Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Humanity of the Middle-Aged

The other day a friend confessed that the big 7-0 was looming.

"But I thought you just got your bus pass!" I cried.

"Hmph!" chuckled the 69 year old. "That was some years ago. But now I understand what my father used to say: 'I may be old, but I'm still a young man'--he thumped his chest--'in here!'"


"I am actually very young for my age," I was telling Temporary Pretend Polish Daughter in the kitchen. TPPD has one of those delightfully open, honest, readable faces, and--alas!--what flashed across it was doubt and confusion.

"I mean, I still go to clubs," I said defensively.

Yeah, like once a year.


One thing the young must understand about the middle-aged is that we don't think we are old. The 25 year old and the 29 year old probably "feel older" than your average middle-aged person, especially one without children to remind them constantly that the years have flown by. When I was at theology school as a thirty-something, hanging out with my 20-something girlfriends, I "felt old" only during that deplorable adventure of the Polish-Canadian 22 year old who asked for my phone number at that club and then spent our one and only date trying to trap me into saying how old I was. Theology school was full of thirty-something male religious and retired people, so I felt pretty ageless most of the time.

If I had been a guy, I would have been asking out my female friends, for sure. (I once hurt E's feelings by saying I'd probably have gone for Lily. "Why not me?" wailed E. You had to be there.) It would not have occurred to me that 24 year old Lily might not have been at all interested in thirty-four year old me. After all, back then we all thought I would become a Top Theology Professor, and therefore a catch. And also, lots of girls date people ten years their senior. I have.

But who knows what kind of thirty-four year old guy I would have made, eh? Hopefully I would have been a laid-back, super-fun, thirty-four year old with excellent listening skills. But maybe I would have been an overbearing, listen-to-me-little-lady Mr Bargle.

I have noticed that the American young, in particular, seem to draw very firm lines between themselves and anyone they perceive as "old" as if the "old", instead of being the people with influence, jobs, contacts, money, spare rooms, and a wealth of life knowledge, were slightly dirty. Old people are supposed to be over THERE, behind the wall of deference. There's a reason why, in the Anglosphere, being called "Ma'am" or "Sir" for the first time feels bad instead of good: you've been expelled from the Land of the Young.

This firm division is, thank heavens, not so obvious in Europe, especially on the Continent. Young, middle-aged and old can be real friends, and nobody thinks it is weird, or that middle-aged people who enjoy the company of the young are next-door to paedophiles.

I will admit, however, that we middle-aged types do have our faults:

First and foremost, we are usually not as sexually attractive as twenty-somethings. Some of us are but most of us are not, and the men among us very often don't know that. It's just too painful for them to consider, and besides, women their own age usually don't mind. We certainly don't tell them.

Second, we have a lot more confidence than the average twenty-somethings, and therefore we can come across as overbearing. Sometimes, in fact, we ARE overhearing. I am sure I would be overbearing myself, if I didn't make an effort not to be.

Third, we do not have children, it may be a long time before we get that we are called to be Mothers and Fathers. But never then, it is hard to think of oneself as the mother or father of someone who is fewer than 15 years younger than ourselves.

In conclusion--for I must run away to Pilates class now--when older men want to talk to you at Singles gatherings, they may be ugly, and they may be boring, and they may be overbearing, but they are not breaking some cosmic law that says no man over thirty should ever talk to a woman under thirty. There is no such law. But this is another situation that divides the women from the girls, and the ladies from the wimmin. Instead of wishing desperately that this perverted oldster would go away, you must stand up to him and engage him in conversion, even if that conversation is, "You realize you're repeating yourself?" or "I think we're supposed to circulate. Bye!" For he is not a perverted oldster, he is your social equal. If you are over 18, you are no longer a child, and welcome to adult life, Ma'am.

Update: I'm back from Pilates and now I weigh one-hundred-and-thirty-three pounds, thanks to the Fast Diet. As I am only 5'2", I will attempt to get down to one-hundred-and-twenty-three pounds before going to Stage 2. I really love Pilates, and it occurs to me that maybe if I can stretch out my spine enough, I can grow a bit taller. Can this happen? Who can tell me?

