For: My 20-Something Friends, Love: Your 40-Something Tía

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false] Sometimes I bore myself with all this Cuba talk and expat navel gazing; granted, there’s a lot to say on the subject (see note 1), so I’m not beating a dead horse per se, but it does make me feel like a wordsmith one trick pony. So very occasionally (e.g. when I was in Haiti and occupied Wall Street), I muse on things which have nothing to do with the beguiling isle.

But this post is a complete departure for me since in addition to being not at all Cuba-related, it’s also the first time I’m writing for a particular readership (see note 2). Inspired by my cohort of young friends on both sides of the Straits (who are remarkably similar in their youthful optimism and doubt, impatience and drive), I wanted to share a bit of wisdom to help ‘abrir caminos’ as we say here (see note 3).

I’m guessing most Here is Havana readers are – like me – “older,” but surely you have some young friends and family who might benefit from my blather. Or perhaps you’ve hit your fourth or fifth decade and have pondered the passage of time and its relation to the parable of life in ways discussed below. Regardless, I’m hoping said blather will resonate, no matter your biological age.

Party hard while you can – Partying until dawn at 40 is an entirely different undertaking from that at 20-something. At your age, you suck it up after a big night out and snag a couple of hours of sleep before going to class or work or both. But when you crawl in at daybreak at my age, you’re looking at a 24 hour recovery period. In short, the day after is totally lost, a write-off, while you drag ass, rest, maybe have a little hair of the dog, followed by more resting. My advice? Party hard while you can because that in itself gets harder as you age.

Shape up now – Your mind, depth of experience, and perspective grow as you grow up (if not, you’re doing something wrong), but your body? Hell in a handbasket, my friends, and you’ll eventually reach the point of sagging muscles and tone loss, slackening skin accompanied by its evil twin wrinkles, and gravity working its black magic on your boobs, balls, and god knows what all. My advice? Eat healthy, exercise, and don’t smoke or drink to best hedge your bets (says the woman suggesting you party hard while you can). I largely ignored this advice at your age, so I’m not throwing stones here, but rather signposting the road of life for my young friends. (I should admit here that I’m also a wee bit nostalgic for the taut, hard body I had at 20.) My advice? Enjoy it while you’ve got it, but know that maintenance is essential if you want to remain fit and bed-able at 40. This is particularly true for young XX readers, since women are saddled with an unjust and inequitable standard of youth and beauty as compared to men.

Get jiggy now– You might not think much of it at the moment, but once you’ve passed 40 or 50 springs on this earth, Viagra will become tantamount. For males, it’s a modern miracle. For us women, it sucks 16 ways from Tuesday. First, there’s straight up anger. They get Viagra and we get menopause?! Where’s my Viagra coño?! Second, those little miracle pills trick men into thinking they’re unjustifiably hot, omnipotent, and virile (some are dupes in this sense regardless, but that’s another story). On the upside, we ladies usually hit our sexual stride much later than guys – i.e. when most age-appropriate males can’t keep up without the help of Big Pharma. My advice? Enjoy yourself (safely!) now and entertain the cougar cruisers when your time comes.  

Some things don’t fix themselves – In addition to penile erectile dysfunction (see above!), other problems in life like clogged drains, yeast infections, back taxes, and bad tattoos (see below!) don’t get better on their own. This can also be said of HIV infection and I feel a little sorry for my 20-something friends who have only lived in the post-HIV world. My advice? Embrace latex and call a professional – whether it’s a sexual health expert, plumber, gynecoloigist, accountant, or laser wizard – when things go awry.    

Resist brand tyranny – Whether it’s Apple or Converse, Mercedes or Harvard, I urge you to resist marketing mania and associated pressure to buy and flaunt labels. Hilfiger or Louboutin, Ed Hardy or Kate Spade: no matter the brand, wearing it will not make you smarter, better looking, or more kind. True, I’m a fashion disaster, but in these matters, I defer to my favorite billionaire who observed: why shell out $10,000 for a Rolex when my $15 Timex keeps the hour just as well? My advice? Think twice before buying into the brand.

