I'm Loving Being Middle Aged

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When does middle age officially begin? Being just a few months away from my 47th birthday, I am ideally placed to give you the definitive answer: it starts when you’re about 10 years older than I am now. Or possibly 15 years.

What I can say for certain is that whatever “middle-aged” is, I’m definitely not it yet. Why, just look at my Adidas Gazelles! Look at my not-grey hair! Look how much I’m liking (as they say) the Lana Del Rey album! I’m still young, I tell you. Young! Young young young young young!

That said, I’ve a suspicion I’m not the only middle-aged man who suffers delusions in this direction. In the old days, maturity was something young men aspired to acquire as quickly as possible. (Think of how prematurely old and fogeyish teenagers strove to look in Oxford and Cambridge group portraits – or even school photographs – taken in the Twenties and Thirties). Today, it’s a curse to be warded off indefinitely with yoga classes, skin-care regimes, even Botox or surgery. Plus jeans, of course. And T-shirts. And the new Lana Del Rey album: did I mention how much we’re all liking that?

Perhaps, though, we’re wasting our energies in trying to stave off the inevitable. At least, if we’re to believe the rather pleasing thesis advanced in a new book, Middle Age: A Natural History, by Cambridge lecturer David Bainbridge. According to Bainbridge, far from being has-beens on the slow downhill trundle to oblivion, we middle-aged farts in fact represent the human species at the very peak of its powers.

We represent, argues Bainbridge – he’s talking about men here, though much of what he says applies to women too – “the most impressive living things yet produced by natural selection”. No, better than that, we are “an elite caste of ‘super-providers’”; we’re “the main route by which culture is transferred”. We also “tend to be better at developing long-term plans, selecting relevant material from a mass of information, planning [our] time and co-ordinating the efforts of others – a constellation of skills that we might call wisdom”.

Bainbridge himself is 42, so perhaps he would say this. But he does have lots of evidence to support it: the fact that though our eyesight may decline markedly with middle age, our cognitive faculties don’t; the fact that, as a species, we’re unusually slow to acquire the full panoply of survival skills (meaning that the middle-aged play a vital role as the repository and transmitter of knowledge); the fact that – in common with killer whales, oddly enough – we follow the unusual practice of “self-sterilising” by sticking with our post-menopausal female partners, rather than continuing to try to mate with all and sundry (so much for the mid-life crisis, which Bainbridge claims is a myth).

And now I think about it – drawing, of course, on that vast repository of knowledge I have acquired in my nearly five decades of existence – I realise that Bainbridge is dead right. Sure, there are things I regret about my middle-aged status – nose hair would be one; ear hair would be another; the wiry tendrils extending from my Denis Healey eyebrows would be a third. But for all its drawbacks (did I mention the fact that all pretty girls under 35 – all ugly girls too, for that matter – look straight through you, as if you’re completely invisible?), mid middle-age does strike me as a pretty superior place to be.

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