I’m convinced it’s entirely psychological: When I turned 25, I thought that was pretty much it. I hadn’t become a world-famous superhero, and now that I was too old, I’d probably never make anything of myself at all. Oddly, now that I’m 35, I have a much greater sense of potential and the time ahead of me than I did when the time ahead of me was a decade longer. I don’t feel nearly as old now as I did then. One of my closest friends, who is in her late 50s, has recently started up a new life as a world traveler, and she’s talking about what sort of education and career she’d like to pursue now that her children are all out of the house. I don’t think she’s even aware of her age, or if she is, she certainly doesn’t let on. For her, life is just beginning.
I’m not sure why it is that we get certain ideas and stereotypes about age in our heads, but based on what I’ve seen in my own travels, I think a lot of it has to do with the expectations of the people around us, and limitations implied to us by those who are older than we are. I’m currently living in western Asia, and a few months ago when I went to the doctor, I was sitting in the reception area, casually reading the posters on the bulletin board while I waited to be called. One of the posters was an advertisement for some kind of vitamin supplement, one that was intended “for older mothers.” As I continued reading, the poster went on to describe older mothers as “women over the age of 22.”
My jaw dropped in shock, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense in context. It is still quite common here for a woman to get married young (or rather, what I perceive as young, given my upbringing). Often they do it because they know their mothers did it, and they feel that societal expectation to conform. Also, for girls whose chief goal it is to be a wife and mother, they don’t see any reason to wait, which is fair enough if that’s what you want to do. The fact that I’m 35 and still unmarried, with no kids, alarms them. They ask me if I need the number of a good fertility doctor to help me with my “problem.” Sometimes they even ask if I’m lesbian. When I tell them that I am in this unmarried, child-free situation by choice, they look at me as if perhaps they should have given me the number of a psychiatrist instead.
It doesn’t annoy me, though, because my perspective on age must be as strange to them as theirs is to me. They feel like all the best years are between 15 and 30, and after that it’s pretty much downhill. I, on the other hand, feel my own life didn’t even really get off to a good start until after I was 30, although I’ll admit that when I was in my late teens, I felt pressure from family and teachers to get straight on the career track so that I could get that out of the way while I was still young.
I’m not sure if this is something that gradually shifts and evolves over time within each society, or if it’s down to the upbringing and environment of the individual, but I certainly feel a change within my own thinking as I get older. People think youngsters delude themselves that they have all the time in the world, but quite the opposite was true for me. When I was very young, I felt a lot of pressure to get everything done right this second. Now that I’m a little bit older and wiser, the whole age thing has really opened up for me, and I don’t really think of it as something that defines me or limits me. In fact, as some others around me obsess about their advancing years, I’m getting to the point where I rarely think about it. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: age, after all, is just a number.