A. As of about a week ago, I have reached what a former close friend referred to as "the crone stage" in life. Ready to relegate fertility and such to the more youthful members of the stronger half of our humanity, and wisely tend to my herb garden and needlecraft and occasional sign-waving.
It has been eight years and, well, about a week, since I knew perimenopause was beginning—it had a strong and distinct beginning. And at some point I think I clung to it hoping it would never end, because my pattern-driven brain tied the knowledge that a girl usually grows in height for up to two more years after her first menses to my mother's death two years after reaching her own menopause. I thought maybe I was counting down, had my forty or so years of usefulness, and that was that. And finally here I am now, though over two years older than Mom was at menopause, and it's been awhile since I had a checkup, because those cost money I don’t have, and always lead to further expense, yet I'm not too worried about repeating the rest of her pattern, at least not so far.
This isn’t the post I intended to write to celebrate this auspicious moment in what will hopefully be a longer and healthier life than mostly baseless fear projects. That was all about the Bee Gees and Gary Numan, and, as this is the season for proclaiming our generation the way people were proclaiming their particular social disorder seven or eight years ago, let me just say that it was the most Gen X idea ever (which I will probably still do.) We are our music, after all, far more than we are anything else that’s ignored about us by the ones who came before and after. But I have something else on my mind, tied to that, though you can see it only if you squint.
B. I learned only a couple months ago that the hot flashes will hang around for several more years. This shocked me; there’s so much I was never told! TV taught me to expect angry moods and wanting a baby. For me, the former didn't last too long, the latter was utterly non-existent. Medical people warned me of weight gain, though I loftily and incorrectly assumed that was for other people who already struggled with it to begin with. No one told me about years more of hot flashes and no one discusses the real problem with no longer being fertile. At least, it’s no longer looking or feeling fertile that bothers me most.
I don’t mean needing to feel sexually desirable to whoever out there thinks his best shot is with youthful women who fit a math formula. Who needs that guy around? I mean, well, I never felt dainty or pretty most times anyway, but I liked putting a bit of effort toward enhancing whatever of that I did possess. And the idea that it was all driven purely by a very specific combination of hormones kind of upsets me. I loved that energy and used it for painting pictures and writing stories and sewing crazy things together once it was no longer in service for other kinds of physical intimacy. I mourn the loss of that additional burst of creative energy, like a food I can no longer ever have, though that isn’t truthful. Creativity is still there, just not like a B12 shot in the arm. Truth, well, "truth" is a sort of screwed up thing just at present anyway.
C. There are three women older than me at my job. They all have short grey hair and slightly androgynous faces and pretty good teeth. I have terrible teeth, so I feel I’m starting at a deficit anyway, and I don’t want to look androgynous because I’m not. I’m all for it for people who are; I feel like we’re making real progress on that front. But I love being a girl. AND I AM NOT cutting off my hair.
No one but me, I think, thought I was a very “girly” girl, and it’s way out of fashion to be one, at least among my online peers who are mostly around ten years younger than me. To me, that was not about whatever people define concretely with a pink bow on top. It was about walking on bare tip toes through mud, and light and sunshine, and noticing, but never being able to adequately draw, the negative space between the rain-brightened fronds of the plant I was just staring at through my window, and, yes, being irresistibly drawn to the color pink in winter time, which is when, honestly, it is needed most.
Of course those things aren’t inherently girly at all. They are me things, just as they might be you things whether or not you are also a woman. But right now they’re a bit cataracted by so much money worry and money tension and health concerns and exhaustion, tired feet, and all these hot flashes that will not cease. And I don’t want them to disappear the way other aspects of my once innate youthfulness have. We’re constantly redefining ourselves, but our core doesn’t really change. Mine’s girly, and I like it that way; so I want a bit of the illusion of it to remain, as well.
D. I read East Asian women have the fewest hot flashes, so there might be something in that whole soy-estrogen thing I should explore, but it is also a fact that we are bombarded with processed soy extracts that might create imbalances, instead. They eat a lot of sweet potatoes, too, though, and those are easy to come by in their natural state.
As a side note: estrogen is a good leveler; the next time some illogical male who blames your estrogen for whatever traits in you he finds not to his liking asks you if you’re cranky because it’s “that time,” you can draw him a little chart on a whiteboard and explain that the decrease in estrogen at this time is what brings you down a little, and then you can hit him with it.
Another side note: biological evolution being what it is, we all end up looking more alike as we age, since men have less testosterone and women have less estrogen, altering the balance we share with each other. I expect it has to do with having or needing less energy to fuss with and make up with each other in order to make more of each other. (The increase in stds in retirement communities is tied to various emerging factors: their generation grew up in a culture which worshipped youth, plus they have access to medication previous olds didn’t have, and, of course, there is no longer the taboo against sex outside of marriage that their parents were expected to adhere to. There's something to mull over another time.)
E. I’ll probably just become more hermit-like (and finally pet-free.) Let me make it perfectly clear that I find this a desirable state of being and do not appreciate being told I could do otherwise. Of course I could. But anyway, I want to be a semi-hermit while retaining some softness of features and not too much softness around the middle. Poised barefoot, contrapposto, observing the world as it perpetually changes costumes without ever changing the play it is putting on.
PS: here’s a good essay at the New Yorker on this subject which reminded me I hadn’t yet written my own, which this is not, but it will do for now. The New Yorker essay somewhat focuses on the rage I’ve maybe been too tired to have much of except right at the beginning (or else it is the extreme introvert situation; far more internal existential grappling than external lashing out,) and mentions a new book on the subject as well as others. I think I might read the newest one; the others don’t sound like my kind of thing. But I can be the plant far better than I can draw it.