In Not Too Old for That, Vicki Larson helps change the narrative about being a woman at midlife and older.
Nina Collins is in conversation with Vicki Larson about her new book, Not Too Old for That: How Women are Changing the Story of Aging.
Vicki Larson is a longtime award-winning journalist at a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper, author of Not Too Old for That: How Women are Changing the Story of Aging (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022) and co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, (Seal Press, 2014), named a Best Book of 2014 by PopSugar. A resident of Marin County, California, her writing can be found in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Aeon, AARP's The Ethel, WHYY, Quartz, HuffPost and Medium.
In Not Too Old for That, Vicki Larson helps change the narrative about being a woman at midlife and older. She questions what we've been told aging would be like and encourages us to instead ask ourselves, what do we want it to be like, and how can we get there? The key is to be curious, open-minded, and intentional about the ways we are becoming our future selves.We have an opportunity to create new narratives of aging as a woman, ones that value women at all stages of life, not just youth, and it starts with us. Once the stereotypes that have held women back are broken down, women can move past them and rather than feel helpless as the years add up, they can discover and tap into just how much agency they have. Not only will this book help to create a less-ageist, less-sexist, more-inclusive future, it will release our daughters and all young women from a similar future.
This transcript was auto-generated and lightly edited, please excuse any gramatical or spelling errors.
NC: Hi everyone, this is Nina Collins from Revel. Today we're in conversation with Vicky Larson, who is a writer from California who's just published, I think this is your first book right, Vicky?
MW: Um, it's my first book on my own, I published in 2014., I co-wrote a book with um another woman.
NC: I'll read your bio, Vicki Larson is a long-time, award-winning journalist the lifestyles, editor columnist, and writer at a San Francisco bay area newspaper and the co-author of the groundbreaking book, the New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics Realists and Rebels. Actually, I should read that, that sounds interesting. Named a best book of 2014 pop sugar. She lives in Marin, county um, California, and her writing can be found in the Times, the Guardian, the Washington post, I've been loving, loving her essays on medium, which are at least the ones I've been reading, are all completely relevant to this book. So this book, her first solo book, is just coming out this week. I think yesterday or something - and it's called Not Too Old for That: How Women are Changing the Story of Aging and I'm really delighted to have you here. So we can talk about your book, Vicki um, I have to say so, I really have liked your pieces on Medium as I've said, and we've published a few on Revel. I think that they're really smart um and I was on vacation like last week in the Bahamas. I brought this book and I didn't really feel like working. I was on vacation and I was like, should I read this book like, and honestly, I thought to myself like as much as I like your articles, I was like what else is there to say? We keep talking about menopause and aging, and I don't know how good can it be, and then I picked it up and I could not put it down like I'm not kidding. I like took so many notes and flagged it. I really think it's excellent, so congratulations to you. I've read a lot of these books.
VL: Thank you. Thank you. So much there was a bit of crying about it in the beginning. Just thinking what way?
NC: What do you mean?
VL: Oh well, because i was having these feelings about me as when you know when I hit middle age and then when, like uh, the book sold, I was like. But what? If it's just me, what if I'm making this up? What if it's not happening, what if it is just my own reality? So there were some tears out, but then, when I started to get into the research - and I realized - oh no - no, no, no! No! No, I'm not making it up. There's a story here and then I got angry.
NC: So tell us tell us in your words, what's the story here? What's the crux of the story, what made you angry?
VL: You know we've all heard stories about what it is to be a middle-aged woman and it's generally something to fear you're going to hear menopause because we're going to be a hot emotional mess and then we're going to lose our desirability and we're going to lose our Sexual drive and we're going to you know just be no one is going to be interested in us and we're not going to be interesting to ourselves and just really horror stories. The reality is that wasn't my reality. You know, and even though I like, I had gotten divorced um in my late 40s like so many of us. So many of us it's like it's a real pivotal time in a woman's life um, and I remember saying to myself like: oh, I couldn't this happened 10 years ago and I was cuter and younger and this and that, but then midlife wasn't really bad. I never felt like juicier and more interesting and more interested and, like my whole world kind of opened up so in thinking about that I'm like, but why are we told these other stories like? Why are we told, and so when I started to think about that and I'm like well, who would be saying those stories and why would they be saying those stories and in what way are women absorbing those stories and in what way are we making decisions in Our lives based on the fear, narratives? Yeah, it's a really yeah, and so when I started to realize that and do research, I realized that it actually has real harm for us. If we start to think all these horrible things about ourselves - and I really wanted to you - know bust that all open and get women to realize how much we are getting this information from outside how much we internalize that and in what way, that's impacting our lives.
NC: That's actually a really interesting point. I hadn't thought about it that way like here. I, like I've been working for six years in this space and I feel like the perspective I've come from, is that it's so important for us not to feel ashamed right of aging like, why should we be embarrassed about stuff, that's perfectly normal, and why should we be made to feel you know? Women are particularly made to feel ashamed of their bodies changing or whatever, and so I've been a real advocate for women talking about what's going on, I had 30 women here last night and we played the Esther Perel game, which i highly recommend. I love her. Oh, my god, her game, google, it she has this really fun game and you go around and answer questions was so fun. So we were talking about really deep and juicy and fun stuff um, but I hadn't actually ever until you just said it really thought from it from that perspective, which is that it's actually, it is actually dangerous and hurts us the narrative that society puts on us. Because you're right we would, we could make decisions or make assumptions or allow ourselves to be treated certain ways because of what we've been told and it's not true, you're totally right, um yeah, that's great! I really like that um. So how old are you you're in your 60s right?
VL: I turned 65 last year, so I am like a card-carrying member of medicare and I now am considered a senior citizen, and my friends and I talk about that. All the time like, I don't feel like a senior citizen, but I am, and I take those discounts yeah as well -
NC: As well you should.
VL: And you know I mean so at this age um. You do really start to think about the future. You know moving forward because things happen, and you know both my parents died. My mom, it'll be 11 years, my dad about six years, and I watched them age and I watched the things that happened to them and um. I realized I want to be very intentional about how I want to move forward, especially because I live alone and um would like to continue to live alone, want a romantic partner, but just can't live with me.
NC: I'm obsessed with that subject right now, by the way, the living apart together. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you, but as you get older because I'm 52 and my boyfriend's 62 - and I think there is this - a lot of people have this fear of like who will take care of me and that's one of the reasons people want to live together. So you're confessing to me that you see you're somebody alone for a long time.
VL: Well, I like to have my freedom in independence and when I got divorced 17 years that I've lived alone, I mean my kids were tweens when we got divorced, and so they lived with me part-time and they lived with their dad part-time. So I wasn't alone, alone then, and it was something that I kind of sort of um it wasn't in the narrative that I knew of what a romantic relationship looked like um and I came into it slowly and then, when I started to think about it consciously, I really realized that I do like my own space, um a lot of women my age are feeling the same way they're like yeah, sure romantic partner, but please go home at some point and there are so many benefits really to it and and and you know I don't want to like give away all the stuff on the new book but um I do address a little bit of it in in in this book.
NC: Yeah. You talked about it in this book in a great way.
VL: Yeah, but that fear of being alone I mean the fear of dying alone is, is a way to trap women into hanging with people who maybe not good fits for them, because they're so afraid that they Will be alone and um. You know several years ago, when uh justice Anton Scalia died, he had a wife. He was married for, like 50, some odd years he had like nine children and, like i don't know, a bazillion grandchildren. Oh, he died alone, died alone on a hunting trip, so, okay, even with a wife and kids and grandchildren, he died alone. So get rid of that fear, especially if it's a fear that keeps you in a relationship that isn't a healthy happy one for you. There are worse things than dying alone, um and you know so. I have children and the assumption is that they will take care of me matter about the younger ones, the older one, who said yeah mom, you know you can live with me and i'm like well, you probably want to check with your girlfriend first but um. I you know, i don't really know if they're going to take care of me honestly. I don't really want to be that kind of a burden for my kids but nah. I really shouldn't say burden it isn't their responsibility but sure it would be lovely if they helped with caregiving. If i ever came to that point um, but they do have a great um uh posse of women, call them the lovelies and I've known them for decades, and we talk about um, you know how we might want to care for each other as we get older. I mean i had a little fantasy that we would buy a plot of land and put a bunch of tiny houses on it and then build a big kitchen and a big dining room. And with some bedrooms there that the kids can come and visit and we'll all and then we'll hire, you know people that we need to take care of us, so we're trying to be creative about moving forward.
