Monday, January 14, 2013
How Old Are We, Really?
In my first post of the new year, I shared the fact that I am turning 46 this year, and mentioned that I neither feel nor look my age. This morning, it dawned on me that looks can be deceiving. Many people can look or act older than they actually are, and for even more, the exact opposite holds true. While many of us strive to look our best no matter what the date of birth on our drivers licenses, we are sometimes guilty of acting much younger than we are. And that, more often than not, can be a very bad thing.
When a person attains the age of 40 or older, one of the most oft-lamented sentiments you hear is how glad that person is to be so far removed from the high school-stage of life. I've uttered that statement many times, even though my high school experiences left me relatively unscathed emotionally. My most traumatic experience from that era occurred when I was 16, when I had to watch my older brother marry a woman who, to this day, most likely still thinks I am the same 12 year-old girl she met in late 1979. Other than that, I was fortunate to not have to endure many of the traumas most teenagers must experience. I believe those experiences used to be referred to as "rites of passage." Today, they're known as bullying.
What strikes me about people my age is how reluctant we are to share our experiences with those who came after us. We are, after all, the last generation to grow up without computers, cell phones, flat-screen televisions and the Internet. When I was a kid, I had a black-and-white TV in my bedroom, and my brother had an 8-track tape player as part of his integrated stereo system. Making long-distance phone calls to Canada was still frowned upon, so I wrote letters to my cousins. I wore Buffalo sandals with my Faded Glory jeans, and for my tenth birthday, I received a powder-blue t-shirt with an iron-on decal of John Travola as "Vinny Barbarino," which promptly peeled off the first time my mother washed it. My friends and I sometimes referred to each other as "flat-leavers," and one of our favorite things to do was to go to the corner candy store two blocks from my house to buy copies of Tiger Beat magazine and Goldenberg's peanut chews. That right there pretty much encapsulates my childhood.
Today, I sometimes feel like I am enduring a second childhood. Unfortunately, this soon-to-be-46-year-old childhood does not include such innocent treats like peanut chews and Tiger Beat. It consists instead of juvenile behavior from my contemporaries I can honestly live without. Instances of perceived backstabbing, "flat-leaving," and the forming of clique-ish factions of friends are the things I was hoping were gone for good from my life. While these modes of behavior are expected of children, another expectation is that said children will eventually abandon them. That, sadly, is not the case. I am acquainted with some people who are shining examples of how not to behave in your 40s and 50s. And, what strikes me as really ironic about that, is their adolescent behavior is exponentially more vicious now than it likely was when it was somewhat appropriate to act that way. Experience is supposed to accompany age; part of that experience should be learning from past actions so as not to repeat the ones that can potentially hurt others. Instead of gaining the necessary maturity we need to thrive during the post-adolescent stages of our lives, we regress, finding infinite ways to hang on to the adolescent angst we should have left behind years ago. Technology hasn't helped on that front; with its assistance, we are now able to inflict ourselves on others with a degree of cruelty unmatched by previous generations.
If a genie were to appear (virtual or otherwise) before me, my one wish would be to eradicate this behavior in all who feel they must cling to it so late in the game. I'm not naive enough to believe that those older than I are not capable of it as well - I once met someone who worked in a nursing home who playfully referred to it as a "high school with wheelchairs" - but I do find myself easily exhausted by watching those my age who are stuck in perpetual adolescence. If I'm this exhausted now, it will certainly be interesting to see how I'm feeling 30 years from now.