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Life after 50: Confessions of a Former Bitch

Life after 50, Confessions of a Former Bitch, Nina Malkin
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BY NINA MALKIN

A gentle smile warmed my face when I heard that several major studies, including one published recently in the Journal of Personality, found that people get nicer with age. Researchers dub it the “maturity principle” and, dispelling the notion that we become cranky curmudgeons, we in fact turn more agreeable as we slouch towards the golden years. I know this is true, because I’m living proof. Today, I am a pussycat. But I used to be a bitch.

Not a total bitch, no. As in a leather-corseted, whip-wielding professional dominatrix. Nor was I the sort of bitch to convene with others of her ilk making nasty comments about everyone else. (With a career spent in publishing—particularly women’s magazines—I encountered plenty of those.) Yet you couldn’t really call me a nice person, since if you did, I’d no doubt deliver a verbal slap to make your head spin. Back in the day, I was far more interested in being cool and sharp, known for my acerbic wit and cutting edge. Nice? What an insult! Right up there with sweet and cute.

While I didn’t self-identify as a bitch, if someone hissed the word behind my back it wouldn’t have surprised or upset me much. After all, what would you call a colleague who’d roll her eyes and deem your idea “profoundly stupid” in a meeting or rewrite you rather than deign to discuss how your work might be improved? How would you describe a woman whose flirting style amounted to cruel banter and whose romances resembled the exhausting one-upmanship a la George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Yep, I bet the “B” word comes to mind.

In my thirties I did a lot of entertainment journalism, covering music mostly, and that’s when I first heard blues master Albert Collins’ “Don’t Mistake Kindness for Weakness”—a riff on a quote from Al Capone, of all people. Yet while the lyrics gave me pause, they did not change me. In fact, I went along my merry bitchy way until I met a truly kind, truly strong man—and very soon the bitch response began to appall me. Remarkably, the king of kind and the queen of mean fell in love, a state that proved transformational. I softened. I mellowed. I even began to develop that virtue known as patience. I no longer ascribe to the motto “do unto others before they do unto you” or feel compelled to cut people down simply because I can. I smile more than scowl, trust more than suspect, and instead of automatically hurling an icy remark I try to let perceived slights roll off my back. Nice, now? It’s…really nice.

My man’s influence or a matter of the maturity principle? Probably a combo—although it’s worth mentioning that he, my husband for the last decade, happens to be sixteen years my junior.  Perhaps he’s unique and the researchers are right in their discovery that niceness comes with age. Either way, I’m glad it caught up with me. Life might be a bitch sometimes, but I’m not—and I’ve never been happier.

An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an ardent animal rescuer, and the author of An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.

 

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