Today I received a thank-you note from my niece. It was for a gift I'd sent her for her 21st birthday. On her Facebook page, she declared how old she felt. I commented by reminding her how old I felt. In the note she said, "Sorry to make you feel old!"
Truthfully, she doesn't make me feel old, though realizing that my one niece and three nephews are adults now does give me pause. My oldest nephew is going to be married for 2 years, owns a house in Southern California, and works for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. And yet I have friends (even had boyfriends) the same age as my nephews. I'm in a rather awkward spot in my life--I'm over 35, which should make me "over the hill" to some. Emotionally, I think I match my age--Lord knows I've had enough life experience at this point. But other things make me feel like I'm much younger--attention from younger men, being ID'ed for age when I go to a pub or bar, going to the college where I teach and being asked if I'm a student.
I will say that my family has remarkable genes. My father is 78 years old, and most people think he's in his 50's, maybe around 60. He has white hair, and some of the characteristic changes around the jawline that come with age. But he has no wrinkles. Similarly, my mother is 72, but looks to be in her 50's as well. So, perhaps it's no surprise that I don't appear to be pushing 40. The thick oily skin that was the bane of my existence at 13 is now a godsend at 37.
But there are clearly differences between myself and the twenty-something crowd. Whenever I spend time with friends in this age group, I can sense an intangible difference. We're functioning in different places. Girls in their twenties are still very insecure, looking for attention, have something to prove, trying to figure themselves out. While I would be lying to say I have no insecurity or that I don't like attention, I do feel like I have a pretty good sense of who I am and where I'm going. I tend to feel that people can take me as I am or leave me. I'm willing to make changes and apologize if I'm wrong, but I don't feel any need to apologize for who I am, or to cover it up. There was a time in my life where I definitely felt limited; now I tend to feel that anything is possible, and I should do what makes me happy, not what others think I should do.
The other noted difference is cultural. Adults in their late teens and early twenties don't remember a time without computers. Historical events that I remember quite well--the Carter presidency, the Iran hostage crisis, the assassination of the Shah, the death of John Lennon, the marriage of Charles and Diana, to name a few--are nothing more than a history book footnote to most of them, assuming there's any awareness at all. I remember almost fainting when my friend's 18-year-old daughter said she'd never heard of the Doors or Led Zeppelin. Whether you like them or not, how could you not have heard of them?
Certainly everything is relative--the older you are, the more you remember that subsequent generations don't. But I think I've not quite grasped where I'm at in life, and I'm not sure I want to. On one of the blogs I read, I saw someone criticizing a 40-year-old woman for going to clubs, saying she's "too old". Says who? Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the club scene, and I'm not looking to "hook up" with anyone when I go out. But I don't like the idea that I somehow don't belong among younger people. I have friends in very diverse age groups.
On the whole, I prefer being in my thirties, and will probably like my forties just as well. I feel like my marriage at 23 was an interruption of my life--I became much older than I am now, because there was so much suffering during those years. I almost feel like I should now get a reprieve from suffering for the rest of my life.
And yet, interestingly, there have been those over the years, and even recently, who don't acknowledge my age at all. I don't necessarily mind that, but I do mind being treated like a 5-year-old who doesn't know anything about anything. That has been the downside of appearing "youthful"--I have some colleagues who have looked down on me in the past as somehow "inexperienced". One of the big mistakes I made when I finished graduate school the first time was continuing to work at the same place I'd worked when I was in high school and university. They remembered me as a teenager and even younger, and the tendency was to continue treating me that way, rather than as a serious professional. Even as I climbed the administrative and political ladder (thanks mainly to those in power who were younger than me), I was still amazed at how colleagues would come into my office and speak to me, and how inexperienced they seemed to think I was in my career. And I could not attend a meeting without someone reminding me that they remembered me when I was 11 years old.
There is a Monty Python sketch featuring Michael Palin as Mrs. Knickerbater that sums it up pretty well. It starts about 1 minutes and 30 seconds into this episode:
So, honestly, I don't mind when I'm thought of as "older". Given the lack of respect that some people seem to have for younger generations, and the memories of how awful my teens and twenties were emotionally, I think it's a worthwhile trade-off. Still, it's important to remember that age is just a number. You don't know what kind of life someone has lived. There are people in their twenties who are more mature and experienced than some people in their fifties. It's all a matter of what life hands to you, and that's not a book you can judge by its cover.