When do you stop being young?

The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

A friend recently lamented on her facebook page that she will soon turn an age that most of her peers consider old: 35. While she realizes that she is not old, she still feels a stigma associated with the age. I wonder if I felt 35 was old when I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s.

I honestly don’t remember turning 35. I can look back and remember things that happened that year: I sold my first house and bought another; my son started school; I had yet to learn that not everything in the work world needed to be a battle — even if I were right — and that took a toll on my job; my father died.

I remember what I did on several birthdays — got married on my 39th, went to Paris on my 40th, spent my 43th in London with my son, had dinner at Le Bernardin on my 50th. But I don’t know that I ever was anxious about a certain birthday because of the number of years being marked. I remember a co-worker giving me a button on my 40th that read “I’m 40. So what”. Everyone laughingly agreed that it was appropriate for me.

There are days when I feel that I am so unhip that I must be middle-aged. My friends’ children are marrying. I mentally note which colleagues are young enough to be my children. I dye my hair and buy cool eyeglasses, but dress appropriate to my age. After all, as a friend of mine asserts, there should be clothing sized ‘M’ because nothing is shaped like it used to be, regardless of how thin one might be.

Other times, I wonder if I will ever feel grownup. Isn’t ‘old’ 10 years older than your current age? I feel younger than I thought my husband was when I married him even though chronologically I am that age now. And I no longer think of him as old, although he regularly claims that he is. Dealing with octogenarian parents with myriad health problems, I certainly feel the responsibilities of being an adult, but I’m not sure that I feel old. Nor can I draw a line at when I stopped feeling young. Maybe that is the goal, to only know what stage in your life you were when you look back at the arc that started so many years before.

What about you? What age seems old for you?


4 responses to “When do you stop being young?

  1. I remember feeling depressed when I turned 36 or 37 and maybe again sometime in my 40s or 50s. Didn’t last. I’m still me, but some things matter more and others matter less than they used to. And when you get deep into your 60s, it’s pretty hard to ignore the tide going out, physically.

  2. Just a thought, but maybe people lamenting about being old, especially because they are hung up on a certain chronological age such as 35 like my friend, indicates a certain lack of maturity, or at least recognition that young/old is not a dichotomy but a continuum. That said, while I don’t mind being in my 50’s, I would be elated if someone told me that they couldn’t believe I was that old! When I was 17 I could pass for being in my 30’s, which was a great enabler of underage drinking. I can’t imagine looking 35 now, but 40 something would be a temporary ego boost. But physical appearance is quite a different thing than being old.

  3. Occasionally, I look around the audience at London gigs and realise I’m the oldest person there by about 10 years. Thankfully, I have the example of the Bristish DJ John Peel to sustain me. Old. Hmm. Death looks pretty old. Supermum’s father never seemed old until his death. Perhaps not even then. He was Keith. He had flying lessons for his 80th birthday. We were talking about iPad 2.0s (he wanted one) weeks before his death from pancreatic cancer. The body gets old, tired, infirm – but that can happen at any age. Old age, being old – that’s a decision or a state that can also happen at any age and maybe one has a little more control over it.

    • Keith sounds like he was an incredible person. My son’s grandfather hiked all 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trail when he was in his 70’s. Now approaching 90, he is frail and definitely fighting going gently into that good night. I think there is alot of truth in one deciding to be old.