Sunday, April 25, 2021

1. The Joy Of Aging: Power, Purpose, Pleasure

I was 14-years-old when The Breakfast Club was first released in theaters and I would end up seeing it many times during its original release.   As much as I enjoyed it, I did disagree with a central premise of the film, and seemingly all the John Hughes angst films in that genre.   In a scene where all five characters discuss their fears and vulnerabilities, Ally Sheedy’s character laments, “It’s unavoidable.  It just happens. When you grow up, your heart dies.”  I remember thinking, “No, it’s not unavoidable.  That doesn’t have to happen!” 

I am turning 50-years-old today as I'm writing this filled with more heart, more gratitude, more optimism than I’ve had before.  One of the benefits of living this long is knowing that when I feel hopeful it’s not coming from idealism or naivety.  I’ve seen good and bad, I’ve seen highs and lows, I’ve experienced the best and the worst.  I’ve seen beauty and miracles unfold in this world.  And in the last 14 months I believe I’ve seen the ugliest humanity has to offer.  Nevertheless, I write this carrying a strong rational faith that there is much joy ahead.  

About two decades ago I came to understand that most feelings aren’t about what happen to us, they are about the meaning we give to the events that happen to us.  If you don’t like the feeling, change the thinking.  So the faith I’m feeling today isn’t about things going well for me in my future, it’s about knowing that my reactions to what’s unfolding around me are largely guided by an energy of love, forgiveness, peace, and resilience.  I trust Damon now in a way I didn’t when I was younger, I like Damon now in a way I didn’t before. I’ve respect who I’ve been, I dig who I’m becoming.   This is very different from the scenario of adulthood described by the kids in The Breakfast Club. Over the past 49 days I’ve shared lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to reach fifty with my heart in check, my soul aligned, my body ready to take action.  All of the previous entries were building toward my “trifecta” of focusing on the power, purpose, and pleasure, that can help us to age with ascension, confidence, and lots of fun.   Here’s what each of these looks like to me:

POWER:  This is not power over others as it is typically described in capitalistic terms.   My concept of power here is about the true power that lies within us, our connection with that God or Spirit or Higher calling that is not contingent on another person’s validation or attention.  It is the connection we foster and maintain within ourselves, ways we tap into the abundant energy of love that is in us and around us.  This is basically the opposite of what we are conditioned to do in the United States, which is use blame, shame, criticism, and attack, to respond to fear or discomfort.  Our true empowerment is something we were born with, it is a beautiful force we already carry.  You don’t need therapy or a drug to find it, it’s already a part of who you are now.  

When we don’t cultivate and nurture our true power, we become a “leaf” that is reactive to the opinions and judgments of those around us.  This is especially in challenging for gay men who simultaneous crave attention, but perpetuate ageism.  If your sense of identity and confidence is contingent on men finding your desirable, then you are setting yourself up for much pain and suffering in the years ahead.  

There is an easier way!  Begin the process of decoupling the true self from the social self.  Actively nurture and maintain your love for your true self, knowing that that peace and confidence will affect the attention you get with your social self, not the other way around.  These techniques and tools were covered in Lessons 48, 47, 43, 42, 40, 33, 27, 26, 22, 20, 19, 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5, and 3.  

PURPOSE:  We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  Or in some cases, maybe the afternoon.  Either way, it is important in all stages of life that we feel our lives matter, our contributions are relevant, our hearts are included.  I believe we all have “Work” we do that helps us to feel like we’re contributing meaningfully in the world.  For me that Work has always been related to mental health and service, but people can experience this through their artistic achievements, their sports activities, volunteer work, their hobbies or recreational interests. It doesn’t matter as much what it its you are doing, just so long as it maintains that there is a reason we are living on this planet at this time in this body, and our energies are called upon at this point to help somehow make the world a better place .

Without purpose people often feel obsolete and irrelevant.  If they don’t feel like they have a reason to get out of bed then they may not get out of bed.  I have seen people falter at these times, sink into depression, escape into alcohol or drug abuse.  We are living in an ageist society that continues to tell people they become less relevant and have less to contribute as they get older.  I think that might be changing, as more and more people in their late 70s maintain positions of significant political significance in government.  

Nevertheless we are taught it is the goal to “retire” and slow down as we age.  If that feels right to you then that is a beautiful thing.  But if you feel you have something to share, something urgent to say, something relevant to express, then it will be incumbent on you to find ways to channel that message throughout the different stages of life.  Different suggestions about finding purpose and meaningful Work were covered in Lessons 46, 44, 41, 39, 38, 36, 35, 34, 30, 28, 24, 23, 18, 10, and 8.

PLEASURE:   This almost always gets left out of conversations about aging, especially when we’re talking about sex.  Especially when we’re talking about gay sex.  Especially when we’re talking about a lot of gay sex with a lot of different partners that doesn’t result in some horrible catastrophe, and instead leaves all participants with a sense of connection, fun, and some groovy oxytocin.  But “pleasure” is not limited to the sexual realm — in my opinion it involves anything fun on the tactile level. It might be sports, it might be hot air balloons, it might mean riding horses, it might mean traveling to a new country.  Anything that heightens sensation and affirms your life experience can be pleasurable.

We know that babies need a consistent amount of affectionate touch and holding in order to physically and cognitive thrive.  At what age does that stop?  I don’t think it ever does, but I do think American culture discourages us from asking for physical touch, intimate connection, sexual vulnerability, especially as we get older.  When people are involuntarily celibate they often feel loneliness, depression, and express irritability and rage.  This need not be!

What if we normalized consensual touch and sensuality as a regular part of human connection at all stages of life?  What if we respected the role of human contact and oxytocin as an integral part of healthy aging?  What happens when we nurture curiosity to seek out fun and playful connections with others?  How would we feel if  we used our agency to clearly articulate our “Yes,” or “no,” and our “mmm, maybe.”  I explored these themes in great depth in Lessons 50, 49, 45, 37, 32, 31, 29, 25, 21, 17, 16, 14, 12, 6, 4, and 2.  

 [Thank you Adam's Nest]

I believe we have an unprecedented moment here.  As a gay man I have never lived in a time with this level of social acceptance, legal protections, medical advancements.  I am starting a new decade of life with the U.S. starting a new decade with great potential for recovery, healing, and growth. When we put together power, purpose, and pleasure we develop the limitless opportunities of expansion, enlightenment, and connection that lie before us as we get older.  I’m so glad to be on this journey, and continuing these ideas and conversations in the years and decades ahead.  
*Thank you Adam Singer for all the graphics developed for this series, and proofreading my typos!! 💜 

 Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707

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