This is 36: Chloe Caldwell Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"There is so much pressure and meaning our culture has created around the age 35—it’s when you’re told you’re not sexy anymore, and when you’re considered to be at an advanced maternal age."
From the time I was 10, I’ve been obsessed with what it means to grow older. I’m curious about what it means to others, of all ages, and so I invite them to take “The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire.”
Here, Chloe Caldwell, author most recently of The Red Zone, responds.- Sari Botton
How old are you?
I turned 36 on April 3rd.
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
27 or 28. I feel perpetually around there because I think for so long, I couldn’t imagine my life after those ages. Not in the rock-star-suicide way, just that.
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
In some ways I feel young, the perpetual younger sibling thing. And aside from that, just in general—and I’ve heard other people say this too—you feel like you’re the youngest person in the room your whole life until your early thirties when that “specialness” is taken away from you, and you become just a person like everyone else, no longer hearing comments about how young you are.
It’s cool because my stepdaughter is almost 12, and we look alike, so I get to pass for a youngish mom. Ha! A few weeks ago, she told me that someone asked her if she had an older stepsister, and she said, “No, that's my stepmom.” It lets me pretend I’m in Gilmore Girls. So when I’m with her, I feel young. When I’m exhausted and burnt out from socializing or whatever, I feel 60. It’s funny, during the week of filling out this survey a friend aged 36 and another aged 39 told me they were both “feeling old.” I’m not (currently) feeling that way.
If I have a kid, I’ll be a bit of an older mom, but right now I get the experience of a younger mom. It’s sort of fun and unique.
You feel like you’re the youngest person in the room your whole life until your early thirties when that “specialness” is taken away from you, and you become just a person like everyone else, no longer hearing comments about how young you are.
What do you like about being your age?
Thirties are cool. My life is a gazillion times more stable than it was in my twenties. I have a longer-game mentality; I can actually imagine what the future will look like / what I want it to look like. Before, I could barely see a week into the future.
What is difficult about being your age?
Deciding whether to have kids or not. When you’re growing up, people don’t talk about this phase of life; possibly because before, it was much more set in stone that women would grow up and have children. But now, there’s a huge discourse about it and more space for unconventional lives.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
I don’t think I was told anything about being 36! There is so much pressure and meaning our culture has created around the age 35—it’s when you’re told you’re not sexy anymore, and when you’re considered to be at an advanced maternal age. It’s just this hot button number. Good grief!
When I’m with my almost 12-year-old step daughter, I feel young. When I’m exhausted and burnt out from socializing or whatever, I feel 60.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Given me: Hindsight. Body acceptance. Taken away from me: Oh you know, my tighter body and all that stuff. But it’s also taken away the body dysmorphia I used to feel in my twenties. It also has taken away the crutch I think I sometimes used to use of, “I’m young and stupid, haha!”
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
It’s definitely shaken my identity up. My first book, Legs Get Led Astray, was published on my 26th birthday and most of the reviews talked about how ~young~ I was, because our culture is obsessed with how old people are when they achieve something. I remember loving that. At the same time, it’s nice to be relieved of that. My new book, The Red Zone, is being released almost exactly ten years after my first book, so it’s definitely an interesting lens to reflect through.
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
I haven’t had kids yet and that’s something I’d like to do so I’m looking forward to that unless life has other plans. It’s not really off-schedule though, since it seems people are having children later and later. My husband and I were getting sucked into the whole buying-a-house thing a couple of years ago, but we recently checked in about it and both agree we love our rental apartment in Hudson and all that it offers (being able to walk to the post office, yoga studio, and coveted restaurants and bakeries all in three minutes).
Before, it was much more set in stone that women would grow up and have children. But now, there’s a huge discourse about it and more space for unconventional lives…I haven’t had kids yet and that’s something I’d like to do so I’m looking forward to that unless life has other plans.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
The older I get, the more I see how the nostalgia creeps in. I miss some of the freedom I had in my twenties and it’s easy to get sucked into romanticizing that time in my life, but I also know those years hurt a lot. And though when the adult responsibilities of life get to me, I fantasize about being a teenager driving around smoking weed with friends—and I achingly miss Williamsburg circa 2006 when I was 21—there isn’t an age I’d like to go back to. I’m more curious about what’s ahead.
In The Red Zone, I talk about how the last time you are free in life is before you menstruate. When I was dealing with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, I would think a lot about that time, before age eleven, when I got my period. I look at photos and think to myself, she has no idea what’s coming.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
My friend Maggie Estep, who passed away in 2014, was a bit of an aging idol. She went to yoga every day, was up with the sun, sober, really just AWAKE for life.
Also my mom. She’s always modeled self-care, but not in the ways we tend to think of it now: baths, pricey skincare, etc. She modeled actual self-care: not over-spending, walking in nature, eating nutritious food, sleeping well, moderation, creating art, journaling....in The Red Zone I say that when she got divorced, it was almost the ultimate self-care. Kidding-not-kidding.
I miss some of the freedom I had in my twenties and it’s easy to get sucked into romanticizing that time in my life, but I also know those years hurt a lot.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
I’ve cut way back on drinking which feels so good. Style-wise, I have found my favorite jeans, finally, which are the Levi’s Wedgie Icon. I get them used on Poshmark. It takes half a lifetime to find the jeans you like!!!
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
Dressing however I want / dressing young. I hate those rules like don’t show your arms / don’t wear white after labor day / don’t don’t don’t. It’s so stupid. People should dress in ways that make them feel good. The fashion police are not real. I feel like so much of that was drilled into our heads reading Sassy and YM and Teen Vogue. They were full of don’ts.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
My philosophy is to go big or go home! Some people love Christmas, or anniversaries; I love birthdays. I learned this from my mom, who over the pandemic made sure she sat outside with a candle in a baguette for her birthday. Birthdays celebrate life, they’re special. The past two years I have gone to New York City for my birthday to see friends and go to The Strand Bookstore. There’s some hard shit to go through in life, so why not have one day a year where you feel special and loved, or do something to honor yourself? I don’t believe anyone when they say they don’t care about their birthday.
As a 36 year old, this was lovely to read. Anne Bancroft was 36 when she played the “older woman;” this is the age when fear of aging really sets in, at least for me!!
Chloe's comment, "when I'm exhausted and burnt out from socializing or whatever, I feel 60", promotes the stereotype of what it means to age. That from a woman is even more disappointing.