NC: Yeah the tiny house fantasy, I think, is a great it's a very common idea right. The commune idea yeah, but I don't really want to live, I'm with someone, I would like you know, um just separate but close.
VL: And there are a lot of women who actually are doing that and actually they've done it through history, and I mean even be up even before there were the golden girls. You know, which is just a classic show and a lot of women around my age go yeah! That's what I want. I want to live with a bunch of my girlfriends and you know, take care of each other and um that's a possibility. I don't know if you know Bella de Paolo, she wrote a book a few years ago about how we live now and she and she is a dedicated single person, romantic relationship and she talked to you know a bunch of uh people of how they're shaping their lives and um. You know women, especially, are the ones who are the most creative pooling in resources to buy a house together. It's a really good book because she spent about a year or so going around the country talking to people in multi-generational, housing and single women who matched each other like on a dating site. Basically, to find compatible women who could live together, especially if they were single moms because they created a little village to help raise each other's children, which is such a wonderful thing because you know it can be very isolating to be a mom yeah.
NC: No, it's a great idea, there's also a really good website called silvernest. You should check out, it might be interesting and it's basically a um, it’s almost like a dating app it's for people who want to cohabitate it's for people who want to create like golden girls situations. You know for women who get divorced and have a big house, but they don't want to move out and they need to maybe make some extra money to make the mortgage or they're. They want help around the house. Someone can move in, and so they create roommate situations, it really seems very cool.
VL: You know it's like mostly driven by women. It's like women are finally saying you know what I want to create the life I want to have in the same way that midlife divorce is mostly driven by women. I mean it's mostly women who are asking for divorces absolutely and my new piece on medium that i just posted this morning is on like for his and her marriages and how um that could lead to great divorce, because women generally are dissatisfied much more in their Marriage than the man, but they both think that they are being kind to each other. This is a study that said, but it's it kind of was like the men just think a lot about themselves. They really think that they're better than their wives, think that they are, which is interesting. It's a total disconnect.
NC: That does not surprise me.
VL: So back in 1972, um Jesse, Bernard um was a sociologist and she wrote a book called the Future of Marriage and she talked about how there really isn't just one marriage um. There are two marriages and never remember. Same-Sex couples couldn't marry, so she was talking strictly about heterosexual marriages, which is where we still have the problems. Quite honestly, and it's how a man perceives the marriage and how the wife perceives you know. The woman perceives the marriage and they're often very different, especially in those days when it was very, very gendered and a woman had to do this to be a good wife and a man had to do that to be a good husband. He had to be a good provider. Woman had to be you know, all of that, so that concept um, even though that was 50 years ago, um present is still very present. Even with you know, in marriages where um it's much more equal. You know because women nowadays, not all some women, are very, very interested in you know having that very distinct gendered roles and they're happy in that, and I don't fault anybody as long as you know that you want that. But there are a lot of younger women who are just saying - yeah, no, I want someone who's right there right with me on this on the same level.
NC: Yeah all right so back to your book. This is so interesting. What was the hardest chapter to write or what was the most? Was there anything that was particularly surprising, like i'm curious?
