Beyond Small Talk

How to Talk to an Old Person

It helps to think of them as a younger person

Sara Davidson
Forge
Published in
6 min readNov 21, 2019

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Illustration: George(s)

This story is part of How to Talk to Anyone, Forge’s guide to moving past the chitchat and truly connecting.

WWhen asked to write this piece, I thought it was about talking to people older than I am: people in their eighties or nineties. Then the realization landed with a thud: the old person — that’s me.

But I don’t feel old. In my seventies, I feel like I’m 55. When I was 40, I felt like I was 28. You always feel younger inside than your chronological age, but both ages are moving upward, in tandem. The “I” — the interior being that you identify as you — is ageless. The body—that’s another matter.

You know you’re old the first time someone stands to give you their seat — on the subway, on a bus, in a crowded waiting room. I was shocked when it happened. I don’t look frail, do I? I don’t even have gray hair. I still like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But there’s no rationalizing now. The world sees me as old. That old person you’re trying to speak with? Probably a boomer. And to understand how to talk to us, it helps to understand, well, us.

Demographers classify boomers as people born between 1946 and 1964, but there are two different cohorts. The first, the “leading-edge boomers,” were born between 1946 and 1955 — those who came of age during the Vietnam War. This year, they range in age from 65 to 73. But even this cohort is not homogenous. It includes Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, Democrats and Republicans, environmental activists and climate-change deniers, people who are physically impaired and those who’re still running and skiing. Some are boring, and some are so brilliant that you’d feel lucky to spend time with them.

I’ve been writing about this cohort for 45 years, starting with my book Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties. The way I define them is: people of various ages who were infected by the ideals of the ’60s. They believed, and did not take this ironically, that we could make love, not war. They had a passion for improving the world and a self-transforming agenda. They can get emotional when they hear “Sergeant Pepperor see a film clip of Bobby Kennedy saying, “Some men see things as they are…

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Sara Davidson
Forge
Writer for

Sara Davidson is the N.Y. Times best-selling author of Loose Change, The December Project, and The Didion Files, 50 Years of Friendship with Joan Didion