Monday, 13 December 2010

Age of Anxiety

The other day a young friend contacted me over Skype because her friend was freaking and wanted my advice. Rarely do I give advice over Skype, but I've known my young friend for years, and it was not a complex situation. Indeed, the situation was even simpler than it sounded at first because the real problem was that the friend of my friend was 25 and having "I'm 25" wobbles. It seems worthwhile to write on 25 again.

It was incredibly dumb of society to arbitrarily make 25 the age at which youth ends or something. This has nothing to do with present generations. Let me quote to you from An Infamous Army (1937) by celebrated romance novelist Georgette Heyer:

Lady Barbara Childe was no longer in the first flush of her youth. She was twenty-five years old and had been three years a widow.

If Lady Barbara Childe was no longer in the first flush of her youth, I must have a foot firmly planted in the grave. Of course, Lady Barbara was in her second flush (or whatever) at the Battle of Waterloo, and I suppose back then I might have already been in my grave at 39, what with the short lifespan of women until someone came up with the brilliant idea of doctors washing their hands.

Anyway, today 25 is young. I agree (in hindsight) that at 25 you should be out of school and into work, or at least well advanced on your useful (e.g. dentistry) post-graduate studies, but in terms of marriage-and-babies 25 is still young. As far as I can tell the only (and I mean only) age any woman who likes children needs to worry about is age 35, for that is the year fertility specialists currently say your fertility drops off. But, of course, God's actions are not limited by the opinions of fertility specialists so, girls, feel free not to settle for Mr. Just Okay when you are 34.

Men, of course, do not need to worry quite so much about their fertility dropping off, but it is a sad fact of life that most young women do not fancy balding men, so don't think your rugged good looks will continue to attract 25 year olds for the rest of your life. When you are 30 or so, even if you are incandescently beautiful, young women will begin to say "Yes, but he still doesn't know what he wants to do for a living." And you will see your less good-looking, more mature pals marrying marvellous women of all ages. Don't you settle, either, but don't think men can put off adulthood forever without severe consequences.

The most helpful thing I ever read about age was an article by a journalist who was always ashamed of how old she looked. Decade by decade, she compared photos of her current appearance to photos of her more youthful appearance. And then one day, she was struck by something. While looking at a beautiful picture of herself in her 30s, she realized that when that photo was taken, she was hating herself for looking so old. And she realized that when she was 70, looking at photos of her current, 40-something, self, she would think how beautiful she had looked. In short, it was all relative, and she stopped worrying about it.

The aristocratic heroine of Turnip Tops (1929) by Ethel Boileau, notes that men now look at her beautiful daughter Veronica in the way they used to look at her. This obviously makes her sad, and she feels older than the hills. Veronica Mallory, described as the most sophisticated, although physically virginal, of the Jazz Age generation, is only 19, and her older brother is about 22, so Mrs. Mallory is probably 45, tops. Now I never had a glorious, Country-Life-Model, beauty to lose, which is perhaps why I feel much better about getting on in years than Boileau's heroine. Also, this is 2010, and health care is immeasureably better. All the same, I think Mrs Mallory was rather silly.

Anyway, there is no real point in worrying about turning this age or that. It happens, of course, and people feel real grief over turning 25, 30, 40 and (I believe) 60. But this grief is not very logical. The alternative to turning 40 is dying before 40, and personally I don't feel I am done with living yet.

The way to cope with Bad Birthdays, I have held since shortly before I turned 30, is to have as big a birthday bash as you can afford and tell all and sundry how old you are, so that they can, truthfully or merely politely, tell you you don't look it. You should be left with memories of a great night.

I simply cannot remember what I did for my 25th birthday, but for my 30th, I organized a big birthday dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in town (and everyone insisted on paying on their own dinner AND mine) with cake in my tiny bedsitter afterwards. It was a marvellous party, and not only did it help me turn 30, it helped my one-year-younger brother rethink his dread of turning 30.


Julie said...

Perfect timing, I'm turning 25 next week exactly. I've had several big career developments lately and now it's all starting to feel like a fresh beginning although I don't know that anyone else would see it that way.

dark but fair said...

YAY Seraphic!
Thank you for posting again on this! I have always thought of 25 as young. For that matter, I think that 45 is young. In fact, anything under 60 is young. Once one is past sixty then one may boast about being mature.

I am 25 myself, and my birthday was in October. I was excited! When I was growing up, I was morbidly suspicious that I would die very young and was trying to resign myself to the fact. So I sang out on my birthday, "WOW! I made it all the way to 25! YAY!"

