Curiously, when I was in my early 20s, I referred to my boyfriend as my “old man.” I was the “old lady.” When I became sixty however, I called the man I was living with my “boyfriend.” For the first time since my early twenties (1967 or so), I find myself referring to my female friends who are my age or older as “girls.” As you may remember, the feminist movement made a big issue at that time about about referring to women as girls. Never mind that some of us were girls. The term was overused, and often used in ways that were sexualizing and demeaning. Advertisements for Vegas acts shouted “Girls! Girls! Girls!” meaning lots of bare flesh, particularly breasts and butts. Actual girls, as in prepubescent females, don’t have those, at least not in such abundance. We started demanding to be referred to as women.
I think I have picked up my present usage of the term from those women among my friends who were of a much earlier generation and didn’t get the memo about not calling each other “girl.” There is also an element of wishfulness, as if calling ourselves by the name of someone younger could erase the years. If I didn’t participate in this charade, I might be amused by it. Going out for a drink with “the girls” does sound a lot more fun than going out with the other old ladies,but why? Liveliness and laughter are qualities we associate with youth, but they are not the sole propriety of youth. I have heard gales of laughter arising from groups of people at any age. Older people have plenty to laugh about, and they often do. Look at George Burns!
Really, older people are often younger “at heart” than people caught up in adulthood. That’s actually how I think of it. Adulthood is like a gritty but romantic movie in which the main actor – the hero – is ourselves. In adulthood, we must conquer a multitude of opposing forces and acquire the requisite amount of points to obtain the good in life. Both of these can be external or internal. For instance, the opposing force might be our own weakness for chocolate or a churl of a boss. The good in life – always a feeling – can seem to take the form of a great lover, a fine meal, praise from others, or money in the bank. It is the hero’s journey. We are participants in an ultimately virtual video game, vanquishing the enemy and racking up points; forgetting that the enemy and the “good” both lie within.
Participation in the game is almost mandatory during adulthood. The job, the family life, the laws of the land set up the playing field. We have to prove ourselves. When we get older, we get to relax a little bit. It’s all been done: The work life ended, the family raised, lovers forgotten or tucked away as precious memories, fortunes won and lost. What more is there to prove?