Love stinks – Sorry to break it to you, but even at my age you probably won’t have the love thing figured out. Sure, you may be with someone, engaged, married, or in love even, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. On the contrary, love makes everything more complex and in that complexity lies the problem. My advice? Tellingly, I have none; please let me know if you’ve had any revelations on the relationship front.

Think before you ink – I’m speaking from experience here guys: the tattoo that seems daring, romantic, or artistic at 20 can become a real problem at my age. Trust me – the choice between cover-up and removal isn’t pretty (or cheap) no matter how you cut it. My advice? Think long and hard about the statement you want to make and if it needs to be permanently emblazoned on your body and where.  

Older doesn’t necessarily mean smarter – Which is my way of saying: you don’t always have to listen to people older than you. Authority figures sometimes get off on that alone – i.e. the authority of age and position – and that can be dangerous for reasons too convoluted to go into here. My advice? Question authority, as much for your own benefit as for those wielding that authority because once they go unquestioned, they can do anything. And we definitely don’t want that.

Take the long view – I have a young friend who lost her zest for college two-thirds of the way through and she’s thinking about dropping/copping out. I say copping out because the lion’s share of the work is done and she just needs to suck it up a little longer to successfully attain her degree. Three semesters seems like forever to her at 21, but that ain’t nothing in the scheme of things, baby! I beg those of you close to completing school, a project, or a dream to persevere even though it feels like it will be forever until you reach your goal. My advice? You can do it – just go easy and take it slow when your patience runs thin.  

Keep your finger on the pulse – I’ve learned in the two decades since I was in your shoes that it’s important to befriend, mentor, and seek out and the opinion of, people younger than you. My advice? Whether you’re 20, my age, or double that and your next step is death, nurture relationships with people younger than you to keep your horizons expanding.

Live your dreams – As so many have said, life isn’t a dress rehearsal; it’s the only shot you’ve got. My advice? Make the most of it.

This post was motivated by the friendship of many 20-somethings in Cuba and beyond, including Caitlin, Benji, Joelito, Jenny, and Pablo. I dedicate it to you!


1. Which is why I’m writing a book (some would call it a memoir, a word that makes me cringe for several reasons) on the topic.

2. If you’ve landed here because you’re interested in Cuba-specific reading, I suggest trolling past posts and checking back in a few weeks – I’m preparing something juicy on the Pope.

3. For the curious: ever since I was 16, I knew I didn’t want to have kids and at 42, I remain exhileratingly child-free (and I’m not alone: check out this group Green Inclinations, No Kids or GINKs). But I adore being an aunt – tía in Spanish, which is a double entendre in Cuban since it loosely means ‘a woman of a certain age no longer considered sexy or eligible for seduction.’ I remember the first time a young Cuban buck called me tía – it smarted, yes it did!



Filed under Americans in cuba, Here is Haiti, Relationships, Writerly stuff

43 responses to “For: My 20-Something Friends, Love: Your 40-Something Tía

  1. Dan

    I can tell you folks, being a well-past-sixty male in a Pharma-free relationship of some forty-five years, that like loud music on an AM radio the frequency may diminish but the intensity stays the same!

  2. Kelly

    Made me laugh, thanks (since I’m at work)! You forgot to mention that your metabolism starts slowing down in your 40’s as well stinks that I can’t eat like I used to and still fit into certain clothes.

    I have a few more books I’ll email you about to see if you want them. Kelly

    • Yes, indeed! I noticed changes in my metabolism around 20 and again around 35 or so. Your body does change over time and unfortunately, demands A LOT more attention as we age. C’est la vie…

      Now back to work!

      PS: let me know about los libros!

  3. Colin

    Hilarious, I’m feeling all of the above, though these days ( 43) it takes me even longer than 24hours to recover from a hangover, though that could be the occasional excessive partying too.
    My head still says I’m 21 but my body has other ideas.
    I’ve just discovered your Blog after just getting back from my amazing first trip to Cuba, after dreaming about it for years.
    I loved it and can’t wait for my next visit, and reading your blog feels like I’m still connected to Cuba in a small way so thank you.
    Loving your work Conner.