VL: Well, it shouldn't have been so surprising, but it was to me a real eye-opener is really dealing with the financial chapter because the way everything has been set up in society was to make women dependent on men. That was the thing back in the day. You know you couldn't really you couldn't buy a house, you couldn't yeah, nothing, nothing, and so I mean, and that's really in my lifetime. That's in the 70s. I mean I was young, then, but still, it's not that long ago and uh and the funny thing is so - and my parents were wonderful, wonderful parents, my dad was big, investing in the stock market, and did he teach his daughters that? No. The assumption was we were going to get married and our husbands would take care of it. That's my generation, I'm a boomer, okay, but what we're finding, even with gen, x and millennial, uh women is that they're still not taking fully responsible a responsibility for their financial future, and so I talked with some of my girlfriends and who have daughters. I have two sons and said: hey, you know, I'm are you telling you to know such and such you know? Are you talking about money and this and like yeah, yeah she's, really good at saving? I'm like, No, no, no, I don't mean saving I mean is she learning how to you know, invest and my friend said, well, I you know, I don't know, I don't know how to do that, because she has a financial advisor and, I said well, you know this is a great way for you to learn together. It is the big difference between men and women, and you know that older women overwhelmingly live in poverty, and actually, I was just thinking about this, this morning, because I was on that trajectory - I'm not poor, but after a lifetime of getting paid much less than men, yeah yeah and then divorce, often and then divorce and moving in and out of the work I mean I always worked, but I work part-time, so big cut, you know in salary but um. I was on that trajectory and the only thing that really saved me, which is a horrible thing to say, is that my parents left me some stocks when they died. Not enough, but I had literally not much nothing yeah yeah and that would have been that's a Whole conversation about inherited wealth in this country and then racist, you know, oh absolutely, right, inherited wealth is really the lifesaver for a lot of women in our generation.
NC: I think, and I highly recommend I just started - reading um Rebecca walker's book Women talk about Money.
VL: Do you have it?
NC: I have it here. It is so good, I'm doing an event with her in a few weeks. It's amazing it's a great book, although I have to say I read at the same time, I read your book um - I found it pretty depressing so to the point that you're saying that it was the hardest chapter for you to write. i'm not surprised because it's these stories are very relatable. It's very smart, but there's not a lot of good news in this book like it's -
VL: No, it's not, however, um, I think that you know um once we recognize that yeah, we can't think about it. We can start. We should talk about it. Like I started talking with my girlfriends about money, I mean I am the poorest of my friends and believe me, I'm not poor. I have a house in Marin county. I never thought I would be able to hold on to it, but it has a rental unit and I Airbnb the crap out of it and I'm like I'm doing five million things to be able to hold on to it um. So I'm not poor. I am the poorest of my friends because they just kind of like to make that salary without having to do five million things but um. We have started to talk about money and I think that's really really important so and her book is wonderful. I mean I'm only halfway through um, but it is um yeah I mean it was hard because I'm not a stupid woman, but I made a lot of stupid decisions because I never you know I was a hippie when I was younger. I didn't care about money that much until you hit this age and you go oh yeah, oh now I understand.
NC: Well I do think, and I mean I do think that like you're 10 years older than I am - and I would say it's true for my Generation as well there definitely, this was is still an expectation that we would get married and that we, we were not told to really think about it, and I was raised by a single mother who really struggled financially and I watched her, and so it is huge - I have three daughters and one son, and I am very concerned with teaching my daughters you know to be fully independent and to always have separate money and to not stop working, because, like you, I went in and out of the workforce like. I ended up okay, because I divorced a guy who made a lot of money. But it was never a priority to really think about it. My oldest daughter actually is only 28 and just told me: she has 25 thousand dollars in her 401k and that's incredibly happy yeah. Then I felt like okay she's, but I think your point is well taken and actually I need to think more about this book. Like teaching girls um. I've only really in the last few years, really learned more about the stock market and investing, and we should all be. This is like 101. We should be learning it and someone in the chat said we should have um money, events at Revel and we do and we should have more of them like we should all be learning how to do this. All the time yeah - and actually I was talking to a friend she works with um disadvantaged students to help them write, uh college essays to get them into you, know good colleges and um. You know they had proposals to make. Um, financial literacy is part of high school education.
VL: Why not yeah? Why not?
NC: I mean yeah even like I don't think I did a good job explaining to my kids in high school, how credit cards work and now my kids, I always hear them talking about credit cards and their credit score, and I did not really educate them on that front, it's a mistake I made. So all right, back to your book. I have a question in the sex chapter so something I should tell everyone about this book, Not Too Old for That, is it's incredibly well researched like really well researched. There's I don't know 50 pages at the end of fitness and stuff. She really went a little. She went to New York in a you really did a lot, but there was one statistic that actually surprised me and I feel like a little bit of an expert in middle life, middle age, sex. She says, and many of us are enjoying sex as we age. According to the eighth annual singles in America Survey in 2018, commissioned by thedatingwebsitematch.com women, say they're having the best sex at age - 66. - I'm not 66, yet so I'll have to take their word for it until then goals exclamation point. I loved that, and I do generally argue that women in midlife are having better sex than when they were younger for a lot of the reasons you talk about not as performative, we know what we want, but 66 kind of surprised me.
