Streams

In the Middle

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Patricia Cohen, cultural reporter for The New York Times and the author of In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age, explains how "middle-aged" became a phase of life.

Fill in the blank:  You knew you were middle-aged when "__________."

EVENT: On January 26, Patricia Cohen will be at The Strand Bookstore, Broadway and 12th Street, at 7p.m.

 

Guests:

Patricia Cohen
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [33]

Stephanie Kip from New Jersey

Wow, do I feel like a naysayer! I didn't relate at all to Patricia Cohen's upbeat approach to middle age. I'm 57, married (no kids) and live in an upscale NYC suburb, and am in good health. Nevertheless, I feel like my better years are behind me, especially in terms of work. From 2005-07, I went back to grad school to reinvent myself. I got out just as the economy started tanking, have only been able to find part-time work and find the idea of retirement an illusion. Other middle aged issues to deal with: a parent with Alzheimer's and worrying that I'm coming down with the disease everytime my memory isn't razor sharp, feeling empathy for friends who don't have time to deal with empty nest syndrome because they are hussling numerous jobs to pay for their kids' tuition and sympathizing with my wonderful single, middle aged girlfriends who want but can't find male companionship because many middle aged men prefer younger women.

I don't mean to turn this into a therapy forum but I was pretty depressed after today's show. Am I the only one who's life isn't glorious in my middle age?

Jan. 17 2012 06:45 PM
Phil from Forest Hills

I knew I was middle age when a classmate from Forest Hills High School writes a book on middle age. Hi Patty from Phil H. & Mike W.

Jan. 17 2012 04:17 PM
ivan obregon from manhattan

This interview with Patricia Cohen was disappointing. There are huge culturally different perspectives on how middle-age is defined and lived out and this was never mentioned ( a lot more prestige and respect in most other countries, btw, at least for men but I guess this is a pc no-no). As this was a typically NYT upper-middle-class take on the issue, it pretty much sounded like an ideological justification for whatever 40 year old women living in Manhattan having their first child assert is "normal" ( socially allowable) for those among this class ( everyone else whose opinion matters to them). Middle age crisis is a myth with no substance in reality? This book sounds like the very "cover-up" of the issue of age that the author accuses society of encouraging...

Jan. 17 2012 11:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

When people younger than you in pro sports are retiring.
When the president is younger than you! (Obama is the 1st president I'm older than [58].)
When you need bifocals or reading glasses.

When I was in my early 20s (maybe even my teens), I decided I'd never be 1 of those people who keep moving their definition of "middle age," & then "old age," to 5 years older than they are. I decided that I'd call myself middle-aged when I was 45 & old when I was 65. So I'm proudly middle-aged now!

Jan. 17 2012 11:50 AM
Robert from NYC

The most painful experiences was on two occasions I went shopping and was completely ignored it two different stores but all the other (much younger) customers were immediately greeted by floor clerks and offered assistance. I was even put off by one in a Mac store, she just refused to help me and told me to look around. I know it was a ageist thing there was no other reason to ignore me, I don't have a foul odor and I'm friendly (not overly so), and not at all demanding.

Jan. 17 2012 11:47 AM
teri from Eastern LI

...when I've realized that I'm slowly changing from franticly trying to control things to gracefully accepting losing things.

Jan. 17 2012 11:44 AM
William from Manhattan

I knew I was middle-aged when I realized all the women had dyed hair at parties I was invited to - and I'm not talking purple or green.

Jan. 17 2012 11:43 AM
Elaine from Baltimore

I hate to be morbid, but the uselfulness of getting to middle age and beyond is realizing that you are not going to live forever, that all physicality eventually decays, which can make your life more meaningful on so many levels.

Jan. 17 2012 11:42 AM
John from Fanwood

I'll be 65 in April so I'm a little past middle age. However in October I bought a red 1986 Nissan 300ZX. I know everyone who sees me must say "hey look at that middle age guy trying to be young."

PS I posted this in the wrong segment.

Jan. 17 2012 11:42 AM
Christopher from Hoboken

I realized I was getting into middle age when everyone started MUMBLING at me. Wasn't so bad when it was in person, but when the actors on my FAVORITE OLD MOVIES started it, that was a problem!

Jan. 17 2012 11:42 AM
Yvonne Aspengren from Sunnyside NY

I feel middle aged now that I don't get half the cultural references my 28 year old son makes. Who? What show? No, I don't know that name...

Jan. 17 2012 11:42 AM
susy from Manhattan

I read once that you are eternally the age of the first time you felt "free." Like, the first time you had your first independent experience, and felt it. And it never changes, through your whole life.

My first was walking to the store, around the corner, at six years old. And honestly, I still feel about six, even though I'm 36.

I still can't believe I wear high heels, and put on makeup. I can't believe I do my grocery shopping and have a checkbook. I still feel like a spaz, a child...I still feel awe and I still laugh like crazy.

