How to stop feeling invisible

Happiness, Seniors
Glen Close

According to an article in the New York Times “70 and Female Is the New Cool. The article features images of Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Close, Maxine Waters and Susan Zirinsky (CBS News COE), all energetic and powerful women in their own right. They have a presence in the media, which means they are listened to and written about.

Many older women say they feel invisible, that people ignore them. They don’t necessarily want to be in the limelight like these great women, but they do want to be seen, listened to and respected. Some of this is down to magazines and newspapers that often talk about older people as a problem rather than a resource, but it’s also the responsibility of women of our age to go out and engage with people, if that’s what we want.

Is it surprising that a 25-year-old in the gym doesn’t start conversation with a 70-year-old fit woman? His experience of older women is mainly his mum and grandmum. He just doesn’t know how to talk to older women. Maybe he has a preconception that older women are boring.

When I lived in Penzance, I started going to the gym and would say hello to all the regulars there regardless of age, gender or level of fitness. Gradually the morning hello turned into a longer conversation with some of those people. They’d ask me how my training was going, whether I’d read the latest Daily Mail article that chocolate was beneficial if eaten before a gym session, or why they hadn’t seen me for a week. Gradually I felt part of that community of gym goers.

A friend, who was a little younger than me, started going to the same gym and after a while she told me that it was like she was invisible – everyone was ignoring her because of her age. I asked her why she was waiting for other people to speak first; why she didn’t just say hello to people. She was totally taken aback at this idea. Just try that simple word hello – over time it will open all sorts of doors.

I now go to a gym in Exeter. It took a little while and a lot of hello’s, but now once again lots of people speak to me. Some are personal trainers; some are other gym goers. I chat to women of all ages – we talk about our training, wish each other a good session before we start and sympathise when one of us isn’t feeling motivated. We roll our eyes at each other, when we are lifting particularly heavy weights. We are genuinely happy when other people achieve a PB (personal best), even when that PB is so much less.

We also talk about holidays, work and food. I chat to lots of men too – they ask me how I am; how the training is going; we talk about the weather and holidays, and one always comes over to tell me an appalling joke that I refuse to laugh at.

If you’re a celebrity people are going to want to interact with you, whatever your age. If you’re a normal person, you have to try harder. People in general don’t want to hear about your grandchildren or your ailments – this is even more true of younger people. In order for these casual relationships to thrive you need to be prepared to ask them about themselves – people love to talk about themselves. I love to find out what makes people tick, so usually my interest is genuine. Because of this, people will walk across the gym in order to speak to me. If they’re busy, they’ll smile and nod.

I’m over seventy, but I’m not invisible.