If I am still alive it means that God is still accomplishing His plan for my life, and I am here for a purpose. Any woman who makes it to X number of years is on earth, partaking in the great, dangerous adventure of life for a reason. I think that is a great reason to celebrate.

About all "Mrs. Mallory"s, I think that all women are or at least could potentially be beautiful (i.e. if they smiled, were kind, truthful, and courageous).
I wish they could see in themselves what I see in them. Some of the loveliest mature ladies I know have a peaceful confidence and the sort of beauty that can never be lost. The few ladies that I have seen past their seventies who have disfigured themselves with monstrously over-done make-up are the ones who were famous for their "beauty" in their youth, and were trying desperately to hold on to that image. It was sad to see. If God sees fit to give me the great gift of a long life, I do not want to be unhappy like that. I do not think any woman should be reduced to that.

Thanks again for a great post!

theobromophile said...

Lovely post!

One of my friends celebrated her 30th birthday by renting out space in an indoor playground. She made goody bags for everyone, handed out paper hats, and had a huge, sugary cake.

My aunt is almost 70, but is still a beautiful woman (as was my grandmother at that age). Apparently, wheat germ, fruits, vitamins, and regular exercise pay off over the years. :) In fact, that's the good news for women: we can't really do much about how we look in our 20s, but we can do a lot about how we look in our 50s, 60s, and 70s.

At age 45, I would hope that I would feel like I had my fun, and not be the female version of some guy who is still looking for one-night stands with 25-year-olds. (Note to self: age gracefully.) My romantic soul would also like for one man to look at me with that special glint in his eyes, and if the rest of the 3 billion of 'em on the planet would rather check out 20-year-olds, let them.

Maybe I had a nicer body and brighter skin when I was 20, but I was sick all the time (in and out of hospitals), and I was far too wide-eyed and naive when it came to men, who treated me like garbage. I wouldn't go back. Give me the fine lines that are starting to show up instead, please!

Nekeisha said...

I turned 31 last month, I spent the weekend at a retreat, and on the final day Sunday (my birthday) I had a lot of people ask me if I was lying about my age, very good for the old ego. People came up to me asking me if I meant 21.

Susie said...

I also turned 25 this year, and I'll admit I wasn't looking forward to it - not only for the obvious reason, but especially because I was far away from my family and closest friends. It didn't turn out to be as bad a day as I was expecting, but it would have been nice to celebrate with the people I love most in the world.

I'm pretty confident that my next birthday won't be so bad, since I'll be done with graduate school and (theoretically) a bit more settled with a job, hopefully around my friends and family. Regardless of who else I do or don't have in my life, I'm so lucky to have them.

You know, it's weird the effect that a silly little number can have on our psyches. A family acquaintance is getting married in a few weeks, and she's only 20 or 21. Although her getting married has absolutely nothing to do with my being single, I'll admit that I had something of a less-than-joyful initial reaction when I found out she was engaged (as if the fact that I have 4-5 years on her means she has no right to be getting married before I do! Silly me for even letting that thought enter my head). I just seem to be blessed with a number of people in my life who are married before they're 22. :)

The Crescat said...

I am positively ancient in the realm of dating... nothing can make you feel this sting more profoundly than being dumped for a girl 10 years your junior. Men in their 40's want women in the upper 20's, as do men in their 30's. I am not ready to date men in their 50's... my dad is only 55! Creepy.

I know... I know. Stay positive.

Seraphic said...

I think I would have cried if any of my brothers or sisters married before they were 22.

People are different, of course. If you've finished your education, and you've got yourself a good job, and you're ready to face the realities of adult life, then I suppose there is nothing wrong with getting married that young.

Nekeisha said...

Crescat I hear you, my mother is 49. I do not want to date anyone closer in age to her than to me but I get the look when I refuse to date anyone more than 4 or 5 years older than I am.

Seraphic said...

I know handsome 50 year olds, but then I am 39, so that is not really such a big gap. Possibly y'all would not find them handsome. How old is George Clooney, eh?

Meanwhile, I would always make an exception for smokin' hot. Surely you could date some older guy if he were smokin' hot? I mean, we're talking smokin' hot here.

theobromophile said...

Surely you could date some older guy if he were smokin' hot? I mean, we're talking smokin' hot here.

ROFL. Love it!

May I also remind you that the good thing about dating a middle-aged man is that you know what he's going to look like as he ages? I mean, there are plenty of young hotties who grow old and get terribly out of shape, but if he's 40, with a full head of dark hair and a lean body, you know that he'll stay that way.

That said, some men will only date (or marry) younger women, and that's just creepy.

Christine said...

I'm 25, too! [Mostly] loving it! :-)