Personal Musings

The Eye Test of Middle Age

You know you’re middle aged or it’s fast approaching when you go to kiss your significant other to see them off to work in the morning and your glasses tap against her glasses, thus preventing either of you from successfully reaching one another’s lips.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the online version and not the series of physical books my family purchased from a door-to-door salesman in the 1980s, middle age is defined as:

The period of human adulthood between the ages of 40 and 60 that immediately precedes the onset of old age.

Encyclopedia Brittanica, Definition of Middle Age

After it ends with making you feel a touch decrepit, the definition goes on to say the exact period middle age starts is somewhat arbitrary. Is it 40 or 50? It depends. I like to think of 40 as the new 20, but my lower back, Rapunzel-like ear hair, and skidding eyesight thinks of 40 as the old 40.

There’s also this aptly titled 40 Signs You’re Middle Aged listicle from the Huffington Post which features a cover image of two couples which I feel, in my heart of hearts, look way older than me or my wife. Maybe it’s the pastel colors they are wearing. Shelley Emling’s essay makes note, however, that middle age doesn’t start until you’re 53. Are we all living to 106 years old now?

Contrary to Emling’s assertion the start date is 53 is my own examination of this list in which I found of the 40 items included, only eight I answer no to. They are numbers 18, 23, 25, 26 (did I open HuffPost England edition?), 27, 29, 34, and 38 (only because I don’t drink… now if we replaced this with eating anything, I’d have to move it to a yes). Everything else I nodded my head yes — sometimes vigorously before I landed a crick.

Number 15 hits especially close to home: Obsessive gardening or bird feeding. I love refilling my bird feeder each day. You have no idea. Have you heard my homemade audio bird recordings of late?

Nowhere on the list does it mention your vision going to hell in a hand-basket. I think that’s worthy of exploration in what I have defined as The Eye Test of Middle Age.

Middle Age on the Horizon

In my younger days, I could sit perched on a telephone pole off a bustling highway and spot a field mouse a mile out. My hawklike vision came crashing down to earth in my early 30s. I first learned I needed prescription glasses back when my daughter was about a year and a half old. I’ve always joked my first born caused my vision loss over a span of 18 months. The little booger.

My daughter at one year old staring back at me with a little pigtail in her hair
Look into my eyes. I am here to steal your vision. Photo by author

I’d sit at work — eyes red and burning, left eyelid twitching, head pounding — and think silently to myself, “This Benadryl isn’t working its magic like it used to.”

It wasn’t working because I wasn’t suffering from the seasonal allergies I assumed I was experiencing. My bloodshot eyes like that of a pothead, my eyelid twitching as if I was a criminal sat before the police in an interrogation room, and my head pounding like someone debauched from a bender the night before were all telltale signs I needed to see an optometrist.

Also I had a conversation with my director at work, David, a middle aged man who always tucked in his shirt and wore glasses. The conversation went like this when he swung by my cubicle one morning:

David: Have you been smoking weed? Your eyes are red as fire.

Me: No. I think it’s seasonal allergies.

David: It’s January.

Me: Maybe it’s the dry air. I don’t know.

David: You sure you haven’t been smoking weed?

Me: I’m positive.

David: If you have, buy eyedrops at least. Don’t let Deb from HR see you. You look high as a kite.

Me: Noted, but I don’t smoke weed.

David: If you say so. How’s your eyesight?

Me: I can see fine. My eyes do get tired from working at the computer though.

David: Schedule an eye exam. Your vision might not be as pristine as you think.

Later that evening, I scheduled an appointment with an eye doctor — my first ever. I figured it couldn’t hurt. My eyes had been bothering me for a while. Working on a computer and reading a book had become a pain and no longer a pleasure. About a week later, I went in for my eye exam and when we made it to the wall chart test, I thought I’d fallen victim to some elaborate optometrist ruse — a ploy to scheme me out of my hard-earned money by convincing me I needed prescription glasses.

Have you seen the prices of prescription glasses, even with insurance? It’s a bonafide racket. Half the frames on the shelves are from world renowned fashion designers.

A Re-enactment of My First Eye Exam

Optometrist: Can you read this line?

Me: Are you messing with me?

Optometrist: What do you mean?

Me: I have no idea what that line says.

Optometrist: How about this line?

Me: Is this chart meant to look like one line hovers over the other?

Optometrist: You have an astigmatism.

Me: Is it fatal?

Optometrist: No. It only means you need glasses.

Me: You’re seriously not messing with me?

Optometrist: I’m not messing with you. If I put this down over your eyes and adjust, how about now? Is that better?

Me: Better, but still a little wonky.

