In DESIGNS FOR LIVING, columnist Marlowe Granados dispenses sound advice in a noisy world. Send your rants and pleas to [email protected] for Marlowe’s consideration.
How to get over the existential crisis of aging?
Dear Age Anxiety,
This succinct question came to my inbox, and I wrote back asking you to expand, but I have, unfortunately, been left on read. This crisis is something I think about constantly. With each birthday that passes I’m reminded that I feel firmly about never wanting to trade places with any of my younger selves. Most young people I know are wound up from always trying to be taken seriously, not knowing who they are, caring about what other people think, and frankly, feeling so much. There is a certain aspect of getting older that allows you to just let your hair down. Some things get easier to handle: life may throw you curveballs, but you’re almost certainly better equipped to deal with them than five years prior (I think this is a standard for almost anything).
When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted to be older. I hated the trap of precocity because it carried an expiration date while disguising itself as valuable. Why capitalize on your age when you’re always getting older? Personally, I don’t believe in “thirty under thirty” lists and find them nefarious for both the ones that get chosen for the title, and those that measure their success against them. When you finally break out of that mindset you can truly see how ridiculous it all is. Capitalism is nourished by the idea that we must take the finite number of years between graduating and turning thirty to achieve the most you possibly can, with little to no regard for your personal well-being.
Aging is terrifying for most people because it comes with the realization that you are shifting from the center of attention. The media, trends, etc., no longer cater to you. I think there are three ways to handle this: completely lose touch, desperately hang on, or gently observe from afar while offering whatever wisdom you’ve collected to those younger than you. Losing touch is dangerous, as evidenced by any random sampling of Gen X or Baby Boomers. Desperately hanging on should be reserved for those forty-year-old skaters who skulk around curated dive bars; for everyone else it can feel kind of ghastly. So my preferred choice is the latter of those options. I would add that an important factor in aging elegantly is allowing grace for those younger than you. Generational rifts are too predictable to get swept up in—I have a suspicion that most of the alleged rifts between Millennials and Gen Z are manufactured for engagement. We should instead be more concerned with the fact that young people’s opinions are being deformed by little-understood algorithms designed by lawless tech giants!
Every young person is beautiful, but so few of them have Character with a capital C. It’s something you build over time—and away from screens. I think that’s one reason why Hollywood is desperately wheeling George Clooney and Julia Roberts out for a last-ditch effort at a rom com with an inkling of sparkle. Developing Character is like building a house according to your personal taste: it should be an exciting venture to understand what you love, hate, and are willing to allow. Surprisingly, what you’re willing to let slide is often what defines your character the most. Socially, I am considered a little difficult simply because I refuse to engage with people I perceive as morally bankrupt. So sue me. I no longer hesitate to come to someone with evidence of their own bad behavior. For me, that’s normal. For others it’s dramatic, gossipy, busy-bodyish. Part of my own aging process is being able to take those opinions on the chin, justify myself, and then shrug them off. A lot of Character is having principles and sticking to them. Once you get to a certain age, you simply have the confidence to be brave enough to do so.
Another obstacle people find difficult to parse is really owning up to yourself and your bad habits. Self-interrogation is a constant process of getting older. If you sit back, you’re bound to fall in with the same mistakes your younger self was comfortable making. As Anaïs Nin writes on the preoccupations of D.H. Lawrence: “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” Both Nin and Lawrence were proponents of a kind of emotional dexterity in life. You should always be pushing forward, outward.
Recently, I’ve been talking to plenty of friends in their mid-thirties who are suddenly pivoting to completely different lives. It’s astonishing, marvelous, and takes so much grit! My one friend who has worked in fashion her whole life is now becoming a botanist. Further proof that whatever decisions you make now are not the be-all and end-all. There is always room for adjustment, no matter the time frame. There is a schmaltzy quote I’ve seen on cosmetic procedure websites, attributed to Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, that seems appropriate here: “Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” You must laugh at the way a plastic surgeon might use this quote to peddle Botox injections, but it feels true. So finally, I don’t know whether you can get over a crisis in aging, but preparing for the inevitable is a start.