. A new study by Anne Barrett, a researcher at Florida State University, comes to the same conclusion — but with two interesting caveats.

First, she found that both women and men think that middle age begins earlier for women than for men. This is a definite change from the 1990s according to the mammoth research project, Midlife in the United States.

Secondly, she found that on average, most people think middle age begins at 44 and ends at 60. That’s younger than I would have thought, particularly with the retirement age being pushed back a bit from 65. (After all, a 2009 Pew Research Center survey of 50-to-64 year olds found that respondents thought middle age ended at 71.) I haven’t looked at the data yet to see exactly who she interviewed.

What I concluded after researching the subject, is that middle age is a Never Never Land — younger people never want to enter it and older people never want to leave it.

The study, “Mapping Midlife: An Examination of Social Factors Shaping Conceptions of the Timing of Middle Age,” was published in the journal Advances in Life Course Research. Here are some of the findings:

“• Both women and men view the start and end of middle age as occurring earlier for women than for men, consistent with the argument that a “double standard of aging” exists that disadvantages women.
• Younger adults tend to see middle age as occurring at younger ages than do older adults. In other words, as people grow older, they tend to see this life stage as occurring later.
• People who are more socioeconomically disadvantaged or belong to racial or ethnic minority groups tend to view this stage as occurring earlier than do their peers.
• Others likely to view middle age as occurring earlier include those in poor health, those who began families young, those who are divorced, and those without living parents.”

Aw shucks. History News Network review of my book – “the standard on the subject”

Jim Cullen,  a book review editor at HNN — History News Network, for those outside academia — writes about “In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age.” He has a book coming out later this year —  Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions(Oxford University Press) and blogs at American History Now.

He writes:

“In Our Prime is a serious and useful survey in the subject likely to remain a standard of its kind for some time to come.

In Our Prime has an even tone and intellectual depth that talks frankly about some of the most dismaying aspects of the aging process. But its overall mood is upbeat: mid-life — which Cohen resists defining precisely even as the book ends — is a lengthening time of opportunity. Her message of hope is worth buying, literally and figuratively.”

At #LATFOB. I’m on a panel with fellow NYTer Charles Duhigg on Sat. at 3 pm at USC

Deborah Copaken Kogan has a new novel – “The Red Book” – about four midlife women

Harvard magazine writes about the photographer and author’s novelistic venture.

As Nell Porter Brown writes:

“Reading The Red Book, an often funny and entertaining Harvard-inspired confection, is a bit like watching the women of Sex and The City return for their twentieth college reunion. Except we don’t get to see their splashy designer outfits. The new novel by Deborah Copaken Kogan ’88 chronicles the midlife stories of four fictitious friends from the class of 1989 as problems in their messy lives of privilege come to a head during a long weekend in Cambridge. (The title comes from the nickname for the anniversary books put out by the Class Report Office—part of the Harvard Alumni Association —every five years, in conjunction with class reunions.)

One unhappily married character, a dabbling artist questioning her sexual identity, is arrested for a mountain of unpaid parking tickets from her undergraduate years. A Vietnamese adoptee and international journalist mourns the death of her mother, while grappling with a partner’s infidelity. A third roommate tends perfectly to four children in place of her once-promising acting career. And their biracial friend, raised in a hippie commune in California, hopes to solve her infertility problems with the unwitting aid of her once Adonis-like freshman-year boyfriend (whose WASP parents rejected her so long ago). Oh, and she was also recently laid off from Lehman Brothers.”