Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Real Age

Jane Galt takes her lead from the creator of Dilbert and asks, "How old are you really?" Or, as one of her commenters smartly puts it:
It's not "what was your favorite age?" or "when were you happiest?" It's "at what point were your actual age and psychological age the same? (or at what point will they be?)" That could even be a point when you were (or will be) unhappy, if you're fundamentally an unhappy kind of person.
So, not when you were happiest. OK. Because I'm pretty sure that's when I was two. I don't remember much of it -- not a shred, honestly -- but I see two-year-olds now, being pushed around in strollers and gleefully thrown into the air and generally allowed (even encouraged) to do all kinds of ridiculous things, unburdened by both memory and aspiration, and I envy that set-up. I envy it bad.

But adhering to the rules above, I'd say my real age is 28. (I'm 33 according to pesky old "reality.") I was always a bit cranky for my age as a teenager and early-20-something, less in a Statler and Waldorf kind of way (though that, too) and more in a "People, do we really need to contract alcohol poisoning to express ourselves? You're all idiots" kind of way. That wasn't satisfying crankiness; it was uncomfortable. I wanted to get older. I was also a late bloomer, in many respects, not least of which: self-confidence (that's still touch-and-go, actually, but it's better), dealing with formless anxiety (um, ditto), and leaving the cocoon of home (though, after seven years in New York, a cocoon sounds pretty good right about now).

By the time I was 28, I had struck out for NY and gained confidence. I had learned that, while the alcohol-poisoners often were idiots, alcohol could be my friend. I had outgrown my shameful early-adolescent love for, say, Bon Jovi, but hadn't yet outgrown the entire experiential category of truly loving something like a band. I expected more of myself than I previously had, but didn't so harshly blame myself for not achieving it yet. I loved where I was, but felt like I could up and leave at any time and it wouldn't feel like flailing. Or failing.

I felt less tired.

Basically, it seemed the ideal age at which to harbor a lingering deep sentimentality, to push myself while also being at peace with myself, and to be cynical and hopeful in equal measure. All things I like. And I'm pretty sure that no future age will be able to compete, not because I expect a lot of unhappiness, but because it seems like things can only get more complicated, and not necessarily in a good way. Also, as I get older, the shallow energy-burning of my peers that once bothered me has been replaced by an opposite problem -- that is, people who, having organized their lives around conventional goals and achievements, find it weird to feel (or at least are less comfortable to acknowledge) broad emotional restlessness, something I might always feel. My inability to find deep satisfaction in those things is my problem, not theirs, but it still makes me wish we could all remain in our mid-20s, remain somehow content and dissatisfied at all times.

And, let's face it, it's not like tooth-rattling thoughts of mortality are going to be less frequent from here on out, and I'm the type who was worrying about that stuff at 19.

So, for me it's 28. And this post has gone on much longer than I imagined it would.

Anyone else want to share?


Anonymous pf said...

I imagine (um, since you asked) that one's "real age" is the age they would answer unconsciously, without having to stop and count, if someone asked them in an unguarded moment. When I'm asked how old I am, I often find that I have to stop myself from blurting out 27 (or maybe 32, in my more serious moments) even though I'm (significantly) older than that. But I'd hesitate getting to particular about matching personality with age. There are a lot of traits commonly associated with adulthood that are no less prevalent in kids. For example, I love to see a kid with some baby-talking adult in their face who's obviously not buying a word of it.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think part of this has to do with one's choice of occupation coming to seem perhaps less of a choice than one would like to have thought. What I mean is, there comes a moment when what you are doing becomes what you do. And it is only in the aftermath of that moment that you decide how okay you are with that. Sorry -- a convoluted way of putting it. I think some of what you say in your post echoes things in that excellent Joan Didion essay "Goodbye to All That." Which recounts being 28 in New York! It's worth quoting. She goes from her wide-eyed early 20s, as a transplant from California ("I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would matter") to her jaded, despairing late 20s ("All I know is that it was very bad when I was twenty-eight. Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen. ... I no longer thad any interest in hearing about the advances other people had received from their publishers...I had never before understood what 'despair" meant...but I understood that year." So what does she do? Move back to LA, of course!

2:32 PM  
Anonymous chach said...

last week, i turned 30. of course, like everyone else, i'd been dreading this moment off and on since turning 24, but i'd also noticed that as the months started to close in that the fear began to subside, and continued to do so until there it was. i feel 30. not in a tired and achy way, but like still young enough to get carded and to effect surprise when people discover i'm older than 22. i'm married now, too, which helps. i still am nostalgic for the 90s, often wish i were still 15 and 16, complete with all the unbridled optimism and enthusiasm and, most significantly, self-confidence that i had, like jw says, from not knowing all that i'd want and all that i couldn't have. but the flannels are gone. the metabolism that just blazes away without working at it is gone. those days are gone. and i'm 30. and it could always be worse, i could always be 40.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous lfw said...

i'm going to cop out and not give an answer. i just wanted to compliment the post.

i have no idea what my "real age" was (or will be). i hang out with a lot of people older than myself, including my husband, so i may very well not be my real age for quite a while.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey you. Happy Easter (yes, I'm behind in my reading). This is a brilliant post. I'd have to say I was my real age in 1998; that was a very good year where everything aligned, but I'm not telling you how old I was. From around 2000 until 2006, I'd say my inside was much younger than my outside, but now I feel like my inside has zoomed past my calendar age so much so that I'm now on the cusp on 40 ("mentally"). Don't even get me started on all the wrinkles my soul has, now; it's definitely ready for a Lift & Tuck. -- tavia

11:59 AM  

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