“I’ve never seen you looking so middle-aged,” my mother said, with a kind of wonderment, an unspoken, “If you’re this age, what does that make me?” I was less offended than you’d think. Her eyesight is absolutely appalling: she can only tell the difference between the cat and the kettle when one is miaowing. Whatever it was about me that was screaming “middle years”, it was more likely to be that I smelled of garlic and Parma Violets than that my jawline was disintegrating and I’d taken on a fading skin tone. Even though both of those things may or may not be true – depending on the lighting.
Nevertheless, at a party later the same day, I found the time to complain about her, and a friend said, “Well, it must be quite weird, when your kids hit 50,” and I said, “But I haven’t hit 50”. And I didn’t even particularly mind that, since we were at a 51st birthday, and I guess it’s fair to assume that everybody at one of those will have met the milestone.
Still, on the phone the next day, I was moved to complain to a whole other person. How come C thinks I’m 50? We’ve known each other for at least 20 years, and been ageing at the same rate that entire time. What did she think I’d done, hit fast forward? “Well,” he said, “You’re 50-adjacent.” “Absolutely no way. 50-adjacent is 49. AND I’M 48. WHAT’S THE POINT OF EVEN HAVING NUMBERS, T, IF 48 IS THE SAME AS 49?”
So now it’s day three since the original detonation, and I’m complaining to person four about T, and his post-maths, which may as well be post-truth worldview, and person four circles back to the original remark and says, “I’m younger than you, and I think it’s fair to say we’re both middle-aged. We’ve neither of us got more life ahead of us than behind.”
Never think to dull an insult by repeating it to someone else. You just create a domino effect, an insult pile-up. It’s better to just suck it up. This is some quality middle-aged wisdom for you.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist