I turned 40 this year. Now I am not even lured by those “Want to feel old?” clickbait things because the answer is no, I do not. It has started to bother me when I hear twenty-somethings claim they are old because they are experiencing their first-ever occasions of being tired before midnight. The gift of middle age is in realizing that there is very little, if any, time left in which you will not be legitimately aged, and no one older than you wants to hear you say you are old. Anyway most of those clickbait things are about trends that came and went after I was already too far beyond trendy to notice, frankly.
The stages of aging as I understand them:
- You don’t understand things that are cool because you are too young to have any idea what’s happening in the larger social sphere. In a way, very young kids are as cool as they come because they readily embrace trends–every single kid loves some combination of Star Wars, Batman, princesses, and Thomas–and also completely do their own thing. My niece’s favorite activity is belly-flopping off the couch onto a giant beanbag. Had she developed the vocabulary, I feel certain she could discuss the nuances of couch-leaping in crushing detail.
- You understand things that are cool but can’t do anything about it because your bedtime is 8:00 and you have a life savings of like 6 dollars in nickels. Also Mom says no.
- You understand things that are cool and engage in them with parental approval.
- You understand things that are cool and engage in them without parental approval.
- You understand things that are cool but you find that sometimes you don’t care.
- You still know what is cool but occasionally there are new cool things that you don’t understand.
- You start losing track of what is cool.
- You completely lose track of what is cool.
- You don’t go to parties anymore. You attend get-togethers. And a major conversation topic is everyone’s changing metabolism. The gathering breaks up around 9pm because everyone is tired.
- Someone tells you that they don’t call it “cool” anymore, they call it “smibs” or some damn thing.
- Things you think of as happening last decade actually happened multiple decades ago.
- Your doctor labels you a “weekend warrior” when you develop achilles tendinitis.
- You insist that your life experience makes it so that you understand at a more meta-level what is and isn’t cool, and they just say that’s exactly why you don’t have the smibs.
- No, old dude, let me help you out. You say, something “IS” the smibs. You don’t “have” the smibs.
- Why do they only sell clothes I want to wear at Sears in that weird alcove near the lawnmowers. That’s not the smibs.
- Wow is that guy still saying “smibs”?
- Gradual living degradation of your biological systems.
- Death etc.
I’m not obsessed with 40, especially. It’s a round number but it’s really just continuing various downward trends that begin sometime in your mid-thirties: which is everything beyond step 7 or so above, plus inexplicable weight gain. Sometime in the last five years I transitioned from healing from injuries in hours to weeks. About six weeks ago I took a weird step off a curb and went down in a faceward sprawl into the crosswalk. The various patches of road rash healed in a week or (except for a badass elbow scar). My back and hip took a few additional weeks to fully sort themselves out. But my left shoulder, the hero who accepted the forceful bulk of the downward plummet, is still screwed up. Mentally, I have transitioned from embarrassed about the clumsiness to acceptance that these things happen to actually feeling lucky I didn’t do something much worse like knock out a tooth or crack my glasses.
I don’t want to be all negative, even though that’s sorta more fun. For every bad thing about early middle age, in my fortunate case there are two good things (I’ll write a happy list at some point). I’d never go back anyway. Being a teenager was terrible and I was lost in my twenties. Though this raises the big open question of if/when I will ever stop thinking of my past self as an idiot. Since I was self-aware I always thought the same thing:
- Man I was dumb X years ago, I didn’t know anything.
- Luckily I’ve figured things out now.
Perhaps the great sign of maturity is realizing that you can’t keep pairing these two statements. The person who thought #2 always eventually becomes the person described by #1. It’s just a matter of realizing you are still the dumb one who doesn’t really know anything, just incrementally more than before, and acting accordingly.