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Robert Levithan The New Sixty


A year from now I will be 60. Holy shit! How did this happen?

I remember my 70-something mother looking in the mirror and saying, "Who is that old woman? I'm 17!"

Most of us have an inner age.

I've asked hundreds of clients and friends, "How old are you inside?"

The answer is usually 16 or 17, sometimes older ... once, it was 9. Personally, I have been 17 and 35 simultaneously -- a kid and a level-headed adult. My physical image of myself is 35. When it comes to sex, I'm 17.

I am fortunate: I am 6 feet 1 inch tall. I weigh 172 pounds. I have a full head of hair. My number 1 boyfriend (I have not been in a traditional monogamous relationship for a number of years) says that it's a good thing I am so goofy or people would hate me.

I do serious work in the world as a group facilitator at Friends in Deed in New York City, as a leader of the Mastery Workshop nationwide, and in private practice as a psychotherapist, primarily working with life-changing crisis and transition. However, I try not to take myself at all seriously.

I do believe in reinvention -- of the individual and of the roles each of us play in our personal and public lives. Approaching 60 inspires me to reflect on many issues, including my vanity, my health, and my own ageism, especially the internalized prejudices about being this age, as a man, a gay man, a white man, an American, as someone who tested positive for HIV in 1984.

The last first: When I was 40, I never expected to see 60, certainly not as the vital and healthy man I am today. I tested positive for HIV as part of a study in 1984. My immune system crashed in 1994. I won a lottery to receive compassionate-usage access to a workable cocktail in 1995. My immune system began to rebuild am then, and I am blessed to be in extraordinary health today. When I turned 50, I realized that I had no vision for my 50s: I had been in survival mode since I was 35.

At my 50th birthday party, a friend said, "Welcome to your 50s ... it's when you can stop caring what anyone thinks." That has been the fuel for this decade's exploration: What if I am fully me and don't give a fuck what others think? One of my first choices was to go back to calling myself Bobby. The kid in me is definitely Bobby. Robert is the 35-year-old adult and an appropriate professional name.

My number 1 boyfriend also says that I am "shameless." That is the triumph of my 50s (based on hard work in my 30s and 40s). Now I am applying that freedom to a vision for my next decade. Along the way, I'll be letting go of baggage and dealing with fears and ultimately, once again, I will be challenged to embrace the courageous, shameless Bobby Robert who is ready for his sensational 60s ...

My noisy life has been extraordinary in so many ways . I hope you will stick around and share this year in my journey ... upcoming columns will look at vanity (60 with a six-pack?), my relationship to long-term commitment (I live with an overeducated bitch), as well as dating, sex, finances, work, and whatever shows up around the wonder of actually being here. My ambition is to explore 60 as an exciting threshold and to bust my own internalized ageism as a window into our unnecessarily ageist culture.

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