The End of Our Youth
We were so worried about growing up that we didn’t notice that we were actually growing old
The text came just before noon.
“I need to talk to you. Can you call me?”
I’m 35, so I’m old enough to remember rotary phones, but I’m still young enough to be of the age that everything can be communicated via text or email. This request was coming from a close friend that is very busy and doesn’t waste anyone’s time, so when she says to call her, it’s important.
I work in finance and I’m very fortunate to have the job I currently do, but my career had a slow start because rather than securing internships or even applying for jobs during my senior year, I stuck my head in a keg and refused to come out until May. I didn’t want to be a grownup. I wanted to make college last as long as I could because I knew that once we donned that cap and gown, our irresponsible, carefree lives would be over.
But that wasn’t entirely true.
The few years after college, for my friends and I at least, were a slow transition as we reluctantly turned our attention away from campus and Thirsty Thursday and towards becoming actual, functioning adults. It was like an older, drunker version of junior high. You can’t immediately go from elementary school to high school and we couldn’t go from beer pong tournaments and late night streaking straight to spouses and children.
Throughout our twenties, many of my friends and I shunned what we saw as the boring, adult way of life in favor of keeping the party going. Kids? Mortgage? Yard work? How about dinner and drinks tonight and brunch tomorrow instead?
We weren’t scared of growing old, we just didn’t want to be bored. And, unlike previous generations, we are aware of what everyone else from the earlier eras of our lives is doing. In the past, if you graduated high school and left your hometown, the only time you saw those people were at the reunions. The same was true if you went to college somewhere other than where you lived. Today, however, we never lose touch with anyone (even if we want to), so there aren’t as many clean breaks in the narrative of your life. Being so connected to people from your youth gives you a false sense that you’re all still young.
Moreover, depending on your viewpoint, we’re either a selfish generation or a self-aware one. We realized that we wanted to stay single longer, focusing on more education or our careers while also continuing to enjoy late nights deep into our twenties. Compare that to our parents’ generation, when getting married and having children was a foregone conclusion by the age of twenty-five.
We were acutely aware that having children completely changes your life and since we wanted to be more involved in their lives, we knew that we couldn’t do it all while also advancing our careers:
“More and more young highly credentialed workers acknowledge that they can’t fulfill their responsibilities as husbands, wives, parents and friends while ascending through their organizations.”
Eventually, though, you slow down.
You begin to think about the future and, despite the great times you had, you wonder if it was worth all the money you spent. You study compound interest calculators and look for houses based on their proximity to certain school districts rather than certain restaurants.
It’s not just mental. The hangovers get worse, you pull muscles while doing routine things like sneezing, and it takes far longer to recover from a cold.
Even the new and exciting things become boring. An evening of Netflix sometimes sounds more appealing than a night of bar hopping. When you get together, the stories are the same ones you’ve been hearing for the past decade. Do you really need to hear them again?
In much the same way you hear your parents’ words coming out of your mouth, you become what you once abhorred, only you no longer remember why it terrified you so much.
The phone call was jarring. A routine checkup raised a flag. They ran some tests. They’re almost certain it’s cancer.
That makes three friends of mine from college that have been diagnosed in less than 18 months. Doesn’t that seem like a lot? I know I’m lucky to have a fairly wide circle of friends, but that seems abnormally high to me.
Maybe it’s the food we eat. Maybe it’s all that partying. Maybe it’s climate change. Maybe it’s all the crap that is in our atmosphere. Maybe it’s just happenstance.
Or maybe we’re just getting to that age. We’re in our mid-thirties. Forty — forty! — is approaching fast. Maybe it’s time to admit how old we really are.
We were so worried about growing up that we didn’t notice that we were actually growing old.