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Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s (nytimes.com)
109 points by Reedx 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments



This was a good read. It resonated with me because I've been noticing this happening with my mother and father as they get older. I hate to say it like this, but I used to think that my mother was sort of a "simple person" (I can't think of a better word) because she used to tell my brother and I to try to be happy with what we have, to try to enjoy the small things in life, and to try to be appreciative of the things around us. My father, on the other hand, had high ambitions and that mentality always resonated with me more. I used to think that my mother was complacent.

Now that my parents have gotten older, I've noticed that my father is becoming more and more bitter and resentful over how his life turned out, while my mother is becoming more and more at peace with how things have turned out. My father never quite hit his high ambitions, and I can tell that it eats away at him constantly throughout the day. My mother, on the other hand, seems very content with the life she is living.

The study in contrasts is interesting to me, and I think there is something to be learned from both schools of thought. As with most things in life, the optimal path seems to be the middle way. My mother has a very good job and part of that is due to my father encouraging her and pushing her to step outside of her comfort zone and go back to school in her late age. Similarly, my father seems to be (very slowly) mellowing out a little in his late age due to my mother helping him come to terms with how things turned out. Still, there is a lot of bitterness and envy and resentment within him, and it's hard to watch. My mother seems far more well-adjusted now, in comparison.

At the end of the day I think that is what matters most--your relationship to your life. When you strip away all the external things, everything eventually comes down to your thoughts and your mindset and how you think about things. That was the vibe I got from reading this essay, that ultimately things come down to how we reframe things, and that might be the most important "skill" / practice to cultivate.


great post!


> We all suffer, but not all of us grow. Those of us who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss. In fact, this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.

Never thought of it this way. An extremely humbling, optimistic and heart-warming read.


Reminds me of what Bob Ross said on his show after his wife died:

> Gotta have opposites, light and dark and dark and light, in painting. It’s like in life. Gotta have a little sadness once in awhile so you know when the good times come. I'm waiting on the good times now.

I'm not a Christian, but between Bob Ross and Fred Rogers, PBS really exhibited the best face of Christianity as a life philosophy.


Funny you should mention those two. There's a (false) urban legend about Fred Rogers fighting the Viet Cong, but what is true is that Bob Ross was in the military -- and hated it. His experience being "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine" is what led him to grow out his afro and cultivate his nice-guy persona.


Symbolically there isn't much in Christian theology describing dark as good when it accents light. That's perhaps more Taoist imagery.

But there is embrace of "negative" emotions like sorrow in passages like Ecclesiastes 3, John 11, and Romans 12.


Thats what drug addicts do when they cycle out of a drug for few months so they can enjoi it again.


> There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate. We experience bliss on a regular basis. As one friend said: “When I was young I needed sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.”

This makes me wonder how much teenage/adulthood is a layer of stress onto our brains. A very high load of impatience and craving for intensity that clouds a lot of things and even hooks many of us (refusing to quit this chase and to ~settle). And then as it fades off, you get back to childlike perception of the world (and when bad times people do regress a bit chaotically in that state partly)


Gazing at caterpillars on a garden path does not generally lead to passing along your genes. Impatience and a craving for intensity does often lead to passing along your genes, I think the calculus is pretty straight forward.


I think you are probably approximately correct (although a relaxed outlook might lead to helping your grandchildren thrive, thus passing on your genes).

However, your comment could be actionable in a number of ways, for example:

1. "You should embrace the intensity to make sure you reproduce."

2. "You should understand the source of that intensity as something that might oppose your goal of happiness."

3. "You should accept the biological inevitability of that intensity."

I'm partial to number 2. Even if the calculus of reproduction is straight forward, how that should inform your life choices is not.


I'm partial to number 2 as well, though I would add that having children is widely reported to increase "happiness" or "fulfillment" with the caveat that those concepts and self-report are very wishy/washy.


FWIW, I've found that viewing bringing children into this world as a kind of higher calling has done a pretty good job of counteracting the daily stresses of raising children.


Based on countless examples in history, the same thing seems to be true for basically anything… Murder, rape, genocide, withstanding or inflicting abuse or torture are all much easier for people to bear mentally if they believe it is part of a greater goal.


There’s a pretty big difference between justifying something you want to do and making yourself feel better about something that you don’t want to do.


What are you saying the difference is?


It's the difference between good and evil.


Are you commenting on the effect on the person who is withstanding the distressing situation through rationalization, or just mentioning that?


On the flip side, elderly folks who slow down and take care of their families, and give them advice on slowing down and appreciating their surroundings once in a while? They probably help to ensure their children pass on their genes. So maybe the effect is still beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint.


The selfish gene argument is nice, but this implementation is far the only option. Or maybe it was tailored for harsh wild life and not comfy "school until 23" modern times.


Who says arranging for reproductive partners has to involve intensity? If everyone was equally relaxed...