    • Aw shucks, thanks Colin. I have the mind/body disconnect happening too a little bit. Like that’s any consolation for the 36 hour hangover! Uff.

      On another topic: WTF with all these fine people, like Colin, finding Here is Havana after they get back from Cuba?! This has been happening a lot lately (too often in fact – I feel like I need an SEO primer) judging by the emails and comments Im getting and while I’m thrilled that folks are finding me period, I feel like it kinda defeats the purpose of this blog to have people stumble around here only after they’re back.

      Anyone out there want to share some ideas about how to reach more people earlier?

      Colin: Im so glad that I help keep you connected to Cuba – that is a major motivating force and purpose behind Here is Havana. Your comment made my day!

      • Colin

        Thanks Conner, I work in the travel industry so will of course spread the good word about your blog to anyone who will listen (and even those who won’t, what can they do when they’re in headlock?).
        Actually, I’ve been pretty much doing this about Cuba since I got back.
        Your blog (and fantastic app) would’ve made my trip a tad easier for my first visit but it will make my second visit even more memorable.

      • Very cool, Colin. Mil gracias! Can you tell me in what country you’re based (or where the “travel industry” you refer to is based) so I can better track traffic and sales.

        Glad to hear you’re planning a return visit – not everyone does…

      • Montreal

        Hi Conner,

        I’m sure there are more of us (in our 20s) reading your stuff than you than you think, so thanks for the heady advice. Although nothing in this post should really come as news to anyone in my age group , it’s still good to be reminded from time to time.. As for people HIH after coming from Havana, in my case it was only after getting hooked on the city and starting to look to learn more, that I found your stuff.. I’ve been going regulary for a few years now, but only got wise to your app last spring, and to this blog a couple of months ago, so.. I would think that for a lot of people it would be the same thing, trying to get more savy on the local scene, while keeping in the know on the day-to-day while they’re away that lands them here. So between you and my company’s unlimited long distance calling plan, it keeps my nostalgia for la Habana somewhat at bay… And you being an extrañera who’s lived unsheltered in Havana for years, I find your perspective truly unique and invaluable. The fact that you have actual writing chops is just an awesome bonus. I can only attribute marketing/exposure nuances to you not getting substantially greater amount of hits…

      • “actual writing chops” is an “awesome bonus”. This so scares me – particularly because it comes from someone so young. I fear the internet has diluted the need/desire/appreciation for well-crafted words (Montreal and other HIH fans excluded of course!). Nevertheless, I fret for readers everywhere! [ok, rant over]

        yeah, the secret is out: Im a shitty marketer. Oh well. Could be worse. One market Im determined to break into and would welcome anybody’s advice/help is among young Cuban Americans. I have a few friends in Miami, but few speak English (yet/still) so it makes it a bit tough. But every time I fly through Miami there are TONS of millennials glued to their iPhones and devices en route to Cuba. Surely they’d like some inside scoop?! Ideas, anyone?

  4. yumagail

    you are so good, conner, such a great writer
    glad you’re out there keeping me linked to my love-and-loathe cuba, and to real life matters of age (it’s true what mom said: the older you get the faster time flies)
    keep up the great work — you make me laugh and cry
    all the best
    cuidate mucho

    • With such nice comments, I could procrastinate all day! Thanks so much for your kind words (can I quote you?! The Book is going out to agents this week!). Love and loathe so pithily sums it all up. Kudos for coining it. Have you read the book Cuba, Neither Heaven nor Hell? It’s over 10 years old now but remains one of the most balanced analyses of the island. Highly recommended.

      Gotta get back to updating the app. Thanks for taking the time to read and write in. Greatly appreciated!

  5. yumagail

    ps: are hotels/rooms/casas being booked like crazy for pope visit? prices up?

    • Hi again YG – great question. I don’t know about prices but things are WAY booked for the papal visit. The diaspora, in particular, is returning in droves to get a glimpse of The Potato (lots of jokes from 1998 visit have to do with his high holiness and those starchy tubers since papa is potato in spanish and Papa is pope, but I digress) and hear his masses. If anyone is trying to book a casa in Stgo de Cuba for this visit, you’re already too late and should take any “confirmed reservations” with a large grain of salt. Charters from the USA are also fully booked as I understand a week before and a week after the visit (March 26-28), so anyone trying to get here during that time should keep that in mind too. Cheers!