VL: Yeah me too um like I was like excellent. You know I'll be 66 this summer, so I will know you know. I just started seeing someone, so we will see. I want to be very clear because for some women sex is just not where their heads have they're very happy to be done with it.
VL: And there should be no shame or pressure for those women. And I think because a lot of the narrative is oh to be healthy fit. You know, women aging, you sex, is a really important part of your life. Okay, but that's also can be a damaging narrative if it's making women feel bad that they're not interested in that.
NC: I completely agree: this comes up a lot in our community like women, you want both sides to be true. You want women to be able to ask questions and explore and really pursue their sexuality, but you also don't want people to feel bad if they're just not interested.
VL: I agree right and there's a whole - I mean we're, you know, learning more and more about um aces. You know aromatic people and these sexual people identify, as you know, so that's important, um and also um. A lot of women don't want to give up sex um as they age, because I think, if you've always enjoyed sex throughout your life, you're not going to suddenly go done. I mean yes, menopause. Can here's my dog, hi, sweetie, she's, nervous um menopause can change. You know: do physical changes to a woman's body for sure, and men also experience problems and interesting changes to their body of midlife too right, and so so you can acknowledge all of that, and you can work on that. If you want, and also you can broaden your idea of what sex is, maybe if intercourse is painful for you, you do other things that you know the disability community is, can show us so much. They have a much broader range of what's considered sex because for a lot of people the genitals are only partially or not at all, uh usable, so um, you know, so -
NC: I really liked the way you talked about that. I just want to compliment you, though I was thinking the way you talk about disabilities and um well, explain what claim [ __ ] is. Would you because I'd never heard.
VL: Oh so um so yeah, so I tried very hard to be as inclusive as I could be in my book, because I think that's very important. I am a white cisgender, heterosexual, woman and we've heard enough from us. I want to hear about um other things, so I use the lenses of queer theory and [ __ ] theory, so crip theory is and [ __ ] is a word that is embraced, mostly not totally by the disability community. It's like they're, saying yeah. It's short for crippled yes and I'm owning it and we're seeing you know a big movement among um disabled people just really owning their lives, their future. The way we talk about disability and it's a really wonderful thing to see, and so in using [ __ ] um. So if you talk about like something is wrong with being disabled, that's a problem, so crip theory is saying: there's nothing wrong. It is a way of being, and the reality is most of us do have some disabilities as we age may be permanently, maybe just for a time I mean I'm getting cataract surgery in about two weeks and uh and uh and I'm fighting sciatica right now.
NC: I got diagnosed with osteopenia yesterday, like a precursor to osteoporosis.
VL: So [ __ ] theory is just saying you know: don't make talking about disability, some negative bad horrible thing, because we all will at some point and also look at how like um, they fought for uh. The disability community fought for ADA, which we all benefit from my god, the curb cuts who doesn't benefit from that rolling a stroller yeah. That is because disabled people gathered together, and fought to change the law and we still have a long way to go. But um so that was important to me.
NC: I think you did a really good job with that, like talking about there's just an analogy between like aging or a corollary or whatever. The word is between aging and experiencing the world as a crippled person and experience. Just talking about accepting differences and not stigmatizing it, basically, yes, and - and you know, and that's unfortunate, part of the narrative when we say you know aging well or aging successfully like there's a way to age. I'm just looking at my notes, like you said at some point that the average age of widowhood is 59, that surprised me, that was quite young.
VL: It's quite young and what we're finding with COVID, because COVID hit men much more than women and they a lot of men, have been dying in their 50s and so, if they're dying in their 50s, you've got women in your 40s, and so it's probably going to push the needle uh even more. And yes, that's a very, very young age and um, and yes - and so you know originally it's funny - this was not the book I originally wanted to write. The original book that I wanted to write was how to age alone, even if you don't want to; because the reality is, women are going to be alone for many years.