Then they'd get out-reproduced by the occasional mutant, until the current state of affairs would reappear.


Yes, presumably this is only a result of conditions that cause reproductive competitiveness. So a better phrasing could be “Impatience and a craving for intensity leads to a higher rate of reproduction”. Presumably, because that impatience is impatience for sex. If it was impatience for say, graduation, or craving for the intensity of a cocaine high or physical violence, that would not lead to reproduction.

So it’s basically saying that having a high sex drive leads young people to reproduce. Okay.


Would they though? I'm sure everyone has met someone at some point who has come on far too strong (or observed it) and it can be quite a turnoff. That "high intensity" mutant could have a very hard time finding partners.


Right, if everyone is relaxed, it’s not clear that someone who is high intensity has an advantage in personal interaction.


It depends on how you define "relaxed", if you mean low CNS arousal as a base state but can easily move into a highly aroused state when needed then maybe.

But if you mean low CNS arousal generally then I completely disagree, someone that pushes to 100% will out compete you if you never breach 50% assuming equal ability. If you and I both have the same capacity for strength but you are an intense person and I am not you will be the stronger one in the short and long term. Same goes for the intelligence question as well.

However modern society short circuits part this general behavior though and all bets are off though I still think it holds true. It is often not the best political or business idea that wins, it is the one someone is willing to push through. Human relationships are similar, an activation energy must be reached in order for mating to happen and someone with a higher intensity is more likely to reach that activation energy more often.


I don’t understand - do you mean basic alertness or persistence?

I think the concept was that someone overly driven might overshoot the ‘activation energy’. However, this conversation has grown insane in the mixture of vagueness and specificity.


Maybe they have just become a little senile, so they revel in caterpillar watching.


It's great that this story can feature high up the rankings on HN. In spite of focusing on a group that (probably) has limited representation here, people can see the bigger picture and empathise with the points it makes.


Beautiful. And I must say, it looks much the same from the male perspective.


This was a warming read. I’m not a woman. I’m not even in the 70ies. Anyway.


Here's a link with the paywall removed: https://outline.com/Z5mD98


The link on this is showing up as "https://news.ycombinator.com/from?site=nytimes.com" for me...


Don't click nytimes.com, click the name of the post


Couldn't you write this stuff of anything? Ultimately, isn't it just empty rationalizations that we all have to go through as we grow old or what we do given any situation? What the fox in Aesop's story did when he could get at the grapes? Just rationalize and move on.

People can write the "Joy of Being in Prison", the "Joy of Being Homeless", the "Joy of Impotence", the "Joy of Losing Your Limbs", etc. But is that really joy or rationalizations?

I'm failing to see what the point of the article really is and also, what is "news" worthy about this?


Couldn't you write this comment about anything?

> Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I didn't find the comment shallow. Shallow would be "what a dumb article".

That said, what the OP calls "rationalization" could just as well be "perspective".


I personally found the above comment very insightful. There is significant difference between discovered joys and rationalized ones. Both are very valid, but I think this is an important part of the discussion.

The last part about being newsworthy was likely unneeded, though.


It seems from survey data that happiness really does increase in one's later years, after a nadir around midlife. So aging can be a joy, and younger people - especially those reading this in their 40s - may find it reassuring.


That sounds like resignation or acceptance rather than joy. You see this with terminally ill patients or first time prisoners. They initially struggle with their fate, but eventually accept or are resigned to their fate. That is different from joy.


This strikes me as very narrow-minded. Being old is not the same as being terminally ill or imprisoned, and only a young person would speak like this.

It's more like the difference between learning to play Greensleeves on a trombone for the first time, and giving jazz solos. When you're young in life your sense of expertise comes from not being aware of your ignorance, and when you're old in life your sense of expertise comes from knowing just how far you've come. There's a joy in this that's separate from the joy of being young and having your whole life ahead of you, and it's not at all a form of resignation.


Who isn't a terminally ill patient?


One of the things I thought about a lot this past year is that when you're presented with a choice of "is it a big fake scam or is it this other authentic thing", the answer is often that it's both and whichever one you focus on blurs out the other.


Plus what 80-115 year old will dispute her claims?


My grandfather oscillates between depressed silence and complaining about wishing he was dead, so at least one person I know of.


This could/should be

"Joy of Being a (Human) In Their 70s"

Very little is relevant to gender, at all.


Though some of it is, so it's written this way.


"Most of us don’t miss the male gaze. It came with catcalls, harassment and unwanted attention. Instead, we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance."

I call bullshit. People spend Billions to become more attractive, and rarely anything to become less attractive.

If these women would have suffered so much from the "male gaze", they could have taken steps to look as unattractive as possible way earlier than in their 70ies.


This logic appears to presume that women are responsible for changing themselves in order to avoid being mistreated, and that their desire to change their looks is at all intended to draw catcalls, harassment, and unwanted attention.

