Turkish people have a unique perspective on aging. Here in Istanbul, it’s common for couples to marry in their early or mid-20s, and begin having children shortly after that. An unmarried woman who’s in her late 20s might receive this “charming” comment: “Evde kaldın artık.” Literally, it translates as, “You’ve stayed at [your parents'] home”, but the meaning is: “You’re an old maid.”
My (Turkish) dentist once told me that Turkish people don’t take very good care of themselves. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but I have observed that most men have begun to develop a “Turkish balcony” (fat belly) by the time they reach 27 or so, and I also understand (I received this information during the same conversation with said dentist) that the average age for full dentures in this country is 40. When I mentioned to a friend that I hoped to have all my same teeth for the rest of my life, she and her adult son laughed heartily. They genuinely thought I was joking, as though this were an impossible goal. Further, and rather unfortunately, it’s more common to smoke cigarettes here than to not smoke. A lot of my acquaintances here also visit the tanning booths, and I don’t know anyone here who uses sun cream, except maybe on a day at the beach.
I know that aging, and all that comes with it, is difficult for people everywhere. Even I, who happily entered my flirty thirties this past June, felt a bit wistful when I looked into the mirror at age 27 and realized I no longer looked 16. Still, when my baby-faced friend was moaning about “getting old” on her 22nd birthday, it was hard not to roll my eyes. Actually, I’m pretty sure I did roll my eyes, and then, like a crotchety old woman, I probably lectured her, saying something like, “Please! Stop wasting your youth mourning your youth.”
Here in Turkey, 55 is old. 65 is ancient. When I told someone my mother’s age, he asked if she could still walk and get around easily. What? Walk?! My mother can touch her toes without bending her knees.
The contractor working in my apartment building is one of the exceptions to this early aging phenomenon. While he did marry young and have two children well before 30, he doesn’t look any older than he is. At forty, he’s divorced, fit as a fiddle, has never smoked cigarettes, and drinks only the occasional beer. He looks pretty good, actually. I even admit to checking him out while he was moving my refrigerator. But guess what? He certainly wasn’t checking me out. He thought I was a university student, a few years older than his son. Instead, he had a crush on my friend, who was visiting me from the United States. She’ll be 50 next month!
Youth is fleeting, and I certainly take precautions now to preserve mine, but life is a gift at every stage, and since aging is inevitable, why not try to enjoy it?