NC: Oh that's interesting! How to age alone if you don't want to.
VL: Yeah, even if you don't want to because the reality is, if you're, if you become a widow at age 59, now you have to decide you know, are you going to be alone or um, or are you going to try to? You know find a partner or you know, so no one wanted that book, but um you know that's the conversation I have with my girlfriends too. A lot of them are married, but um the chances are, their husbands will die before they do. We marry older men, yeah.
NC: Yeah and it's so annoying. You know I used to be a literary agent and um, so I know the business really well and it's super annoying that no one wanted that book, because that's a good book, it's a good subject and there's a huge audience for that book. As we know, you know the number of women I think it's like I mean it's huge yeah. I'm glad you sold this and have you sold the next one. Have you sold the book yet or not yet?
VL: Well, um! It's in negotiations right now! My age, my agent's working hard, can't really say anything more, but it's going to happen and and it's called the Apartners which is, I just learned that term. I guess I probably learned it in your book. i'd never heard it before yeah so um. The book is not really going to be it's going to be written with um Sharon Hyman. She is uh the part she is a woman in Montreal, uh, Canada. I've never even met her. We've become fast friends and she's making a documentary on it and this book is going to be a companion piece to it and uh. She coined that phrase which is so perfect and she has been it's so perfect and she has been a apartner for 23 years. She just celebrated her 23rd anniversary with her apartner because they live separately and uh.
NC: How far apart do they live? That's kind of the thing that I'm struggling with like is it best to live like next door to each other or - and I guess everyone has a different answer to this - you could live in different cities.
VL: You could, there are people, I know who live in different countries - yeah they're the best. I think what happens uh, what matters is, how does it feel for you? As a couple are you both, I mean Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had houses side by side with a bridge.
NC: That sounds really cool to me.
VL: For a while they had that um. You know uh yeah, just not in the house, but you know even um. Even some people who sleep in separate rooms consider themselves apartners because you know they do have a separate space to retreat.
NC: True to - and you know it's that proverbial uh Virginia Woolf thing - a room of one's own um, it spaces, and Esther Perel really talks about the need for space for erotic connection, to happen.
VL: Absolutely, women need more um variety and they need more as kind of tension. In that way. Oh yeah, you know men are happier with just kind of same old, same old weirdly.
NC: Yes, it goes against you what we're told, but it's yeah and Wednesday Martin wrote the forward to your book and I love Wednesday and she's a friend of the community where we love Wednesday, so she wroeT a great forward to your book.
VL: Wonderful person, yes.
NC: So I guess my last question, for you is because I was thinking about this after I read your book. Do you think that the stereotype about older women is really changing, or do you think it's going to change like what? What do we want it to look like in the next 20 years?
VL: You know I do feel like for the younger generation. All this talk about menopause is going to have an effect like I think women now in their 20s and 30s, are going to be much more prepared for menopause than we were yeah. There's a lot of conversations which you know were not happening when I went through it not at all um. Do I think it's going to change? I do, we're seeing a lot more representation of older women in advertising on the catwalk. In you know, media tv shows not enough, not enough, but so it is slowly changing. I think, maybe for women at a certain point for young women there still is, I mean I was quite surprised. I think I have it in the book for you know gals talking about you know. Oh, I don't want an old mommy with gray hair old mommy yeah. What is how what and young girls getting botox and this and that and like oh wrinkles, so there's still some messaging, I mean ageism is a big, big thing in our society and um in their great books like uh Ashton, apple white's, um, chair rocks and they address it. My book is basically helping women address the kind of ageism and we've been carrying around in ourselves, yeah and um, and that is really the first way to tackle it, because if we don't recognize the kind of ageism we have that we're carrying, then we're not going to be able to help our daughters and the younger children, people who come after us.
NC: I think that's a really great way of putting it so everyone listening in case you missed it. This book is called Not Too Old for That: How Women Are Changing the Story of Aging by Vicki Larson, and it really is about our own internalized ageism and also about like how we want to live this phase of our life. I mean I found the book pretty inspirational, also like there are a lot of good statistics and it made me really, I mean you cover subjects on friendship, marriage, sex, uh. You know hormones money, it's terrific! It's a really good book!
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