Optometrist: [adjusting lenses over my eyes in this Darth Vader isolation chamber looking thing] Even better now?

Me: Much better. Wow. That’s really clear.

After my eye exam, I was led into the waiting area where I met a woman of middle age wearing glasses. She asked me what style I was looking for. I said, “Something that looks like I’m not wearing glasses.” She pulled five pair of frames from the various shelves and I tried each on until I narrowed it down to the pair I would purchase.

My how tastes change over the years. When I go in now for my annual exam, there’s always these young whipper snappers in the waiting area trying to convince me to purchase frameless glasses or minimal round frames and I say, “I’m looking for frames that you may refer to as ‘grandpa frames.’ Square black frames. The bigger, the better. They remind me of my grandfather. Plus, I can see clearly from all angles.”

Because I’m older and wiser than these young buckaroos whose sole job is to help me pick out frames, they defer to my better judgment and find the exact frames I request. They then get back to sipping their Starbucks latte.

The day I received my first pair of prescription glasses, I was warned there would be a fish bowl effect for a week or so. What I learned quickly, however, was how detailed the leaves on the trees were. That’s what I remember vividly from that fateful day.

I was driving down Seminole Trail, and as I passed by Fashion Square Mall, all I could think was, “Wow, look at those leaves. How magnificent! Look at the detail in each one.”

I’m not sure when the last time was I had seen the intricate details on a leaf, but it was no time in recent memory. It’d been so long, I had forgotten they had veins running from center to side, up and down.

“You wouldn’t believe the leaves,” I said to my wife Allison when I pulled into the driveway.

“What about them?” she said.

“They are so detailed,” I said.

Middle Age Requesting Back-Up

For years, I tried to persuade my wife Allison to schedule an eye exam. Is my middle age subconscious requesting back-up — a friend on this journey into grey hair, ailing joints, and declining vision? It could be.

Me: You need to schedule an eye exam.

Allison: I can see fine.

Me: What’s that say?

Allison: [squints]

Me: That you’re squinting is a sign.

Allison: [tries and fails to read text on television screen] No one can read that. It’s too small.

Me: Oh, but I can. [reads text on television screen accurately] I can because I have glasses. When you, too, discover the miraculous power of the prescription lens technology, you, too, will read this tiny text on our too small of a television we reluctantly purchased because we couldn’t fit the original bigger television we bought in the trunk of our sedan and thus had to return on-site straight from the parking lot at Best Buy.

After tiring of hearing me say, “You need to schedule an eye exam” Allison finally relinquished. And about a year and a half ago, as we both celebrated birthdays in our 40s, she scheduled an eye exam; and lo and behold, not only could she not see, her vision was infinitely worse than mine. “I need progressive lenses,” she texted me.

Part of our annual tradition now is sending each other selfies inside the eye doctor’s office wearing various frames with the question:

What do you think?

A cunning way to say, “All four of your eyes are hot.”

Middle Age In Full Transition

Back in December, I saw my buddy Robbie for the first time in a long while. Read: Seeing an Old Friend Is Good for the Soul. He was wearing glasses. I said to him, “Are those just for looks or do you have a prescription in there?”

“Prescription,” Robbie said. “I can’t see worth a damn without them.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” I said in excitement at a new middle age recruit who can’t see worth a lick like me.

“Are those transition lenses?” he said in response as the light from the outside window was cast onto my frames, a slight transition taking place before our (and my) very eyes.

“You know it. All I need is a bingo dotter and a pack of Salems and I’m golden. You’ll be getting transition lenses before long. You wait. These things are awesome. I can read a book and go to the beach at the same time. I can read a book AT the beach.”

“I’m not getting transition lenses.”

“Oh you will,” I said. “Oh, you will.”

When we went outside to bid each other farewell, my prescription glasses with transition lenses went full on back in black, AC/DC style.

“They are transitioning into sunglasses in real-time,” Robbie said laughing.

“Look at that,” Robbie’s wife Courtney said, clearly amazed at the advancement in tech and an understanding witness at my wise choice in lenses.

“I’m telling you man. Transitions are where it’s at. You’ll have a pair in a few years. Mark my words.”

It’s conversations like these I know I’m either in the throes of middle age already or on the cusp and it’s fast approaching. It depends on whether your trust is in the Encyclopedia Brittanica or Huffington Post — and I know which one sold like hot cakes and Electrolux vacuums at my house forty plus years ago.

Thanks for reading. I write (mostly humorous) personal essays about every day things with a touch of nostalgia. You can subscribe to get updates of new posts by email:

Frequent reader of this blog? Show your support for my writing by using this link to buy me a coffee. For $5 a month or $50 a year, you help keep this blog ad-free and free for everyone to read.

Share this: