So I was roaming around The Daily Beast yesterday — ahem, looking for intellectual commentary — when I was sidetracked by a Popeater link entitled thus: Betty White: You’re Never Too Old for Sex.
And so of course I clicked.
What I found was a little riff on a cover story from AARP magazine in which, among other things, Ms. White — who at 88 is onto yet another stage of her career as a star of the new movie, “You Again” — talks with her costars Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell about sex:
I don’t have a fella, but if [her late husband] Allen [Ludden] — or Robert Redford — were around, we’d have a very active sex life.
Gotta love it, right? All of which made me think of my late Auntie Margie, who was deep into her 80s when she once regaled a tableful of my girlfriends with tales of her love life. “I don’t really need the sex anymore,” she said somewhat pensively. “But I do need a man to take me out to dinner, now and again.”
Auntie Margie was always something of a mystery to me when I was growing up. And in all honesty, sometimes an embarrassment. In an era when most mothers wore dresses and aprons, she wore wool suits. She was a single mother — often “between husbands”, as she put it — who worked as a bookkeeper to support herself and her daughter at a time when most women her age proudly listed their occupation as “housewife.” She drank Manhattans, and she told fortunes with a deck of cards, always predicting that you would meet a M-A-N within three days, three weeks or three months.
The last time I saw her, at a family party, she was sitting on a sofa when she asked me to fetch her purse. I lugged it over to her — you know the size of those handbags — she fished out her lipstick, and without bothering with her compact, applied those red lips perfectly. At which point I said I was amazed she could put on lipstick without a mirror. She waved her hand at me dismissively. “Honey, if you’d been doing this as long as I have, you wouldn’t need a mirror either.”
Even on her deathbed, well into her 90s, she was still the coquette. She had been hospitalized for several days, the story goes, when a handsome young resident stopped by her bedside for a quick exam. “How are you doing today?” he asked. My aunt, who hadn’t spoken a word to her family in days, looked up at this dashing young doc, and fluttered her lashes like a teenager. She looked into his eyes, broke out a smile, and said, “I’m just fine. And how are you?”
She was probably my first encounter with an independent woman, though Auntie Margie never would have recognized the word “feminist,” much less ever used the term. But looking back, I realize she was something more. Like Betty White — Hollywood’s newest “It” girl who hosted SNL back in May and is now costarring in a TV sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland” — Marge was a woman who thumbed her nose at convention. Who didn’t cave when it came to societal expectations or, more importantly, age.
And bravo for that.
Because here comes the point: How much of our angst and worry over life decisions relates to the ticking clock? The idea that there is some iron-clad time line, etched completely in stone, that dictates when we are supposed to reach certain milestones? That once we hit a certain age, we should not only have checked X number of items off the to-do list — but must eliminate those for which society says we are just too old? The lesson we should learn from these cool old broads is this: it’s never too late.
Which brings us back to the words of wisdom Betty White shared with her costars:
“”Does desire melt away with age? I’m waiting for that day to come? Sexual desire is like aging, a lot of it is up here [points to her head.]”
True words, never spoken. Especially what she says about aging. Our favorite Golden Girl, like Auntie Margie, is a lesson for us all. We are who we are: stereotypes, society and above all, age, be damned.
After all, no matter how old we are, something new and unexpected could be waiting for us. In three days, three weeks, or three months.