Book Club: Aging is Freeing

SBLbook.jpgIf 40 is the new 30, as we said a generation ago, what is 50?

Suzanne Braun Levine is a nationally known writer and editor who focuses on the lives of women entering their 50’s. Her latest book “50 is the new Fifty” is written for women who want to reinvent themselves and feel most comfortable at t

his time in their lives- it is about empowerment and embracing your age!’s Tianna Robinson talked with Levine for insight on how your 50’s and beyond
can be some of the best years of our lives.

How would you describe the old fifty?
Well we will have to back track a bit to get the answer to that question. You look good, you feel good your doing interesting things and having a good time and people think “50 is the new 30.” But really it’s the time of life that is changing, not that we are going back to an earlier time of life. Most of the people that I talk to wouldn’t want to be thirty again for anything. They are happy to be at the stage of life to explore new things, to try new things.

Were you once afraid of aging?

Yes. I was always scared of aging because old ladies looked like another species and I live in a culture where youth is idolized. What is happening to women in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s now could not have happened before because circumstances have changed dramatically. What has made it possible is the women’s movement and the fact that we are healthier, more financially sophisticated and able to handle the world. This is all new. Our mothers couldn’t look forward to any of this. I hope our daughters will look at us and not think that getting older is a bad thing.

When did you gain this wisdom? Was there a turning point for you?

It’s not about birthdays. It’s about getting to a point in your life when you begin to feel that you are not going to do what is expected of you, that you can talk back to people who make you mad. In my book I call it the “Fuck you 50’s.” Women at this stage relate their attitude to menopause or empty nest syndrome among other things. We are a little restless and also feel that we can do more or different things. I am much older than most of my kids’ friends parents. I didn’t experience an empty nest until I was in my fifties. It is very individual and it is a combination of circumstance. I call it the “fertile void”- a period of time, a year or two when you just don’t know what is happening, your life is off kilter. I like to compare it to adolescence, it has many of the same qualities: Priorities are changing, hormones are changing you are thinking “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” If you can imagine how long it took your children to get through adolescence, that’s about how long it may take you to find your footing. You have to be patient and know that what is ahead of you is interesting and surprising.

Are there common mistakes that put Zoomers in a rut?

One of the mistakes women make is that we beat ourselves up trying to come up with a game plan and we think “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I make a list?” What you really need to do is play it out understand that a game plan is not going to work. What will work is trying new things, adjusting relationships, making new friends. Doing things you might always have thought of doing, but didn’t have the time or energy before. What I always say is “Nothing changes if nothing changes” and what I mean by that is if you are feeling stuck, you don’t have to set fire to the world. Each of us has a little pilot light; try a new thing, change an element, a new friend, learn a new thing. If you do just one thing everything else will adjust and change will begin.

All of this turmoil and excitement can’t happen if you don’t have a circle of close female friends. We support each other, exchange insights. And it is physiological, when women work together it releases a hormone that reduces stress. Women with breast cancer were tested on how many friends they had, and women with one friend were four times more likely to die. I am not saying you have to have a lot of friends but it is essential to have at least some.

In a recent poll many Zoomers rated sex low in terms of importance. Does this surprise

As we age how important do you think sex is? It depends who you are and how important it has been in the past. There are women who are having the best sex they have ever had because they are uninhibited, there are other women who have had it and don’t miss it, and other women are in long term relationships whose sex life is changing along with their relationship, there are women finding if they are truly heterosexual because they are now interested in sex with other women and really enjoy it. It would be a mistake to generalize. A good proportion of older people are having the best time of their life sexually.

There is a TV show called Cougar Town, about a very sexual older woman. What do you think of the term “cougar”?
It’s very hard to come up with the right word to describe a social phenomenon. I don’t like cougar because it sounds predatory. I know of a number of older women who are with younger men and a number of younger men who enjoy being with an older woman. It is just another variation of the theme that underlines the point that we are expanding our options.

Levine’s book is available in bookstores and online. You can also visit for an excerpt from “50 is the New Fifty”