  6. Colin

    Hey Conner, I’m based in sunny (read grey) Brighton in the UK.
    My travel work is mainly corporate/entertainment stuff but as I mentioned I’m bigging up Cuba to everyone and anyone.
    They will listen, they will go Cuba and they will download your App..l.ol.

  7. Love love love this post! I’m approaching 30 in a couple of months and this really hit home!!!

  8. kelly

    Conner, let us know what is happening with your book and I’m so happy for you. I’ve asked my library to get Cuba, Neither Heaven or Hell for me. The books are sitting here and I promise I’ll email the titles before we get there. Looks like the Vanity Fairs may cause weight problems however, I’ve bought a scale for suitcases and will be filling it (ours) to the 30 kilograms we’re allowed (should I take the adverts out to decrease the weight)! Kelly

    • Here is Havana (The Book) manuscript is being prepared for agent submission as I type this (well, not literally: Im not that talented of a multi-tasker)! Thanks so much for even offering to import reading material: if it doesn’t happen, no worries. Cheers!

  9. kelly

    Don’t you worry amiga, it will happen. I’ll email you the book list. We’ll have to organize a spot for you to retrieve. I’l email you our plans for November and hopefully we’ll meet up…with more books.

  10. Ro

    Very wise observations. Looking back on my more than four decades of life, I realize that I actually took most of your advice. One thing I do regret is having failed to “take the long view” of college — I quit in a huff, with less than two semesters to go! I had good reasons, but I would tell your friend: whatever you think of the system, your professors, the cost, etc, it’s worth it to stick it out and get that diploma, which you’re eventually going to wish you had, believe it or not, no matter what you decide to do with your life.
    Love? The only wisdom I’ve accumulated on that is this: love without happiness sucks. Seems obvious, but it’s not.

    • I’ll pass on the advice Ro, except she’s Cuban, so if I broach “whatever she thinks of the system,” it could devolve into one of “those” conversations! On the upside, she’s not paying ni un kilo (not a red cent) for her education.

  11. Thanks for the great advice 🙂 I definitely need to start exercising more and eating better, however living in Puerto Rico, the frituras gets me every time!

  12. Kalena

    Another great treatise, Conner. I have the benefit of being in the next 20-year jump…and just say DITTO to everything in your column!
    The anticipation for our trip is palpable now, even though it’s still 2 months away. I’ve watched every Cuban film (or film about Cuba) from the library or Netflix, read every book at our library or on iBooks/Kindle, bought coffee for every lucky soul in our town who’s ever been (4) and grilled them incessantly…and I’m hungry for more (woops, that’s Tony Bourdain’s thing).
    When a friend dropped by last night, we dropped the martinis and mixed mohitos instead – just to start training 🙂
    Gotta run…my daughter’s texting (and she’s your age, so I listen:-)
    Aloha from your 60-something tutu,

  13. illcosby

    Conner, your blog is a revelation! I enjoy, very much, reading your insights and unique perspective to life in Cuba. I gotta ask… with the intranet being so painfully slow, how do you get the motivation to write on a semi-consistent basis?

    I’ve yet to visit Cuba, I’m on my way in a couple weeks… and I’m beyond excited. Like you, the rampant consumerism and all the evil it breeds in my home (Toronto, blech) has made me seek an alternative and Cuba has always been enticing. It helps that I strongly believe in the basic tenets of socialism. Plus, there’s palm trees and cheap beer and stuff. It does pain me a bit to see you report on younger Havana residents becoming brand whores. Jeez, I’ve spent most of my twenties rejecting the yuppie ideal, the nice clothing, the constant partying, being married to your smartphone, everything has become about appearance, net worth, and usefulness in networking capacities. It’s all so selfish and insecure. Bleh all around. There’s gotta be something more to life than this depressing monotony.

