It’s fairly human to not appreciate your youth until it’s gone. I’ve never met a five year-old who says, “Wow, I’m so thankful to be young and taken care of. This is the time of my life! Y’all other ages ain’t sh*t! High five! Get it, ’cause I’m 5?” No, the five year-old wants to be the twelve year-old, who wants to be the 18 year-old, who wants to be the 21 year-old, who is confused and puking on his/her shirt.
By the time many of us reach our mid-20s we realize we’ve burned our youth and then we start the stupid “I’m old!” speech. I admit, I’ve done it throughout my 20s, and it’s annoying to anyone older who hears it. Because the 20s are still young. In this country, at least. The median age of the world is 29– that is, about half of all people are over 29 years old. But for the US, it’s 37 (we love our oldies). Compare that with the Gaza Strip, where it’s 18, or Uganda’s 15 (yikes). So, sure, there are hundreds of countries where us 20-somethings would be dead by now, which in that sense makes us kinda old. But here in the land of social security (for now lol), you ain’t “old” until you reach 38.
I’m currently in the last month of my 20’s, a decade which I spent changing my mind about almost everything. They say you spend the 20’s figuring yourself out, though I think that’s a lifelong process. That, in fact, we never find out who we are, and at some point we just settle into a sense of pretending that we do and we create a routine accordingly, for convenience’s sake. And the 20s happen to be the time where a lot of us sift through all the options of what we could settle into. My grandpa, for instance, only eats ice cream if it’s vanilla with chocolate sauce on it. You offer him cookies ‘n cream, he slaps it out of your hand. He says it’s because he’s been like that for as long as he can remember. Though back in the day there weren’t as many flavors or styles of cold dessert. If in his 20s he had lived next door to a Yogurtland, he’d probably be more open to variety. I wonder if the old people that my generation yields in 30 years will be more open to variety in all aspects of life. We grew up in the era of globalization, where we can have anything we want at any time (given we have money), and we are told we could be anything we want to be by our parents (given they have money). Or maybe we will also choose one flavor. Cause that’s what old people do?
What I’m saying is that I think there’s a fine line between getting old and thinking you know who you are… Thinking that you’ve seen it all, that you know what you like, and that there’s no changing that. Not saying there’s anything wrong with this. Hell, it makes life more convenient. Like Nietzsche said: freedom creates anxiety. Too many options can be overwhelming. Maybe if I just ate vanilla ice cream every day, my life would be simpler, and I’d be able to appreciate the little things and be happier. But I’m still a 29 year-old sh*thead living in a time when being a sh*thead is embraced in pop culture. For example, our pop music is targeted to and created by the youth. Listen to the Top 20 (ironic that it’s 20 and not 30?) and tell me that the lyrics have been written by mature, intelligent people in their 30s and 40s, shedding wisdom and life experience. Sure, some of the music producers and writers are over 30, but they are filthy rich and have none of the responsibilities and worries of their 30-something peers. And they’re writing music at the high school level. And they probably do cocaine.
We live in a time where youth has more power than ever. And it’s driving all the subsequent ages into acting younger as well. The saying that “30 is the new 20” is pretty right on, and it can be further extrapolated to “60 is the new 40” to “90 is the new 60” to “120 is the new 80,” and thus “death is the new life.” Yeah, people on the other side are probably saying “death is the new life” to make themselves feel younger and more alive. But they are dead.
Meanwhile, all the 20-somethings are acting like kids again. Stats show that 40% of us move back home with our parents at least once in our 20s, with 20% of men in their 20s still living with their folks, and 10% of females (more independent? Or they found a dude’s house to crash at?). 2/3rds of us spend time living with a romantic partner– I’ve failed this one, unless you consider my relationship with my parents romantic. Sometimes it does feel that way. It’s also said that we go through an average of seven jobs in our 20s, which isn’t true for me, but it’s about the number of times I wanted to quit comedy and change careers, so it makes sense. My job is like an abusive partner that won’t let me leave.
We also go through way more romantic partners nowadays than we used to, which has pushed marriage back. In the 1970s, the U.S. median age for marriage was 22, and now it’s 27. But back then, life expectancy was 70 and now it’s 80. So we’ve traded five single young years for ten old shackled years? Sounds about right. As life expectancy continues to rise (until overpopulation and climate change begin to kill us and our children), marriage becomes a bigger commitment. Since, back in the day, you’d get married at 20, die at 40. A quick 20-year investment. Now it’s like 50+ years! Even worse if you’re healthy and have good genes. Yikes. Often people think they’ve figured out who they are, they get married, and then realize they haven’t. Hence, the prevalence of divorce. So if you are set on marrying in your 20s, you gotta figure yourself out fast (aka slut it up in the early 20s), or more realistically, find a partner who is amenable to the both of you figuring yourselves together out over the years.
I’m not saying confusion is the one mark of young people, since old people get confused too, and it’s often worse. (“Is it Monday?” “Where are my pants?” etc.) But in today’s society, younger people are given the space and permission to figure themselves out. Whereas those in their 30s, 40s, and on are told that they are grown-ass adults and need to put the pipe down. Subscribe to whatever school of thought you want, but I will say that if you are the type of person who thinks they know themselves to a T, you will continually be disproved. You don’t know sh*t. No one does. So take this essay with a grain of salt, because what do I know?
As I end my 20s in these next few weeks, I don’t feel any extra pressure to “live it up.” I have the rest of my life for that. That’s what keeps me feeling young, knowing that there’s no rush. When you create the rush, you age faster. “But by 30 I need to have a husband, kids, house, dog, 401k, and back problems!” Go for it. Die at your own rate. Like the late Aliyyah said: “Age ain’t nothin’ but a numba.” She would have turned 35 last week, and probably still looked 21. Of course, black don’t crack, but also note that brown don’t frown, yellow keeps like jello, and white… Stay out of the sun.
The moral of the story is: if you think you’re old… You are! It took me my whole 20s to realize that I’ll never be old, as long as I make a vow to keep discovering myself, and my world, at every age. And also to surround myself with people who are older than me so I feel youthful by default. Yes, that’s the key to youth, using the oldness of others to feel great. That’s why I’ll never go to Uganda. Not enough retirement communities to hang out at. But in Florida… I’m forever young.