Accepting aging

A week seldom passes when my wife doesn’t sit down for dinner and say something like, “I saw one of my high school classmates at Trader Joe’s today. She was the prom queen ...” And I know exactly where the conversation is headed.

There will be an expectant pause, at which point I’ll look up from my spinach salad and wait for the other shoe to drop.

“She got old.”

“We all got old,” I respond with a sigh, even though I’m still convinced I can somehow elude the aging process by eating spinach, kale and blueberries.

Actually, I suspect my wife takes delight in seeing the small-town Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons brought low by aging. I get the same perverse pleasure when I see how the people who lorded it over the dregs of high school humanity are grappling with aging, along with 76 million other baby boomers. This is definitely a case of “You are not alone,” as they say in those 12-step programs.

Aging is harder for the beautiful and popular people, according to my friend who’s a therapist. Being neither beautiful nor popular, I’m accustomed to the routine.

I did serious aging in my 20s, when my hair started to turn gray and then fall out, one painful strand at a time, until I was left with what faintly resembles Ben Franklin’s hair style after the lightning struck the kite. Predictably, I’ve always been the guy who hated to go to his high school reunion. (I wonder if Ben Franklin went to his.)

Growing old is no fun, and as Bette Davis once grimly observed, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”

Sometimes I hear my daughters grumble because strands of gray keep mysteriously appearing on their heads overnight. They blame me for bad genes and rush off to the hairdresser. My wife, on the other hand, is aging remarkably well, and the dermatologist recently told her she has “great skin for her age.” But that phrase "for her age" is what scares me.

The thing about aging is that you reach a point where you have to accept it. You tell yourself this is the hand that God dealt and hope for the best.

The good news is that the older you get, the more content you become in your skin. A recent Gallup poll of 85,000 adults showed that after Americans reach retirement, they’re generally satisfied with their looks. Two-thirds of those 65 and older said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement that they “always feel good about their physical appearance.” That was the highest rate of satisfaction among the generations polled.

Only 54% of those 35 to 64 were confident about their looks compared with 61% of the millennial generation, aged 18 to 34. Why? Probably because they’re being held prisoner by a celebrity-obsessed culture where everyone wants to be Brad Pitt or Jennifer Lawrence.

They’re victims of a plague of narcissism spread by social media … while the rest of us are thinking about more spiritual things, like having enough money to retire.

Everyone gets old, so we may as well get old with dignity. I’d rather learn to accept aging than be one of those freaksters who has bad plastic surgery and turns out looking like an alien in Star Wars.

The survey results give us reason for hope. Before, whenever I met someone from my past, I used to look for the wrinkles, crow’s feet, turkey neck and ask myself, “Who’s aging better? Him or me?” Now, I know the answer — “It doesn’t really matter.”

For those of you who want to age gracefully, here are some personal tips:

Exercise 30 minutes a day.

Drink gallons of green tea.

Eat as many fruits and vegetables as your intestines can take.

Buy a dog or a cat, or in the worst case, a hamster.

Take it a day at a time and do something kind every day.

Oh, yes, and avoid mirrors.

Joe Pisani may be reached at