The fact that I wrote a book—Killers of a Certain Age—about female assassins doesn’t raise too many eyebrows. It is the fact that these killers are 60 that has gotten people talking. “Sixty” conjures images of The Golden Girls and elastic-waist pants with a side order of crocheted doilies. Four postmenopausal women wearing boot-cut jeans and talking frankly about their active sex lives and hot yoga practices has taken a lot of folks by surprise. Even readers who are morally opposed to these characters murdering for a living often find themselves making allowances on the grounds that it is just so unexpected to see women of a certain age kicking ass. My killers might be popping hormone replacements and worried about their next bone density scan, but they can still plan and execute a mission like a bunch of 20-year-olds, even if they need ibuprofen and ice packs afterward.
Naturally, this has led to a lot of interviewers inquiring about my own experience with aging. At 54, I’ve been through the menopause tunnel and come out the other side, and I can tell you it is as demanding and unpredictable as any Indiana Jones adventure. I’ve navigated the rapids of night sweats, ridden out mood swings, and roamed the barren desert that is hot flashes. It is messy and unlovely and deeply demoralizing at times. Meeting yourself in a mirror in your 50s is like encountering a stranger you once knew but can barely remember. Something about her is vaguely familiar, but when did she get so old? This person who feels 16 inside and can remember all the moves she used when dancing on a tabletop to “Take On Me” in 1985 has somehow become the grown-up in the room. She has a mortgage and a son-in-law and remembers to vote in midterm elections. She also finds that first thing in the morning, her joints sound like Rice Krispies and she can no longer remember the planets in order. (It would help if they’d make up their minds about Pluto already.) But it’s not all stiffening joints and slowing memories, I promise you. We might mourn the loss of perky boobs and smooth skin and the ability to get up off the couch without making the kinds of creaking noises you’d usually find in a haunted house, but there are compensations in abundance, silver linings that aren’t hard to find once you make up your mind to look.
A tremendous gift is the fact that other people demand so much less of you in some areas as you get older. Pop culture, technology, current events—nobody expects me to be completely conversant with any of it, so they are pleasantly surprised if I am. I don’t have to know my Baby Yoda memes or all the lyrics to “WAP,” but if I do, I get nothing but praise because no one anticipates it. Those lowered expectations also mean that nobody looks to me to be the best-dressed, most fashion-forward person in the room. As long as I don’t show up in a unicorn onesie, I’m passably fine, and I could probably get away with even that if I really wanted to. I choose boots instead of heels, have thrown out every bra with underwire, and God help us all if my jeans don’t come with a little four-way stretch in them. I can throw on a biker jacket with a tulle skirt and the vibe is “cool grandma wannabe” instead of “escaped circus performer.”
The counterpart to other people’s more modest expectations is that I now have higher ones for myself. This stage in my life is a good spot to stop and look around, evaluating where I am and who I am. I can make peace with the things I’ll never do and set priorities for what I can. I might never be an Olympic figure skater, but I can still take classes on anti-racism and work on being a better ancestor. I’ll never surf or master calculus or piano, but I can clearly see the wall my own forefathers (and -mothers) built and even pull out a few bricks because I understand now that building it might not have been my doing, but it was done by people who look like me, and it’s going to take people who look like me to help pull it down. I have a better grasp of my own place in society and my responsibility to use my privileges for good where I can. I can speak with authority and be heard because I’ve got a voice and I’m not afraid to raise it.
Underpinning all of those advantages is the biggest of them all—my confidence. The French, of course it was the French, coined the delectable phrase “bien dans sa peau,” to be good in one’s skin. It means, among other things, accepting the visible signs of aging as badges of honor, regarding crow’s-feet and belly rolls and sun-splashed freckles as the marks of a well-lived life. The laugh lines I have are from purely enjoying myself; the extra weight comes courtesy of delicious cheeses and bottles of wine shared with my husband. And those spots were earned on beaches, soaking in the sunshine and doing nothing more demanding than listening to the roll of the waves. Would I be healthier if I’d been more abstemious? Probably. But would I be happier? Definitely not. The companionship and pleasure in making those memories probably did as much for my mental health as the extra butter did for clogging my arteries.
Of course, those charcuterie boards and beach vacations came from knowing myself and figuring out that sushi and scuba diving are not for me. There’s so much pressure not just to do things but to make them into Instagrammable moments, starring in mini biopics with a new installment dropping every day. We watch other people’s glamorous reels while our own mortality clocks are TikToking down the minutes, every clip hammering home the fact that we’ll never have pantries that tidy, cocktails that inventive, dance moves that slick. And that’s truly and perfectly fine. I am never going to be the person who enjoys baby showers, contemporary jazz, or Pilates. My spices will never be alphabetized, and I will never use a 17-step skincare regimen. For people who like those things, they’re wonderful; I am just not that woman, and that knowledge is freeing. There is nothing as liberating as authenticity because pretending to like things takes so much effort. As my friend Holly says, the older you get, the more of a relationship you develop with yourself instead of just other people, and that relationship breeds confidence. I have the confidence now to just give things a go when I’m interested. I seize opportunities that excite me even if I don’t know whether I’ll succeed. And that isn’t because I’m confident in my abilities as much as I am in my resilience. Even if I fail, I’ll get up because I’ve done it before and recovery is a muscle memory.
If I’d had this confidence at 20, I’d be buying Twitter. I know my limitations—and they’re growing each year—but I also know what I do well, and I’m getting better at it every day.
Deanna Raybourn is the New York Times bestselling author of Killers of a Certain Age. She is also the author of the Edgar Award–nominated Veronica Speedwell Mysteries, with the eighth book in the series, A Sinister Revenge, publishing in March 2023, as well as the Lady Julia Grey series and several stand-alone works.
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