I used to get free slices of cheese from the guy at the deli counter. This was how I knew I was still attractive to men. Hey! It's not the highest bar, but it was a bar. The deli guy would raise an eyebrow and say, “You wanna slice, gorgeous?” This was winning on both fronts — being called gorgeous, and also the free cheese.
The free cheese stopped a few years ago. I'd like to think there was a policy change, but I'm not that naive.
Back in the day — my 30s and 40s — men would (occasionally) offer to buy me a drink, hold the door, check out my cleavage. And then … they didn't. It just stopped. I kept up with the game, putting my hairstylist's grandchildren through college, wearing uncomfortable heels in an attempt at being chic, squashing myself into Spanx. It was exhausting. I'm ashamed to tell you how many antiaging skin care products I owned. How much money and time I spent every five weeks with Robert, sitting for eons with smelly gunk on my head so I could pretend I was still a brunette with chestnut highlights.
And then … I stopped. I'm 54. My kids are both grown and wonderful, my husband thinks I'm beautiful and I have a great career. Why was I trying so hard? Spending so much money? I had never been the prettiest woman in the room, and I never would be. The whole “make the most of what you have” idea … meh. How about “be comfortable” instead? How about “Stop trying to look a decade younger than you are?"
So I went gray. I didn't get a haircut for months. It was winter, I wore hats, and I waited until I had inches of roots showing. Then I presented myself to Robert and said, “Cut off all the brown."
He did. Suddenly, I wasn't a brunette anymore. I wasn't even salt-and-pepper. My hair has a shocking amount of silver, so much so that my little 4-year-old neighbor innocently asked, “Did snow fall on your head?” I waited a beat and said, “No. My hair is sparkly now."
My mom and sister are both redheads. Neither has gone gray the way I have. Mom's hair is strawberry blonde now, and my sister barely has any gray in her dark red hair. Me? I'm my father's child. I started going gray when I was 19, and after I had my kids, I don't think a single brown hair grew on my head again. Twenty years is a long time to pretend you're not aging.
I like my silvery hair. I really do. I like being in my 50s, being proud of the adults my kids have become. I like being old enough to know things. The map of my life is written on my face in the wrinkles there, and I like it. I like being confident enough, after a mere four decades of playing with makeup, to wear bright red lipstick.
And, strangely enough, men seem to notice me again. I think it's the laissez-faire attitude. Let's say the Popeye philosophy of “I am what I am.” The other day, as I was walking through Manhattan, a very young, very handsome shirtless Apollo of a man made a wonderful clicking sound and said, “Hey there, mami."
"Why hello!” said I. “Tell your mother she raised you right.” Oh shush, feminists! Feminism is about choice, and I chose to be utterly delighted at this young man's attention. Was he pity-flirting? I didn't care! He saw me. He saw a woman who was clearly middle-aged, slightly overweight, dressed in sensible shoes with silvery hair and a smile, and he clicked at me and made my frickin’ day.
Later that same day, I was battling the barbarian hordes of Times Square on my way back to the hotel, and I caught eyes with a very tall, good-looking man probably in his 40s. He waved his finger up and down at me and said, “Fabulous!"
Fabulous? “Thank you, sweetheart!” I said in my momlike way. Was he gay? Probably! And heck, even better, right? I mean, if a gay man thinks you're fabulous, who are you to question that?
I've been a writer for a long time now. Nineteen books, the first of which came out when I was 41. I'm older than many women in my industry, and I'm hearing things like, “I want to be you when I grow up” and “I've been reading you since I was in high school.” I don't worry about who does or doesn't like me, and I find myself calling younger writers “sweetheart” and “darling” a lot, same as I call my kids. I am what I am. Older. Wiser. Sparkly. You can see it from a mile away.
New York Times best-selling author Kristan Higgins's new novel, Life and Other Inconveniences, is a story of love, loss and redemption.. For more information, go to kristanhiggins.com.