When Dorothy O’Donnell tried to join a hiking group the email that followed was surprising at first, then it was infuriating.
Recently, I joined a local Meet Up hiking group online. I did so because a friend wanted me to accompany her on one of their hikes. And I figured it might be a fun way to meet new people. To my surprise, the morning after I signed up, I got an email telling me I’d been removed from the group. Here’s a partial quote of what it said: “We are adults in our 20s to 40s who are physically fit, intermediate to strong hikers. That means fast paced … you should find a group that better fits you.”
They determined my couch potato status based solely on my profile photo. Ouch. It wasn’t the reaction to my gray hair and wrinkles that stung. I’m in my early 60s, after all. It was the assumptions about my level of fitness that irked me. I’ve always been active and athletic. I did a half-ironman triathlon at 49 and climbed Mount Shasta, lugging a 50-pound backpack, at 60. Like many people my age, I exercise daily. For me, that includes a mix of running, hiking, walking and yoga.
Being booted from the hiking group was the most blatant ageism I’ve experienced. But I encounter more subtle forms on a regular basis. I see it in job ads peppered with phrases like “perfect for recent college grads,” code for “old folks need not apply.” I see it in the way I become a little more invisible every day. I hear it in comments about my decision to stop coloring my hair.
Aging isn’t always easy, that’s for sure. There are definitely times I look in the mirror and wish I could turn back the clock. Yet in many ways, I’m more comfortable in my own skin, energetic and engaged with life than I was in my youth.
You can call me old. But please — don’t tell me what I’m too old to do.
With a Perspective, I’m Dorothy O’Donnell.
Dorothy O’Donnell is writer who lives in San Francisco.