Grumpy Old(ish) Men on the Age at Which They Started to No Longer Give a Shit
In Season 4 of How I Met Your Mother, Ted makes something called The Murtaugh List to document all the shit he’s too old for, inspired by the parlance of the Danny Glover character in Lethal Weapon, Roger Murtaugh, who famously declares, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Murtaugh has just turned 50 in the film, and he’s talking about facing actual danger. But that hasn’t stopped the phrase from being a perfect encapsulation of the human phenomenon that is an age-based lack of caring.
In the HIMYM episode, here’s the shit Ted is “too old for”:
- Pulling an all-nighter
- Getting ear pierced
- Hanging posters without frames
- Crash on a friend’s futon
- Eating an entire pizza in one sitting
- Do laundry at mom’s house
- Put off going to the doctor
- Drinking shots with strangers
- Leave an annoying two-person message on your answering machine
- Help someone move out of a sixth floor walkup in exchange for pizza and beer
- Beer bong
- Going to a rave
Human Age-Based Non-Caring is one of the best things about getting older. It’s a magical transformation that occurs when one morning you just wake up, look around and realize you stopped giving a shit about a lot of things that used to stick in your craw.
Weirder still is that you don’t even really decide to stop giving a shit; it’s as if the universe or some invisible, genetically coded (old) hand flips a switch for you. You don’t really know when it will happen, and it can occur at any age.
That said, this built-in human downshift obviously has something to do with getting older, but it’s not clear what. In a piece at The Wall Street Journal, Clare Ansberry documents the age at which people start to feel legit old. Maybe your back gives out; maybe you notice you look more and more like your dad. While this is typically the sort of thing we associate with actually being old — like in your 50s or 60s — feeling old can happen when you’re not old, too. For instance, Ansberry speaks with a 31-year-old man named Matt McDermit who said when a Starbucks barista called him “sir,” he felt old. And when a student on the campus where he works in Pittsburgh joked that he could pass as her dad to get a free guest meal pass, he felt super old.
Contrast this with the recently passed Tom Petty, who at 66, said in a recent interview that he’d only just felt old for the first time in his life a few weeks ago. After Petty had a bout of laryngitis and was not feeling well, his longtime doctor actually had to check his records to remember the last time he had been sick. It was 17 years prior.
As we all know from living in a world where appearing 22 years old forever is the personal goal of millions, being old is one of the worst crimes a human can commit. Nothing old is cool, unless it’s vintage—but that applies to things and not people. “There is almost no way of saying ‘I feel old’ to mean ‘I feel great,’” psychologist Laura Carstensen of Stanford University tells Ansberry.
But the rest of the piece focuses on physical oldness (e.g., your body literally doesn’t work as well or look as good), or social oldness (e.g., you don’t know what “lit” means). Both are clearly viewed as bad. And research shows that simply feeling young, even when you’re the Crypt Keeper (an old reference), is actually good for longevity. “Subjective age predicts how long you live,” Carstensen tells the Journal.
This implies that even feeling old is never a good thing—and is as bad as being old in any other actual way.
At least one person in the story, however, contradicts this: Geriatrician Bill Thomas tells Ansberry that when he realized that his 15-year-old son was now much stronger than him, he had to stop thinking about his identity as tied to heft and a lot of physical strength. Instead, he shifted to focusing on his “emotional and intellectual strength,” insisting that feeling old isn’t bad per se, just complicated.
I’ve written about things women feel too old to give a shit about, and that list, unsurprisingly, focused overwhelmingly on no longer caring a lot about what people think of us, particularly how we look, and also no longer being able to muster up a lot of energy for relationships that are bad for us, because they’re one-sided or toxic.
But do men stop giving a shit about the same things as they got older, too?
For answers, I asked some.
One man in his early 40s says he’s too old for certain kinds of male friendships that are too much work. “I realize I don’t need them now,” he explains. He also says he’s too old for trying to make certain kinds of relationships work with women he thinks he’s supposed to want. “When I was younger, there was more of an idea of going for the popular girl or the cool girl,” he tells me. “I chased after people because other people liked them.”
Some of the other things I heard from the guys I spoke with:
- “Everyone liking me. I’ve lived in my own skin long enough to know that ain’t happening.”
- “Bar crawls. Can’t drink like that anymore.”
- “Preserving some personal brand by keeping quiet about ‘guilty pleasures,’ because now I can appreciate the level of artistry and work that goes into even ‘guilty pleasures.’”
- “Reading fiction — there’s more than enough drama and horror in real life for me to care about invented happenings.”
- “Adhering to the elitist mores of the indie-rock beau monde, and maintaining brand loyalty to the labels — Drag City, Merge, etc.”
- “Hip-hop anything, science fiction, Star Wars fantasy bullshit.”
- “Wearing my flip-flops in public. I do have pretty feet for a dude, but I’m going to stop feeling self-conscious about flip-flops. Sorry, everybody.”
- “I’m too old to worry about what anybody else thinks about me because: It’s probably not accurate; I’m never going to be able to change your mind; and at this point, it’s extremely unlikely that I’m going to undergo a complete (or even partial) personality change to try to suit you anyway. I’ve been practicing ME for so long that THAT cement is hardened and well cured by now. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize my shortcomings. Or that I don’t have a desire to improve or adjust. It simply means don’t count on it.”
- “Leaving the house.”
- “The Kardashians.”
- “Debating a person’s gender identity. You identify as however and I take your word for it. It seems pretty simple.”
- “Ranking pop culture.”
- “Authenticity in music.”
- “I give much less of a shit about other people’s life choices than I once did.”
What’s interesting here is that while much of this is status-related and not being beholden to caring about being cool enough or in-the-know enough for your peers (I know a lot of musicians, it seems), it’s interesting to see that men also care a lot about what other people think, and shedding that as a natural part of getting older is a good thing.
After all, I’d argue that not giving a shit, as it relates to oldness, is a positive reframing of aging that places the emphasis on your emotional or intellectual strength when the physical strength starts to wane. Realizing it’s okay not to care is obviously great at any age, but seeing it as a particularly awesome perk of getting older makes getting older seem pretty a-okay.
Care not, dudes.
Tracy Moore is a staff writer at MEL. She last wrote about why guys get funny tattoos on their asses.
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