Goodbye to All That
An unsentimental truth: Life back then wasn’t perfect.
In our 20s and 30s, grown-up but not yet old, we felt everything was possible: love, work, unfolding of the spirit, life lived with flair and endless energy. Suddenly, we’re 40, 50, 64, 80-something. And no matter how happy and vital we are, there are days when we’re overwhelmed by what we’ve lost.
The cure for the blues: take off the rose-colored glasses. Being young wasn’t always wonderful. The world has turned; we’ve changed. There’s a bunch of stuff we’re glad—giddy with gratitude—not to have to do again.
Sitting by the phone waiting for him to call...emptying ashtrays (remember ashtrays?)...playing office politics on every trip to the water cooler...paying full price at the movies...having Nixon in the White House. Goodbye to all that.
We asked a wide range of women to search their memories and separate the sweet from the bitter. Responses flew back—some quirky, some universal, all poignant and provocative. “This was cathartic!” said a Chelsea architect who’d just turned 65. “Even better than a tag sale!”
Looking backward is always complex. We once defined ourselves by the acts, events, and objects that we’re relieved to leave behind. We’re not renouncing our younger selves. But then was then and now is now.
Goodbye to our deepest fears...
Not getting pregnant
Sighting the first gray hair
Never finding a great love
Dying young (“Mostly I dreaded dying before my mother“)
The whole world ending à la Dr. Strangelove. (“There’s real evil to fear, my daughter lost a lover on 9/11, but no more mushroom cloud nightmares”)
Our periods. End of sentence...
Not getting them
Mood swings (“But I can’t help wondering, was ‘PMS’ real or hype?”)
The last one (two percent of us really do miss the “mysterious cycle”)
Adios, suffering for beauty...
Cruelly wired bras
4-inch heels, 6-inch heels, whatever gorgeous shoes made the bunions we have today
“Shaving my legs—where did the hair go?”
Sunburns and strap marks
“Deferring to my husband or father because I assumed he was wiser and more experienced”
Being accountable to someone else for every purchase
Wishing I were part of a two-some
Embarrassed to have lunch on my own
Envying friends with husbands
Envying friends without husbands
Waiting for HIM to call
Trying to be all things to all people
Having to be the best, the first, the most
“Listening to gunge garage—or whatever that 90s noise was” ??
Planning family vacations (“fun for none once the kids were teens”)
“Having to call my mother at least once a week—although now that she’s gone, I think of her every day”
Once was too much...
“Losing my virginity”
Learning how to use a computer (“Being wired keeps me young”)
Paying a divorce lawyer
Traveling on my own through Europe
“The sting of hearing someone call me an old maid”
“Telling my father he couldn’t drive anymore”
We can’t believe we used to...
Obey all those ought’s and should’s
“Tell people what I thought they wanted to hear”
“Worry that everyone is looking at me—or hoping that everyone is noticing me”
“Feel I had to be ‘on’ at every social gathering”
Smoke half a pack a day and feel virtuous
Read without glasses
Not have sex by the third date
Cater to four different diets three times a day
Spend all my free time looking for men
Out of the office. For good. Farewell...
Toting a briefcase
The subway at rush hour
Business travel to Cleveland
Dressing for success
Taboos on pants, even chic pantsuits
The boss’s hands
“Being offered a cigar after lunch in the bank’s private dining room”
“Deadlines, motions, conferences”
Having to wait for a coffee break
Having to ask for the key to the ladies’ room
Ciao to feeling crushed in love and lust...
Other women’s husbands
“Swapping sex for dinner at a second-rate steak house”
Being dumped by a jerk
Dumping a nice guy
The rollercoaster of agony and ecstasy
“My diaphragm—God, am I happy to be done with that thing!”
We really, really do not miss...
Defrosting the fridge
“Bulky TVs—without DVD players to watch Casablanca on my favorite couch”
“Ice hockey at all hours and not only driving there, but watching the games, outdoors, freezing in the dark—at 5 a.m. or 11 p.m.”
The answering machine
Mom calling on Sunday morning [even though we miss Mom]
“Inhaling the smelly air of a phone booth while fumbling for the right change”
Not having a microwave
Not having a Chinese restaurant five minutes away
“The chill of reading the obit of my first lover”
“Pacing the living room at 11.30 p.m. wondering when the daughter with the 11 p.m. curfew is going to show up”
Waiting for the mailman
“Waiting for my snapshots of the Trevi Fountains to be developed”
“Wearing only blue jeans and black sweaters when a skirt can have a lovely swish to it”
“Feeling guilty about playing the piano better than my mother”
Life before grandchildren
This is Nancy Weber and Ellen Stern’s third shared byline for NYCitywoman. We don't miss the days when we had to write everything solo.