Jan. 17 2012 11:42 AM
David from Manhattan

When, after dropping something, my thoughts changed from, "Damn, I dropped it." to "Damn, I have to bend over."

Jan. 17 2012 11:41 AM
Cate from Brooklyn

... when I started finding silver-haired men attractive.

Jan. 17 2012 11:41 AM
Julie from West Village NYC

In my early 50s; it wasn't the young men who got up on the subway to offer me their seat (they were just practicing their chivalry) but when young women began to get up and offer me their seat, I was truly, truly SHOCKED!!

Jan. 17 2012 11:41 AM
steve from queens

all middle age means is you are in the middle. I am 47 and I only realized I was there when two things happen in very close succession very recently. First, I was carded while buying beer for a holiday party. a few weeks later (or ago), I had a traffic dispute with someone and got out of my car to berate the other person, and the twenty something year old in the other car said "get back in your car old man."

Jan. 17 2012 11:41 AM
Abroadsview from Croton-on Hudson

I reached middle age prematurely when, in the 1980's a young woman told her friends on the express bus that her mother went to Woodstock. The next time was when my new coworker, just out of college asked me what Bob Dylan looked like when he was young, opining the he must have been good-looking!

Jan. 17 2012 11:40 AM
Robert from NYC

That's so true, it's the case when anyone who is an "authority" figure or professional, e.g, Drs, lawyers, TV commentators, inter alia. That's so true didn't think of it but true.

Jan. 17 2012 11:40 AM
Elizabeth

Yikes, that snarky comment Ms. Cohen made about the bus harasser: "Yeah, well, HE'S homeless, so..." No heart, indeed.

Jan. 17 2012 11:40 AM
Joseph from Brooklyn

... when a colleague told me what year she was born, and I replied that I graduated from high school that year. She responded, "so did my step-mom!"

Jan. 17 2012 11:39 AM
steve from Hoboken

In the words of Groucho Marx, "You are only as young as the woman you feel". I'll leave it at that.

Jan. 17 2012 11:38 AM

I remember some talk show in the 70s-80s, and an older woman was the guest, and the host made reference to someone being 70.

The guest clapped her hands, looked up in ecstasy and said,

"OH! To be 70 again!"

Jan. 17 2012 11:37 AM
connell from NJ

I realized I was middle aged a year and a day ago, when I realized I'm older than Martin Luther King was when he was assassinated.

Jan. 17 2012 11:37 AM
Sandra

I am 42 will be 43 at the end of the month...but everything is a state of mind.....if you believe it it must be true

Jan. 17 2012 11:36 AM
RCT from NYC

I am 61 and do not feel either middle-aged or old. I feel that the hardest part of getting older is resisting such labels and stereotypes, both in the job market and other contexts. My child is in college, I have a mortgage to pay, and I run and do yoga pretty much every day. I suppose that someday I'll feel old -- but my mom told me at age 60 that she felt no different than when she was 16, and she lived to age 90. Resisting cultural stereotypes is a big part of life, whether you're liberal or conservative!

Jan. 17 2012 11:35 AM
Robert from NYC

I never felt middle aged I do feel old now at 66 due to outside of my body experiences, i.e., input from others. I hate others.

Jan. 17 2012 11:35 AM
Maria

I knew I was middle aged when my body couldn't keep up with me.

Jan. 17 2012 11:34 AM
Keira

Its true that we are uninterruptedly changing, but there are physiological changes that are recognized and reflected in societal markers like bat mitzvah or receiving voting rights. They are not man made but an acknowledgement of the life cycle.

Jan. 17 2012 11:34 AM
GABRIELE from Brooklyn

Midlife crisis is very real. At 53, I've turned from an old young person into a young old person. I don't know what that means for me yet. But I'm (at least temporarily) alienated from my life as it has been.

Jan. 17 2012 11:33 AM
chuckrenaud@mac.com from brooklyn

When does middle age start? Over time has it changed?

Jan. 17 2012 11:33 AM
Marian from Hillsdale, NJ

when I was filling out a survey and I had to go further down in the drop down box for age..I was no longer in the 35-45 category I am now 45-60...that was a tough scroll down!!

Jan. 17 2012 11:31 AM
cathy shea from glen ridge, nj

i knew i was middle-aged when people started calling me ma'am.

Jan. 17 2012 11:17 AM
asdf

people say the years that define the term, "middle age", is changing but I don't agree.

When most of the chattering class lived to 70, middle age was 30 and up.

With an increased life expectancy for those preoccupied with coining phrases such as "middle age," the middle years have simply taken some big steps back in order to accommodate all those additional years at the end that we've managed to garnish (mostly by quitting smoking).

Middle age continues to be the middle years of life. A turtle's middle age is 100; a gnat's, a day.

Jan. 17 2012 10:01 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.