Anyway, I thought I should add that despite my yells of "Woman up!" I realize that it is easier for a 28 year old young lady to woman up than an 18 year old young lady, which is why the 28 year olds (and up) should keep a eye on the 18 year olds and make sure they are not being backed into corners by Mr Bargle. The poor 18 year old is used to calling men Mr Bargle's age "Sir" or "Dad", and may be having problems transitioning to "I think we're supposed to circulate" or "I have no idea what you are talking about" or "I completely disagree" or "I have no interest in [X] whatsoever." It would be a great kindness if you rescued her. If you have any influence over the young men around, you might be able to send them on this mission of mercy. However, if this is a man who thinks that Mr Bargle is a fantastic chap any girl should be happy to talk to, you will have to do it yourself. Think of some excuse. One I like best is, "Forgive me if I whisk this young lady away to help me in the kitchen."

Update 2: Another thing you can do to discourage Mr Bargle, should you choose, is to ask him flat out how old he is. For example, if Mr Bargle actually asks you out, you can ask then. And if Mr Bargle asks if that is important, you should say yes, since you want to date only men your age. And if Mr Bargle, being 40 or whatever, asks you how old you are, throw in the word only, e.g. "I'm only 25." Mr Bargle may then say something mean because he feels mortally offended that unlike George Clooney he can't get 25 year old chicks. Smile, say you're sorry he thinks that, and walk away.


Julia said...

You go to a club once a year? Well, I never do, and I'm nearly 20 years younger than you are, so you're cooler than I am!

I have a few friends who are about ten years older than me. I don't notice the age difference, probably because these friends are all unmarried and childless and so lead lives similar to mine.

Seraphic said...

Yep. At the end of the day, Single, childless people of 40 have more in common with Single, childless people of 24, so there's a reason the Single childless 40 year olds want to hang out with the 20-somethings: all the other 40 somethings are busy. In fact, after work hours they are invisible.

At my last Sunday Lunch, there were 14 people, ranging in ages from 24 to 69. Only two of us were married (to each other), and none of us had children.

Sally said...

My best friend is thirty-one years older than I am, and we've often talked about how he felt older when he was my age (28) than he does now. I'm looking forward to my thirties, but also not looking forward to my thirties.

Seraphic said...

My thirties were great: more money, more confidence, nest eggs hatching. Meanwhile, you don't start falling apart until 40, and if you plan ahead, you can slow the aging process right down!

Oh. But fertility takes a nosedive around thirty-five, of course. There is that, and it sucks--- unless you have all the children you want by then, of course.

Jessica said...

We've started a young adults group at my parish, which is a block away from a large state university, so the parish is also the home base for campus ministry. Apparently there are a bunch of recent grads who don't want to come to the young adult group because they think that we're too old for them. I can see why they might not want to keep hanging out at the same place where they spent their four years of undergrad but...the "you're too old for us" thing is annoying. (For what it's worth, we have people from 22 - late 30s attending, with the majority in their late 20s. There's a pretty good mix of single, dating, engaged, and married in the group, but not really any parents.)

Part of me really wants to give a talk at the senior retreat and be like, "Hey kids, starting next year, wherever you end up, you should FIND A PARISH and PARTICIPATE IN THE COMMUNITY, such as it is, without making arbitrary rules about how old your friends can be." But I'm sure there's probably a better way of convincing them.

Seraphic said...

Actually, that sounds pretty good to me. Maybe you could have a talk about arbitrary age divisions. Ask them if they would be friends with anyone over 25, and if not, why not?

It's sad because these grads are robbing themselves of a great social opportunity and also an opportunity to meet people who have had a wealth of experience in applying for grad school or building careers. I can see a 22 year old wondering what they might have in common with someone his dad's age, but it is pretty ridiculous to turn up one's nose at a 28 year old. I mean, come ON.

Meanwhile, older people tend to like younger people, if the younger people aren't rude, snobbish or self-absorbed.

Sheila said...

22-year-olds are freshman adults. Give them a year or two in the workplace and they'll realize age doesn't actually matter anymore.

Except that some Baby Boomers don't respect people under 30. That is unfortunate, and it's got my husband wanting to put gray in his hair because he looks about 19. There are some real perks to getting older, and one of them is that people assume you know what you're doing, whereas when you're young they feel like they have to tell you what THEY think you should be doing.

Or go read one of the zillions of nasty articles about millennials, and you'll see what I mean. I always want to scream, "We are not LAZY! We are CHRONICALLY UNDEREMPLOYED! There is a difference!"

But luckily most of our own acquaintances don't act that way at all. The only weird part is that I still live in the town I went to college, and people whom I used to address as Professor now want to be my Facebook friend and get together socially. I don't mind it (I feel honored) but I just have a really hard time feeling like an equal with someone who taught me Old Testament! Meanwhile people younger than me, whose kids are older than mine, are now no longer in my "age group." It's about life stages, not age anymore.

