The theme of this year’s Met Gala is “time.” It’s finally one that I feel I could achieve without the help of a stylist. I’m about to turn 39, which means I’m one year short of 40, and I would not describe myself as defiantly ageless. I mean, I look fine, but also like a person who’s been doing stuff for 39 years, which is fair because I have been. Picture me rolling up to the Met in a dress from the back of the closet and my glasses, because my eye doctor recently told me that once you’re almost 40 you’re too old for LASIK. “Who are you wearing?” “The ravages of age.”
I’ve been thinking about aging a lot lately because of Keanu Reeves and his rumored girlfriend, who is 46 and has gray hair. She’s gorgeous, of course, but the fact that she doesn’t dye her hair has caused an absolute cataclysm online. Everyone’s been congratulating Keanu on his age-appropriate date, — only nine years younger than him! So different from Leonardo DiCaprio! Some people have also confused her for Helen Mirren, which is somewhat reasonable because they do look alike, but also horrifying because Helen Mirren is 74.
This supports my long-standing theory, developed the minute I turned 35, that people under the age of 35 think of all people over the age of 35 as “old.” Once someone has crossed that barrier, it doesn’t matter if she’s 46 or 74 — the point is that she is not young.
It’s very difficult, when you are young, to realize that someday you will be old. It’s the one category shift that we all go through, if we’re lucky, and yet it’s nearly impossible for us to imagine. When I was 24, my neighbor invited me to his 35th birthday party, and I can remember being boggled by the sight of all of these adults drinking and dancing as if they were still young. I’d like to consider myself a fairly self-aware and compassionate person, but I could not assimilate the idea that someday I would also be 35. It just did not compute.
When you’re young, you think of older people as having so much power. They have seniority at work, their lives are more stable, they’re not constantly making mistakes born of embarrassing levels of innocence. Of course, you have a different kind of power, one they have lost forever, which is that you’re young in a world that values youth. So you embrace it, or at least I embraced it. Maybe you get (or at least I got) a little snotty about it, because you feel so powerless otherwise. Maybe it emerges in well-meaning but condescending ways, like congratulating Keanu Reeves for allegedly dating a woman who has experienced the passage of time.
I wish this were not the case, but I’m a little freaked out about turning 39. I liked being 35, right in the middle. Because let’s be honest — what we’re talking about, when we’re talking about women and aging, is losing status. Just by staying alive over the next decades, just by not dying, my value is going to drop. What a raw deal! It’s going to happen to me, and if you’re a woman, it’s going to happen to you, and it already happened to Alexandra Grant, which is why we’re all so proud of Keanu, a man with so much status, for allegedly dating her anyway.
So thank you, Alexandra, for having the courage to look your age — or more realistically, to probably be doing all the same age-forestalling things that many women do, the moisturizing and the water-drinking and the undereye-cream-applying, none of which work all that well, but then also refusing to dye your hair, which, by the way, is the type that looks really nice gray. You’ve inspired me to someday turn 40. It’s so much better than the alternative.