I am still in my twenties, but I am fast approaching 30. I can feel the gulf between myself and 19-year olds, just out of high school, widening. But I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t feel all that different from when I was 19.
Except for this: if I hang out with a bunch of 19-year olds, I will be oldest person in the room and I will be treated that way. I suspect this will be the same when I’m 30, 40, 50, 60,…. I might find 19-year-old girls attractive. I will probably always find 19-year-old girls attractive. But soon, perhaps even now, they will no longer find me attractive. I say this, not because I have an ordinate desire to be dating 19-year-olds forever, but because there doesn’t seem to be a switch in my brain that says, “now you’re old, and now you will do old people things.”
People act older because it is expected. Their environment expects it: work, spouse, children, society. The world is filled with people who feel young, acting old. When I was young I thought that one would naturally grow into the responsibilities of adulthood, that one just became an adult. Adulthood was something to worry about later. I was very wrong. The habits and responsibility of adulthood don’t come naturally, they have to be grafted on, often painfully.
I think a part of me also thought that when I became old enough, I would naturally be responsible enough and have enough control of my life to be able to raise a child. This is false. I am now well past the age that many good parents have had children and my life feels out of control in so many ways. I am not ready for a child. You become a good parent by being a good parent – you learn on the job, and sometimes you fail.
The gulf between myself and the youth feels unnatural. It is growing against my will. I think it feels this way because it is hard for me to accept my body’s eventual decline. But more importantly, it is hard to accept the loss of opportunity, of the ability to do anything, of infinite possibility. As we grow older the passing time and the choices we make fill in those possibilities, unlock the opportunities, and often the “future” is not what we had envisioned. This is what growing old means.
The next time you seem someone older than you, even much older than you. Think for a second, how it feels to them looking at you. Perhaps they don’t feel all that different from you. Perhaps, beneath the wrinkles and the slow gait, lurk a dashing young man, a young man erased from sight, but not from mind.