The pandemic has seen me embracing middle age if not with gusto then with a quiet sort of acceptance. It had to happen eventually. In the olden days, last January, even the thought of writing the words “middle age”, in relation to me, or my life, made me feel queasy.
I’d see other people, younger than me talking about themselves as middle aged, and I’d think they were grossly exaggerating. But in the past seven months, when everything changed fundamentally, I changed on a deep level too. And by that I mean I purchased, and began wearing on a day-to-day basis, an activity tracker.
When I first started to see these “wearable” accessories on the arms of my friends, I was horrified. I hated everything about them. The way they tried to look like watches only cooler. The sleek, subtle design that attempted to communicate they had some kind of higher purpose much more elevated than the mundanity of recording how many flights of stairs you’d climbed.
I’m flashing my wrist at the world and regularly hearing myself pointing out the difference between REM sleep and the more restful kind
I’d always remark on the sudden appearance on a friend’s wrist of an activity tracker because that felt like the polite thing to do. “I see you got one of those fitness yokes,” I’d say grudgingly, which was a mistake because having admitted you spotted the thing you then had to listen to a 10-minute conversation about the different “features” of the fitness yoke.
I’d zone out immediately as they droned on about heart rate monitors, water resistance and sleep data. I thought there was nothing more boring than hearing about other people’s dreams but it turns out there is. It’s hearing about how much “deep sleep” somebody got backed up by stats gleaned from their activity tracker.
When I got one myself, I understood it all a bit better. There is a need to explain, to justify this new phase in life where you know and actually care about exactly how many steps you have taken in a day.
What happened was my knees started to hurt and that started me thinking about ways to live a bit longer, to maybe avoid having knee replacement surgery and eventually to meet any grandchildren that may or may not transpire in my world. And then I interviewed Jane Fonda, who is 82, and she told me she wanted to live to the age of 100 to see how things turned out. I realised I wanted to see how things turn out. I bought an activity tracker.
And now I’m one of those people. I’m flashing my wrist at the world and regularly hearing myself pointing out the difference between REM sleep and the more restful kind. (If she’s reading, I would like to apologise to the stranger at the bus stop who had to listen to this in detail the other day. She had only asked if I knew what time the next number 27 was due.)
Middle age is having a bit of a moment. Caitlin Moran’s brilliantly funny and moving follow-up to the groundbreaking bestseller How to Be A Woman is called More Than a Woman and has possibly the sexiest blurb that has ever graced the back of a book: “Join me for 24 hours in the life of the average middle-aged woman.”
We’re playing the hand we were dealt and lying in the beds we made and at the same time dealing with the mid-life cannonballs that crash in to your existence
The BBC has adapted David Nicholls’ book Us, which explores the imploding relationship of a married couple and takes a poignant look at the life of a woman who gets to a certain age, looks around – sometimes at the man snoring next to her in bed – and thinks “is this really it?”
Is this really it? If it is, I really don’t mind. His snoring is not as bad as mine, and I wear sparkly flip-flops around the house that are made by Crocs. I think it might not be too much longer before I am wearing actual Crocs. The thought of that doesn’t even embarrass me.
I had enough money recently, after all the direct debits had left my account, to buy a proper grown-up coat. My winter coats in the past have been impractical capes, stylish woolen blankets that had no protection from the elements. The one I just bought is padded, waterproof, pedestrian and highly unflattering. It’s the best I’ve ever had.
I have a decent bicycle which takes me where I need to go. When I get there – the vegetable shop, the butchers, Herbert Park – I look at the other middle-aged women in their practical outerwear with their activity trackers and comfortable shoes and I feel part of a tribe.
Some of us dye our grey hair; some of us don’t. Some of us get Botox; some of us fantasise about it. Some of us can identify birdsong after 10 seconds; some of us are happy just to listen to the sweet sounds in blissful, respectful ignorance.
We’re playing the hand we were dealt and lying in the beds we made and at the same time dealing with the mid-life cannonballs that crash in to your existence. But we’re hanging on, because we’ve got this far, and we’ve still a bit more to do.
And if the middle-aged woman or man needs the certainty and statistics of a sleek-looking activity tracker, and the hope that it might give them a few more years on this planet to figure stuff out, then perhaps we can find it in ourselves to cheer them on.
And by them I mean us. Oh, all right then, me.