The Problem With Age


If I may say so at an age which is not yet advanced: the problem with age is not the ageing. It is the perception of ageing – the retrograde societal expectations that you will, at some point, choose to deny your age; the vagaries and surgical suggestions; the need to define and compare oneself professionally using two (or three, if you’re really lucky) numerical figures – that is the problem.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that much of my angst stems from age and the passing of time. Not in the most literal sense – though it was vexing that the prawn sandwich I took a bite out of on Sunday turned out to be 3 days past it’s sell-by date – but in its connotations. Why, for example, can I have children aged 16 but still not be able to buy alcohol in Sainsbury’s? This scenario happened just last weekend, after a two hour trawl ahead of a hen weekend. Spent, from the aisle-crawling and with enough alcohol to sink 19 ladies-wot-lash, the cashier refused to serve me, because I didn’t have my driving license (lost it guv’nor, I’m careless, what can I say.) My friend proffered her own, to which the response was, “you’re buying it for her, on her behalf.”

The ladies doth protest too much. “We’re 28! We’re department heads/ editors! How can we look 21?” The cashier whipped out her trump card, with combative brows and a demonic smirk. “It’s 25. You have to prove that you’re over 25.” We lost. She won. What is with the ever-shifting alcohol laws? How does it make sense that you have to prove that you are over 25, when you can drink at 21 – and how redundant a law is that, when you consider the years that an individual could have been married, with children and capable of making all sorts of mature decisions, like oh, I dunno, who runs the country — but not how much alcohol they should sensibly imbibe.

It’s so strange to be unable to purchase a bottle of on-offer-rosé whilst simultaneously feeling old – in media and technological circs, at least. I could be a multi-millionaire app-creator, and still I wouldn’t be able to buy sub-par plonk for another seven years.

I’m at ‘an age’ where change is happening both to me and around me, very rapidly. In just a few short years people are getting married, having babies, acquiring mortgages and joint credit cards and pets that are in no way affiliated to their parents (yes, I know this happens earlier in some circs. This is just my norm.) I constantly wonder if I ‘feel’ my age. Much of the time I worry I feel older than it. I’m tired; should I be tired? I’m wrinkled; should I be wrinkled? One of the most lauded compliments is “you don’t look your age”. On the flip side, teenagers are now having plastic surgery, before the age of 18. Let’s consider that; you can have your lips inflated aged 17, but you can’t buy alcohol for another eight years? That’s fucked up.

We live our lives by milestones attached to age. We may think we have come a long way since the Austenian concept of being at ‘marriageable age’ but really, we’re still just as bad. People genuinely think it’s acceptable to ask people over a certain age why they are single. As if they may have made a grand gesture to remain unattached, instead of not finding someone right for them, at society’s ‘marriageable age’ (I am well aware some people choose to remain single, but it’s rare in comparison to those who have not found someone worthy of spending their life, or at least a portion of their life, with.) And why, on that note, is every marriage that does not last a lifetime – according to certain tabloids – deemed a failure? Despite spending an age with a loved one – five years or fifteen years, that is still, unquestionably, ‘an age’ – if you are not with them for your entire age of being, that somehow calls into question the veracity of your romance. It cannot have been ‘whole’ in order to end; it must have ‘failed’ to last only one of your life epochs. We are alive for an awfully long time. Who dictated we must live one age; why can we not live several?

When I got my job at The Sunday Times Style, a job I am lucky to have – although as the adage goes, the harder I work, the luckier I am – several people commented on the fact that it was a good job “for [my] age”. As if that had anything to do with my competency. I met a stylist last year who started styling very very young; she was booked on the strength of her work, but often had her bookings cancelled when the client realised how old she was. What did they think she would do; turn up on set with a bottle and piss her pants?

I am at one of life’s turning points, by conventional standards. Wombs go on loan, lives become enmeshed financially and lawfully. I feel simulatenously old (by Bieber standards) and young, in terms of what I have to learn and how much I hope to achieve. Oh it’s all so very pensive, I know, I know, but I imagine I’m not the only person who feels confuddled by the perception of their age by others, by society, by their own self.

I get all sorts of self-loathing when I realise that I lambast myself by the very parameters that I rail against. I’m always keen to hear of someone’s age, so that I may measure myself up against them and often feel short. Why haven’t I done vs. what they have. What was I doing with my teenage years, if not writing a novella and starting a business? I am more tired than I ever remember being, but perhaps that is not because I am 28 years old. Perhaps that is because I am continually taunting myself with those years that I have lived instead focusing on the ones ahead of me. Time to throw it all up in the air, forget the maths and, perhaps, get myself a new driving license.

Ph. by Claire van Leeuwen via pixgood

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