The beginning of “old.”

For obvious reasons, our perception of age is relative. It’s always true that we’ve never before been the age we are at any given time, so it makes sense that what is “old” increases in number as we do. Ask a little kid to point out someone old and they may well choose a teenager. But if someone asked me to pick an objective age at which “old” starts, I sure as hell would not have chosen the mid-20s… until recently.

For instance, I got a lumbar steroid epidural the other week to help control this whole herniated disc situation. (As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been dealing with this since I was 20.) While I’m face down in the pillows, the fellow is asking the resident (or the resident is asking the intern–they’re never the same twice, so I can’t keep track) if he saw how young the girl in the next procedure room over is. Because the bare, 26 year-old ass under their noses didn’t look young, I guess? To be fair, I didn’t see the other patient and I may have been older than the younger of the two doctors. And I’ll soon be older than the people doing my procedures at teaching hospitals. Weird.

Next, in video conferencing with our nonprofit’s team of undergraduate consultants, I realized how tired I look compared with them, even though I’ve been in their shoes and I know how exhausted they feel. (My allergies do deserve some of the blame, though, with their dark-circle-causing, eczema-aggravating, eye-puffinating ways.)

Then I’m talking to a friend of mine who starts medical school in the fall and she says that she got comments in all her interviews about how she’s a non-traditional applicant because she’s “older” at 26. 26!! I have no excuse for this one. We’re old now. (We’re old now?!)

I’m only a little afraid of aging and, while I would happily have put off some of the events that occurred between my early- and mid-20s, I wouldn’t trade where I am now for 22 again. Hell, I’ll gladly take watching Neflix in bed over going to parties that aren’t preceded by the adjective “dinner” any day. That said, I guess I always thought “old” started later. I mean, don’t you at least have to be nearing the age of a crisis (turning 30 because people seem to care about that, 35 because fertility myths, or 40 because that’s also a thing) before “old” becomes a concern?

Sure, there are fashion magazines pedaling insecurity to women of all ages, and you read about metabolism and collagen production slowing after age 25 from sources that are maybe even legit, but I figured I wouldn’t actually think about any of that until I had at least hit 35. Not so, unfortunately. Which is crazy! I’ve never smoked, I don’t eat a ton of processed food, I could be more religious about daily sun protection but I’m allergic to sunscreen and wearing sun block on the daily is not conducive to looking healthy or even corporeal. My genetics are beyond my control, but I should otherwise be feeling like I get to be pretty complacent for now.

Here’s why I think I’m not feeling that way: Even though I still view myself as a recent college grad, that’s increasingly inaccurate; plus, I don’t think I look like one anymore. I feel like I need a CV the strength of which is at least proportional to whatever extra years I appear to have on a real “recent grad.” That’s a terrifying notion because my actual CV reads more like an in-depth study of the phrase “your 20s are hard.” Not in the way that they’re hard for someone who became a fancy white-shoe lawyer at a big corporate firm and then decided quit her job and pursue her passion in her late 20s. In the scarier way. In the way that probably means I shouldn’t change industries (again) yet but I intend to anyway. I’ll basically be starting over near the bottom of the ladder at a time when I’m starting to look more like someone who should be eyeing management. Ugh.

Parting thoughts: Your 20s are hard! It’s weird how in the same decade, you go straight from “too young” to get married, be a parent, or live all alone in the big city to “too old” to not be thinking about those things. Or from young enough that your sunburns still count toward your skin cancer risk in a big way, to old enough that you’re trying to figure out whether your super simple skin care regimen should now incorporate an oil cleanser/eye cream/serum/second moisturizer/night moisturizer. Or from young enough that you’re maybe embarrassed to be seen taking your birth control to old enough that talking about the side effects of new meds with your friends is part of catching up (granted I got a jump start there, but now I have friends who can commiserate). And where does “old” get off hiding out in the midst of youth, anyway?

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