    Who knows, if I like my brief stay and can muster up the courage to learn proper Spanish and discard my mangled Portuspanish, I might join you down there, perhaps even to open a restaurant, if that becomes an option to foreigners sometime down the road. I’m sure Canadian tourists would appreciate a chef who can bang out a proper poutine, beaver tail, or peameal bacon sandwich.

    • Motivation levels are very low lately, as a matter of fact. Ive pretty much adapted to the slow internet here (not by choice mind you!) but it’s a bitch when I need to update my iapp and frustrating when I need to do heavy duty research (Im currently writing a piece about Cuban biotech for Scientific American WorldView and its research-intensive. Read: slow!). And sometimes I get totally down by my tenuous financial situation and the blog is basically a resource-sucker since it takes time away from paid writing. Alas….

      Not only brand whores, but also fond of: gold teeth, flashy cars blasting reggueton, littering, status symbols like iPods and cell phones (Apple and otherwise), Friends/Dr House/CSI and other trashy TV, karaoke, jeggings, and pure bred dogs. BUT, I bet you’re gpoing to love it since we still make time for: visiting with friends over little cups of strong coffee, helping out sick friends, lending a hand around the neighbor’s house, walks in the park, debating foreign and domestic affairs (especially baseball!), dancing, singing, laughing, and having a good time. We also still share, so on balance, still pretty socialist and very fun.

      Poutine would go over huge here, I’m sure!

  14. Conner, I always follow your blog and rarely (actually, never) write comments (to any blog, actually) but I had to comment on this one – that was inspiring! Your advice is priceless. And I just want to add that it is never too late (well, maybe with some aspects… the more physical ones… it’s hard to bring back time) but developing, investing in yourself, taking care and loving yourself is an ageless thing and we should keep pursuing and nurturing it always. We get only one life, so yeah, we should keep trying to make sure that it is the best that we can give ourselves. Big hug to Havana from me ❤

    • Mil gracias Moran for your positive and uplifting note. I also get inspired to write more at Here is Havana when people like you (who rarely read/ never write in to blogs) reach out – direct evidence I’m doing something right!

  15. As a 25-year-old, I thank you for your advice, oh wise one. 😉

  16. jgmcrew

    As someone in her early 30’s, this is good advice and I have already noticed a difference from my early 20’s. Boo. I keep hearing it doesn’t get better, but I’ll keep on keeping on! I gotta go to the gym now.

    • Thanks for chiming in. What DOES get better (started in my early 30s) is that people start to take you more seriously. I think this may be especially noticeable for women.

      I wish I liked gyms but even THAT seems too organized for me…Ive never been a joiner. But in lieu of that, Ive just procured a bike – the topic of my next post. Coming in three, two, one…

  17. Genny Khardina

    Hi, I stumbled upon your blog today and have been enjoying the trip. Ive been wanting to go to Cuba for years now (28yrs old now) and am happy to say I found your blog prior to making my journey (live in NY). So…that being said, I would love a precursor on best time to go, what to know, and where to visit. I know this is asking for a vast amount of information on a broad scale but any direction will be greatly appreciated. A tad on what I look for in a trip; combination of music, beautiful weather, architecture, beautiful people, physical excursions, spiritual retreats, ofcourse scrumptious food, and water. Thank you many times over, Genny

  18. Southamericansky

    Good advice about the tattoos. Its weird the way young people wreck perfectly good skin with those ghastly bits of vandalism. When you look at people’s artistic tastes they are usually soooooooo kitsch. Obviously the tats are kitsch. For god’s sake people do things like put 3 ducks on the wall and actually like the way it looks. The difference is that when they eventually realise that this is poor taste they can take the ducks down. Obviously you can’t take the tats off when you finally get some good taste. I think traditional Polynesian tats are an exception though. The one thing that I acknowledge about tats however as that the people who vandalise their skin like that have accepted that life is temporary. Its amazing that you Connergo are one of the only people who actually cautions people about this foolishness. You would think there would be more cautions like your’s….. seems rather obvious that there should be but one rarely reads it.

  19. Pingback: Havana Vice: Titimanía | Here is Havana

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