Of course, that happens, too. With women, it's a lovely thing, to catch them looking at themselves with the satisfaction of a baby examining its own toes. (Babies, however, do not show talons a few seconds later.)
Men have more latitude. Age is kinder to us. If you're lucky, you end up craggy and more manly as you grow old. The subcutaneous fat that leaves your cheeks fallen could be chiseling your features. Cheekbones appear, along with back hair and bristles in your ears. You look as if you own wisdom along with the grey hair. At least, you believe so. And experience itself has different levels. Some comes just by dragging your sorry ass around long enough. (Experiences really worth the living are bought by more than simple breathing.) Thus the potent male fantasy that this guy represents:
Not older. Seasoned. Yes, seasoned, dammit.
We have another advantage, at least, here in the U.S. Few guys take care of themselves at all. Women are better at that, and they have more tools that they can acceptably deploy -- makeup, dye, botox, lifts. Plus, they tend not to go bald. So when you do work in a few sit ups, change out of sweats and get rid of the baseball cap, you stand out. It's laughably easy. Just ditch the blue oxford shirt and khakis, and you're suddenly Gary Cooper.
(You have to use caution, though. Edge into dandy territory, and women will hate you, or worse, treat you as if you're their gay pal. They loathe it when you dip into their arsenal.)
Generally, men become more vain as they age in an inverse progression. With less to be vain about, they generally grow more conscious of their looks just as they're about to leave forever. They spend more time fussing over the few strands of hair left than they ever did when their hair was thick. As their torsos sag and breasts threaten to develop, they buy better clothes than their younger brothers, and better fitted, alas, so it clings to the loosening flesh. And swimsuits -- when was the last time you saw a young buff dude in Speedos (not counting the movie 300?) But your middle-aging guy seems irresistably drawn to them.
|The nightmare scenario.|
I've been thinking about this because I lost 20 pounds. That's enough to bring me within range of my lean college self. I actually followed a diet, the slow-carb method in Tim Ferriss' book, The Four Hour Body. So after not thinking about my appearance much beyond your simple maintenance and making sure no spinach was between my teeth, suddenly I'm almost svelte -- trust me -- and looking at the reflection in the mirror in a less functional way. I'm drawn to procedures and practices I've never considered before, other than to ridicule them. I try on clothes, even pants, to see if they fit. I compare brands. I occasionally moisturize. I resist, but the urge, unmistakably, is there.
This is scary. My hair cutter keeps talking about "coloring" my hair. And I, shamefully, listen. Will I end up like the guy in the picture above -- the character played so brilliantly by Dirk Borgarde in Death in Venice? Will I develop a crush on some inappropriately aged young woman? What other compulsions and quirks are lurking in this fucked up closet of male middle age? Seriously, I've even considered buying a red sports car -- the ultimate stereotype. But, you know, those new Mustangs are pretty sweet, and I bet I could swing a loan.
Notice me, you bitches and bastards, see me fly my Speedo flag high!
The less you have, the more you treasure it. Scarcity breeds value. Those few last hairs on the scalp, the final hints of a full bicep, a waist -- all are cause for rejoicing
Of course, this is all a flame out before the last big diet. The eternal diet where you lose your flesh, then your bones, and soon the clean bones are gone.
These precious days dwindle down.
In the meantime, this song is all about me, motherfuckers: