Aging Well Really Is The Best Revenge

We can all learn something from the late Tina Turner

By Dr. Pepper Schwartz October 20, 2023

Tina Turna 1990

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

I’m bothered by the term “aging gracefully,” whatever that means. I think a better phrase is “aging dynamically,” being your vital, wisest self, a carefully-curated product of living and learning over many years.

I know. I am not trying to be Sally Sunshine here and overlook the harsher aspects of being in the third and fourth quartile of life. To some extent, aging well depends on the biology you’ve been dealt — our body can be our friend or our nemesis. But even when our body is our opponent, our life force shines through. I am thinking now of both stars and friends who are models of how to do their 70s, 80s, and beyond. The passing of Tina Turner comes to mind in this respect.

Turner embodied that indomitable life force. In her youth, she suffered all that being poor and a minority can throw at you, as well as a malevolent and violent husband, life-threatening illnesses, and challenges in her musical career that could level a less extraordinary person. She emerged from each treacherous period and found a way to survive into her 80s and be a star on her own terms.

Turner embodied that indomitable life force. She emerged from each treacherous period and found a way to survive into her 80s.

Of course, you might say, “Well, that’s Tina Turner. What about us mere mortals?” Well, what about us? As far as I can see, we are on the Turner track. I am now at a stage of life (the second half of the 70s, to be specific) when I can see the life arc of many friends, acquaintances, and famous people I have observed since I was a child. Some are aging well, and others aren’t quite so fortunate. At a recent all-women’s birthday party, I looked at the state of my friends and found that most of them were doing pretty damn well. Their inner lights shone brightly. So, based on a sample of 30, I offer some observations on why their presence is still luminous.

First and foremost, I believe it’s due to a state of mind. These women are animated about their lives. They are interested in other people’s lives. They are either still working, aggressively traveling, very involved with children and grandchildren, or continuing to follow passionate interests. They are no less interesting or interested than they ever were.

Second, they still are adventurous — but not stupid about what they can or cannot do. In general, they are being wise about their health, but not so cautious that they are sequestered. Most of these women care about what they eat, they exercise, and make an effort to take in events, openings, lectures, experiences. That brings me to the next point, which is supported by every book on aging well you will ever read.

Third, they are social. They keep up with friends. If they aren’t easily mobile, they still do Zooms, calls, lunches, or trips. If they are in decent shape, they hike, garden, or are addicted to pickleball. They keep up with everyone’s lives and they share what’s going on in their own. They have a rich, wide, and deep circle of people they enjoy. This intensity of networks and reaching out to others seems to be a foundational element of aging well for both men and women, although in general men in their 70s and beyond are far less connected to others than women.

Fourth, they care about how they look. Some are single, some have long-term partners, some are forever blond, and others are going gray, but they all still take pride in wearing a cute outfit, great jewelry, or something with more than a little panache. They show their vitality through pride of presence. Nobody shows up as though they had just rolled out of bed.

And fifth, they are committed to hanging on to their best life possible. They are not delusional — they all know they can’t go on forever, but they are not retreating from enthusiastic enjoyment and participation of life’s present and future opportunities. While they have more doctors’ visits than they used to, they rarely say, “I’m old.” They are fighters who fiercely defend their right to enjoy life to the very fullest. If they must do it with a cane, or in a wheelchair, so be it.

So, I’m right there with them. To hell with aging “gracefully.” We can still kick butt in a number of categories. We can still lead, love, give and receive, be surprised and surprising. The arc of life is long and we aim to do it with fortitude and flare.

Q: A woman in my building has been coming on to me and really wanted to have sex. I put her off because I knew she was not someone I would be serious about and didn’t want to start something that could go wrong. But she kept saying “it would just be for fun.” So I gave in and we had a good time and I thought that was it. But when I didn’t do a follow-up, she was at my door, crying and telling me what a terrible person I am. Now she is calling me and screaming at me all the time and leaving angry notes on my door. Do I have to move?

I hate to tell you this, but I think you should. It would be one thing if it were just one angry phone call. But she seems to be ramping up, not down. And you never know what someone can do next when they have already encroached on your physical space and continue to invade your peace of mind. Spurned sex mates can be passionately and irrationally angry — and that’s potentially dangerous.

Of course, you knew there was this possibility, but I understand weakening your resolve when she repeatedly offered “just fun sex.” Still, here you are with someone who feels rejected, knows where you live, and only has to go down a few floors to find you. While some women can truly enjoy “drive-by sex,” the majority I think want something more, even if they initially thought otherwise. And then, as in this case, even though you warned them that this was sex and nothing more, they feel rejected or shamed, or misled, and they want to punish you.

Sex isn’t simple. It can open deep wounds as well as create pleasure and/or attachment. Woody Allen used to make jokes about the merits of meaningless sex, but the fact is when you are just sharing your body, the other person may be exposing an easily bruised ego or unleashing the deepest need for connection. When you unwittingly arouse fury at rejection, you expose yourself to all kinds of risk.

So, if were you, I’d start looking around for another place to live.

Q: I am a woman of 45 and I have recently fallen in love with a 30-year old. I cannot begin to tell you how many jokes and eye rolls and downright lectures I am getting about how foolish I am being. And if I hear the word “cougar” one more time, I really am going to go wild. What can I say to these unwelcome and unfair reactions?

I hear you. If you were a 45-year-old man with a 30-year-old woman, you’d get a lot fewer negative reactions. In a world where female beauty is generally seen as tied primarily to youth, people understand a man’s attraction to a beautiful young woman, no matter what the age of the man. They may assume that the younger woman is attracted to the man for his money, his accomplishments, as a daddy replacement, or maybe even true love. But even if they don’t think it’s a love match, many people will think it’s a reasonable quid pro quo, even if it seems way too transactional.

However, the script for older women and younger men is mired in the idea that older women are not beautiful (or not going to stay beautiful for very long), and therefore the motives of a younger man marrying or pursuing an older woman is going to be cloaked in far darker motivations. It is assumed his ardor is purely manufactured for money or a passing spark that will soon be extinguished.

The woman in the equation is told she is gullible, and either being played or set up for some harsh reality down the line when the young man will inevitably dump or bilk her.

That’s the prejudice. And while there are definitely young men who will flatter an older woman for various manipulative motives, there are also some wonderful love stories that have endured when women have been the older partner. So, you will have to decide what your gut tells you about the relationship you are in. If you believe in the your boyfriend’s emotional integrity, then you have to protect your own feelings and his reputation by responding to any smirks or negative reactions by telling people in no uncertain terms that this relationship is important to you and you want to protect it.

The bottom line is this: People will stop giving you negative feedback if you tell them that they are being disrespectful to you and to your guy.

About the Heartbeat: Ask Dr. Pepper Schwartz Column

Welcome to my world!

I spend a lot of time thinking about intimate relationships.

If you’ve read any of my previous work as a professor at the University of Washington, or watched me on television, you know that I care about what keeps people together, what drives them apart and what gives them pleasure. I am curious about trends, but also unique behaviors. I look at people above the clavicle and below the waist. It’s all interesting and important to me.

I know it is to you, too. I want to hear what you’re thinking. Please ask me questions or give your point of view at Pepper@seattlemag.com and I will respond, if appropriate, online and perhaps in print.

Let’s have some meaningful conversations – and some fun while we’re at it!

So, what’s on my mind today?


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