“Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of your life.”
-Robert Southey, The Doctor
“Thirty-five is when you finally get your head together and your body starts falling apart.”
On Tuesday, we escaped the boxes and drove the 50 minutes to my daughter’s flute lesson. As a result of an argument I was having with our new GPS, we drove through Wellesley on the way back home.
We were stopped at a light when I noticed a young man walking up to the corner and stopping, waiting for the light to change to cross the street. Something about this young man held my attention. He was wearing long shorts and a fitted t-shirt. His dark-blonde pony tail hung to the very top of his back and his eyes were obscured by dark sunglasses. He slightly resembled an office mate I used to have back during my time “working for The Man” (“The Man” in this case being a very kind gentleman named Willie who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina). But it wasn’t really any of that that kept me looking at him.
I looked at his destination across the street. Wellesley College. And it dawned on me: this guy was a young guy. He was, like, twenty. Maybe even younger.
For the first time ever, looking at someone of that age range I felt a distinct separation between this person and myself, entirely based on the fact that one of us will be carded if we go to buy alcohol and it won’t be me.
It was not a comfortable feeling.
Since then, I’ve been shy about talking to people in their early 20’s, and I keep having interactions with them. The locksmith who came to re-key the locks in our home. The salesperson at the office supply store who helped me find a coupler for two phone cords and signed me up for the store rewards program. I find that I can’t maintain eye contact with these young men. I feel shy around them. It’s not the kind of shy that happens when I find the person I’m with attractive, although I do see the beauty in these young men. They’re unlined, unwrinkled, un-greyed, guileless in a way that leaves me feeling exposed.
Up until Tuesday, I think I always thought of myself as, you know, sort of in my 20’s. I was within that general range, at least in my mind. I still feel in many ways just as green as I felt when I was in my early 20’s. Sometimes even more so. But watching these young men I think I realized that they are just as close to my daughter’s age as they are to mine. (A freshman in college is closer to my daughter’s age than he is to mine.) It somehow places me in the “adult” category in a way I’ve never felt before.
When I look at these young men, I can’t meet their eyes. They can, I imagine, clearly see that I’m not near their age and the fact that I so recently counted myself as part of their age cohort leaves me feeling fraudulent. And kind of silly.
I recognize that these young men are likely not thinking about me at all, which just heightens the feeling of silliness. When I see them from afar, I want to watch them in their youth. In fact, I find I can’t stop looking at them. I want to admire their beauty. But close up, I just feel antiquated. I’m the old model, still in fairly good shape, but looking just a little dated next to the newer, sleeker design. Looking into their eyes is like looking into the past and realizing it’s gone for good.
Is it really time to sit at the grown-up table now? Is it time to set aside my own goals and focus instead on paying my mortgage and getting three bids before hiring an electrician and helping my children and their generation meet their goals? It can’t be, right? I’ve still got a few good miles left on me, don’t I?
Is 35 (well, 35 in December) too young to have a mid-life crisis?
Age is opportunity no less,
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Morituri Salutamus