Kinetic Spheres with Faces

Grumpier with age?

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

I’m older than you, well into my seventies, but I’m curious if you are seeing the same thing happen that I am. Do you think people are more inclined to bellyache when they get old?

It seems like all of my friends have turned into a bunch of complainers and worrywarts. Many of us have been friends for years and some of us have met through different activities these last few years. But no matter what the occasion, at some point the conversation drifts off into a “ain’t it awful” session.

Believe me, I know aging isn’t easy. I also know first hand that it’s full of terrible disappointments and challenges. But I sure don’t see how complaining all of the time is of any use. What can I say to these people to get them to lighten up? It’s gotten to the point where I have started saying no to invitations but sitting around this house all day won’t do me any good.


Dear Frustrated,

Thanks for your email.We have all head the jokes about grumpy old men or old ladies but I think you have raised an interesting question — are people “more inclined to bellyache” as they age?

As you say, there are plenty of reasons why aging can result in complaining. The other day I was thinking of aging simply in terms of loss. Put the aging process into this context and it’s a wonder any of us can get out of bed in the morning. If we take a good hard look at aging, it means loss on every possible level: physical strength, health, coordination, hearing, mental agility and acuity, etc.; cultural value, respect, and purpose; independence; social interaction; friends and family through health issues and death. No wonder people complain and worry!

However, while I may understand the legitimacy of this perspective, I don’t think the best way to cope with it is to complain and/or worry all of the time. This just feels like feeding the dragon!

What can you say to people who feel the need to complain? Good question. With people you’ve been friends with for years, I’d be inclined to casually open this topic up for discussion on a one-to-one basis. Ask your friends if it seems as though aging leads to complaining and worrying. (No finger pointing!) Don’t be surprised if a few of them  feel as you do. Then, after acknowledging the inevitability of aging — there’s no stopping the clock — talk about what both of you can do to put a more positive spin on your time together.

If it feels too awkward to have these individual conversations, you can also try to counter negative comments by making more positive, or at least neutral, contributions. That may sway some people or at least move the conversation in a different direction.

With people you don’t know well enough for this kind of discussion, I doubt there is much you can say or do. If you bring it up, I’m afraid you may be met with defensiveness and perhaps, more negativity. In these situations, when the complaining begins, you can ignore it, make a lighter contribution, or remove yourself from the interaction.

The one thing I hope you don’t do is to stay home! That would be a huge mistake. Instead, put your energy into trying to secure a more positive social circle. Who are the people you know who are generally more positive? Which ones laugh or share cute stories? Identify the people who can playfully moan and groan about common aging issues but are quick to move on to a different topic. You may feel these folks are a minority, but I know we exist!

Photo credit: – image by Stuart Miles

(Click here to return to The Second Half online archives)