I understand wearing makeup (for example) is an external thing meant for other people to see, but it's reckless and illogical to go down the path of assuming who the makeup is for and why it's worn. It's also unfair to say they should or could have taken steps to change themselves in order to solve a problem unfairly imposed upon them by other people.

If a farmer has problems with raccoons eating their crops, would you ever suggest they should simply destroy their crop fields to make the land less appealing to raccoons?


It's actually really common for women who have experienced sexual assault to take steps (gaining weight, wearing loose baggy clothing) to avoid the male gaze.


Numbers please? How common is it (percentage of women)?


Maybe, but then they lose the terrible game and all status that comes with playing along. The point is the game is the tyranny.


Sage wisdom and advice. Should be titled something more like How to Find Joy at Any Age.


Easy for a baby boomer. Won't be so sweet for our generation. I hope to die soon after I reach 69 :)


Why?


> happiness is a skill and a choice.

but worrying about looks is not?

> we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance.


>but worrying about looks is not?

Social pressure is so strong! I don't know if you are a woman or not but from my perspective (as a woman) I am truly grateful for each year I live, as I become less and less worried about my appearance in detail, and more about the expression on my face and my body language - how happy and welcoming I look when I greet people. This knowledge wasn't obvious as a young woman.


Lol, as I am getting old I care less and less whether I look happy and welcoming :). I am increasingly less and less concerned about projecting socially expected emotions when I don't have them.

Through, I do care also less about how I look, through I am trying to force myself to care bit more.


Maybe it's a bell curve - when we do reach 70 we'll not care about either, much as we did as toddlers!


funny i read this on the chicago subway and there was an ad right in front of me that 65% of males "suffer" from hairloss and there is a "treatment" available in form of monthly delivery.

Being male is now a disease.


There's a similar dynamic for men. We can also "feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks". For one thing, I'm old enough that there's no point in trying to hide it.

But I do get to hide much of my sagging face under a beard. And in my case, it's a totally untrimmed beard (but clean and well brushed). I can pass for old hippie or Duck Dynasty, with just a little tweaking of clothes and language style.

And there's another aspect. I'm also "free from the tyranny of worrying about" what employers and clients think of my looks. Because, for the most part, I don't have or need any. And for the few clients I do have, I'm just some ~anonymous guy who does stuff for Bitcoin.


> But I do get to hide much of my sagging face under a beard.

Why do you do this? Have you experienced discrimination due to your looks?


No, it's just that I hate the way it looks.

When I was young and stupid, I was very careless. I didn't keep my teeth clean. And I smoked hand-rolled cigarettes (unfiltered) using a tasty but extremely tarry Turkish/Virginia blend (Balkan Sobranie).

Anyway, after I finally quit the tobacco habit, I gained considerable weight, going from 68kg to 91kg over perhaps 3-4 years. And then I became a total workaholic, with no time for exercise. So I stayed at ~90kg for maybe two decades.

Over the past few years, I've been gradually doing more and more weight training and aerobic exercise. So I'm down to ~79kg, with a relatively low fat to muscle ratio. And I've been thinking about getting back into whitewater kayaking. It'd be a rush. And from my experience with hypothermia and near-drowning, it'd be a great way to die.

But anyway, given that I've lost lots of fat, and gained lots of muscle, my skin is a few sizes too big. And it shows little sign of shrinkage. I can deal with the flaps on my gut, arms and legs. But my face, you know, is just too much in my face :(


Worrying about looks is not a choice if it has real consequences on your career, especially when young. Women are especially pressured to maintain their appearance along many axises that are difficult to manage. This pressure presumably fades as one gets older according to the writer.


Citation needed. I know many not so pretty women in successful careers.


Your anecdotal experience isn't an effective counterpoint though. Here's a citation in the neighborhood: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/12/05/americans-see-diff...


What does "society values" mean, though? These women in their 70ies supposedly don't care about being attractive. So the only thing that matters is could they get decent jobs if they were unattractive. They supposedly don't care about societies evaluation of their attractiveness anyway.

And we were talking about "pressure to be attractive". What form does that take. What happens to you if you are unattractive?


I worry about the code I write, but for some reason some people comment about the piece of cloths I have on my skin while the choice is most often utilitarian.


At job interviews I also need to adorn a choker, so that they know I can code in low oxygen environments.

I guess that is appropriate for large open plan zoos.


My wife worries about her looks, but only really in the sense of 'Am I going to get harrassed in the streets by skeevy dudes if I wear this?'


For me, it's really about finding a balance, especially in the work place. Trying to look presentable without looking "sexy". Trying to look old enough to be taken seriously, but not so old I can't learn new things.

I don't think worrying about it is exactly a choice, when how I look will have real-life effects on how I'm treated.




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