I recently had a meal with a group of male colleagues. Somehow the conversation turned to the passage of time (some of us have worked together for over 20 years now) and from thence to the topic of aging. It’s happening to us all – aging – some more visibly than others, but none of us are exempt. We joked about the positives and the negatives. Somebody must have mentioned gray hair, because someone else suddenly opined: “I wish my wife didn’t dye her hair.” “Oh, me too!” said another. A third chipped in: “Just to clarify: I have no problem with dyeing hair for fun, it’s just when it’s all about trying to look a decade younger…”
I was intrigued.
Would they have been so open had they not been able to see the gradually increasing grey that feathers out from my own temples? Likely not. But what really struck me was the sense of….well, of despondency, regret…something else too, that I can’t capture in just a handful of words. There was no chauvinism driving this conversation, not even a tone of judgment – they were all quick to agree with the chap who had clarified that this was not about ‘fun fashion choice,’ but rather, about their wives’ fear or denial of aging. And that these husbands wished that it was not an issue.
They talked about how elegant they thought grey and white hair looked on women – and (I’ll be frank here, as you don’t know who they are!) about how unattractive they found many if not most grey-hiding dye-jobs. But what I found most intriguing was the melancholy, the wistfulness that tinged the dialogue. As if this ‘raging against aging’ manifested by their wives was somehow, even if everso slightly, an impediment in their relationships. I wondered (I couldn’t ask…I wasn’t brave enough) about the different whys and hows.
I was particularly intrigued as I had just written a short article on ‘Faith & Aging’ for Patheos Public Square. And as I’d inked it, I’d been especially aware of how much more cultural pressure there is on women to hide the effects of aging than there is on men. I’ve thought often about the negative ramifications of this on women – but never about how this pressure on women negatively affects the men in their lives.
When my article was published, I knew that there would be dear friends and family who would find what I’d written difficult to swallow. Some undoubtedly just rolled their eyes a little, and said ‘yep – that’s Kirstin…’ But I was really struck by the number of men who immediately responded to, ‘liked,’ and/or shared the article. Would I have noticed this had I not had that conversation with those male colleagues? Likely not.
My husband posted the piece on social media with the intro “I’m loving becoming old with this woman…” Besides, obviously, that public declaration meaning an awful lot to me personally, it also gave me a little further insight:
Was part of the melancholy I’d sensed in that dinner conversation rooted in thwarted desire…. these men wanting to grow old with their wives, but that experience somehow being somewhat impeded because their wives weren’t wanting to grow old?
And then I saw an article on the BBC newsite, about a food blogger who – when harassed for not dying her greying hair – released a video explaining why she wants to embrace aging. Her video (posted only a few days after my article was published) has gone viral. Although numerous articles have now been written about her video, I’ve yet to see one that mentions this:
that her husband asked her to keep her grey hair because he “wants us to grow old together.”
And I just can’t shake this from my head.
If so many husbands not only want to grow old together with their wives, but want it to look like they are growing old together, to accept (embrace?!) the aging together… what are all the different relational whys and hows being contaminated by accepting the cultural pressure to do otherwise?
That numerous people are asking, exploring, aching over this question at the same time indicates that it is one we need to consider. I have never had such a large readership of an article before. The food-blogger has now created a second video discussing how overwhelmed she’s been by the tens of thousands who have responded to her video. We’re clearly not aberrations in our thoughts, and those colleagues of mine are clearly not the only men wishing….
wishing that, quite simply, their wives were happily gray! (and, of course, all the deeper contentment of which they believe that would be a sign, and the deeper ‘togetherness’ they think it could enable). So…
What happens now?
Dare we reassess …nay, collectively challenge… our culture’s response to aging?
You can read my article here: www.patheos.com/Topics/Faith-and-Aging/Every-Wrinkle-Tells-a-Story-Kirstin-Jeffrey-Johnson
The Stay-at-Home Chef’s video is here:
because of our advertisement-infested world you will also see,
before, beside, inserted between paragraphs, and bookending the video,
the imperious, insidious, omnipresent admonishments to: DYE THOSE GREYS! HIDE THOSE WRINKLES! DELUDE THE WORLD ABOUT YOUR [insert swear word?] AGE!!!!
Go on, I dare you: IGNORE THEM.