MaryJane said...

I completely agree with the idea that there is an American prejudice against age. I never would have even seen it were it not for spending time in Europe with friends of various ages. (No doubt, should some of them choose to visit me in America in the future, someone will think I'm either completely immature or a borderline creep.)

That said, I've noticed certain situations bring out the age differential much more clearly - as you pointed out, particularly situations with men. The young things really can't handle it as well, and bless them, why should they? They've no experience whatsoever. I find myself exasperated at their twittering/giggling/screeching only to remember some phrase about what karma is, because certainly I was very foolish about the opposite sex when I was young.

Anonymous said...

Sheila: YES! I absolutely flip out over the millennial articles. I'm not American, but I have friends who are and have had a terrible time finding job after they graduated. Yes, one is 27 and working in a coffee shop part time. But, she has another part time job and she can't find full time work (she's been trying for years now). This is a friend who did everything "right": volunteered and studied like crazy during highschool to get scholarships, went to a good university, worked really hard at university, lived frugally and now she's making only a little over minimum wage.

But, it is true that when you graduate from highschool or even university age does seem important. People grow out of it though.

sciencegirl said...

I think some grads find it hard to transition to parish life because it involves going from leaders who are taken very seriously to being the most junior of the newcomers, who are treated kindly and decently. Any college student who shows up to the Newman Center regularly gets enlisted to some sort of service or leadership role, and those who love organizing really take to it. They plan retreats, manage large budgets, organize events, recruit bodies for pro-life work, etc. Every sermon preached references something about their actual lives -- being away from home, drinking, worrying about grades, getting jobs. Almost every sermon at the local parish is either unconnected to current life or is about Raising Kids or Being Nice to Your Spouse, and possibly about tragic events in the news. These are important sermons, but come on! Imagine if every sermon at your parish became about grades and barhopping; you'd start to feel you were in the wrong place. I have yet to hear a single sermon on the difficulty of getting jobs (this at a time when unemployment is so high) or of missing extended family (when the American workforce is more mobile than ever) or of loneliness (something 3 year olds to 93 year olds deal with).

A parish can feel so gigantic and indifferent, and it can be a confusing transition. Some older people act like a nice relative or teacher, and some ask you out. That's adult life, but it's weird.

I was lucky because I joined a parish in Europe my first year out of college, and then had a big culture shock going back to the USA. I ended up being involved with the grad students at the Newman Center. Otherwise, I would just go to Mass. Until I hit 30, I didn't see where I fit in a parish in the USA. And now, every time I go to a parish event alone, people act so impressed that I drove myself here and showed up to eat some cookies with my fellow Catholics BY MYSELF. WITHOUT MY FAMILY. I know, it does take some guts to walk into a place as a stranger, but it was something I used to do all the time without comment when I was a college student.

MaryJane said...

Sciencegirl: that is very interesting - I've been blessed to have good homilies about the gospel at most of the parishes I've attended, but when there is practical application, it is often about a spouse or kids.

Seraphic's been saying this for a while, but I hope there are priests reading and I hope they realize that a large portion of the population are not just new grads/ young singles, but people in struggling marriages, people who can't have kids, people who are chronically unemployed, etc.etc.. I think maybe parish life would be better if we had groups based on things other than age/ state in life. Instead of "young adults" or "mother's groups," things like bible studies, pro-life groups, or even a parish gardening club might be nice.

Seraphic said...

I would love more homilies about how life is a vale of tears if I didn't often hear homilies acknowledging that life is a vale of tears. The typical local FSSP homily is "Life is a vale of tears and here's why", followed by, "But we should rejoice and have hope because..."

Our homilies are always very interesting, full of the latest news from Rome, and who good has been appointed, and who bad has been persecuting the good, and how the World hates us and how we must pray that we embrace martyrdom instead of wimping out and burning incense before pagan gods just for a quiet life.

Sheila said...

Sermons at my parish are always political. I dislike that, even when I happen to agree with the politics.

New Mass vs. Old Mass -- I confess I feel about the New Mass the way the elderly feel about the Old Mass. You can talk to me till you're blue in the face about how the other one is better, but I grew up with what I know! It is familiar and homey and I know what's going on. I don't need a book, and every really popular hymn is something I learned by heart as a child.

I feel like a part of this has been taken away from me with the new translation; quite a jerk even after all this time to try to say "and with your spirit" when my pavlovian response is "and also with you." But I suppose we shouldn't feel *too* at home at Mass.