I must confess this wasn’t something I really wanted to write about, because it made me uncomfortable. But sometimes we need to do things that make us uncomfortable to grow. After the initial draft of this article, I did some “interviews” with other people around my age, which showed me I was definitely not alone, and that there’s positives to getting older.
So I’ll start by just saying it: I’m 35 years old (as of this writing), thus firmly in my “mid-thirties”. No, it’s not that old, but it’s old enough that I feel sometimes feel uncomfortable about it.
I have begun to notice that over the last few years, I’ve been meeting a lot more new people (mostly LGBTQ people), and many of them have been upwards of 5 years younger than me, some have been 7, 10, or even 12 years younger. That’s not to say I don’t know any other people my own age, nor that there are no “older” LGBTQ people (there definitely are!).
I understand that lots of people have been born after me, and obviously through a confluence of factors, I will end up meeting a lot of these people.
What throws me about this is that they often don’t seem that young to me. But that’s obviously making some assumptions.
I feel very at home with many of these younger friends and acquaintances (aside from a few references that I might not get, or vice versa). I’ll meet someone new, and think “wow this person is very cool, I like them”, and then before I know it I learn that they are 8–12 years younger than me and it’s a surprise.
I will say it can be extra unnerving if I had been thinking about asking them out. That’s not to say that you can’t date someone 10 years younger than you, but major age differences can create some complications. And when you have no idea and everything seems “normal” and then it’s BAM, you feel like you could almost be this person’s parent, it makes the head spin a bit.
Signs of Aging
It leads me to think about many of the common “Signs Of Aging (TM)”:
Wrinkles, sagging skin, body fat, liver spots, bags under eyes, grey hair(s).
Some signs of aging work the same for all genders — greying hair, sagging skin, more body fat. Some signs of aging are more gender specific.
For men, having facial hair can make a huge difference, and it can work two ways. If you’re young and have a beard, you look older. If you’re older and shave off your beard, you can easily look 10 years younger.
However, aside from balding, men traditionally generally get a much better deal in that they’re more “allowed” to visibly show signs of aging. Women have to try to remain as youthful looking (and thin) as they can manage for as long as possible.
A lot of product advertising relies on making us feel bad about things we can’t change — like aging, and this is by design. Many women end up feeling irrelevant and undesirable once they get past “baby-making age”. As for men, the most obvious example is in the sports world where they are made to feel irrelevant beyond their 30s.
Once you physically pass beyond adolescence, once you settle into your “physically adult self”, you can potentially continue to look “20-something”, or “30-something” for two decades. That is assuming you take decent care of yourself and have decent genetics.
Aging is also a very different ballgame for transgender people, as the later a person transitions, the harder it tends to be. Many trans women joke about “too many years of testosterone poisoning”. I’ve heard some trans men lament how going on T made them visibly age a decade in a year or two. Going on estrogen can roll back the clock somewhat.
I don’t necessarily feel that old, and apparently don’t look it either. I still regularly get read as up to 10 years younger than I am. I seem to have at least decent genetics, I eat relatively healthy, get more exercise than average, get 8 hours of sleep most nights, I don’t drink alcohol and have never smoked. My body is slowing down, but it’s still very manageable. With the exception of some aspects physically, I’m otherwise pretty okay with how I’ve aged.
But of course aging isn’t only physical (though that is certainly a component), it’s also mental, emotional, social, and experiential. That’s what this article is more focusing on.
Social Age in the Age of Social
I used to often feel like I was 10 years behind socially, turns out several of my friends feel or felt very similarly. A lot of us feel like we missed life’s starting buzzer by several years.
I was a very shy, awkward, introverted kid who spent a lot of time playing alone in their room. I learned pretty late how to socialize effectively, but I am a pretty fast learner. So once I started to figure it out I was able to make up somewhat for lost time.
That’s my primary theory as to why I seem to get along easily and well with people born 10 years before me. Not all, obviously, but perhaps the ones who are “ahead of their time”.
Likewise, I can get along fine with someone born 10 years before me (and thus 10 years older), also provided they’re not too firmly rooted in my parent’s generation (ie they’re not too conservative/old fashioned).
I just recently had a date with someone 7 years older than me, and it was actually quite refreshing. Definite maturity, a real sense of knowing-what-they-want-in-life, honesty and not pulling any punches, a humbleness. Maybe that’s what I seem like to some of the 25–27 year olds that I meet.
It’s also interesting to think back about how 10 years ago in my own life, 5 years felt like a big age gap to me in terms of dating. Now that’s kind of laughable to me.
There’s a phrase — “it’s like a fine wine, it gets better with age”. In theory, that’s how people are supposed to work. Your body will inevitably fail you, but that can be held off to some degree with certain actions and choices.
As you go through life, you live, you learn, you grow, you evolve. Hopefully you become more patient, empathetic, wise, etc. But that’s not always the case, and it’s quite unfortunate when it isn’t. Like when you meet a 60 year old with the maturity of a 6 year old. The inverse can also be true.
A big part of the fear and discomfort around my age — and a key impetus for this article — is the feeling of “aging out” of things. There’s a lot of media focus on youth, and a lot of programs and grants are for 18–25 or 18–30 year olds.
There are the 30 under 30 lists, which shine a spotlight on the top 30 people 30 years of age or younger, in a particular category. (I guess “50 over 50 is a little too long and cumbersome).
We don’t tend to hear too much about people after that, or at least seemingly not as much positive. Maybe that’s just my perception, maybe I’m not tuned into all of the right channels.
To me it sometimes feels like if you don’t get famous or “figure it all out” before you turn 30, you’ve missed your chance forever. Maybe after 30 there’s some kind of consolation prize, but that’s it. Congratulations, you survived, now get out of the way there’s 25 year olds coming through!
There are examples of people “making it” when they are a little older, but you have to go searching for them, and it seems like they’re usually at least into their 50s. I occasionally see shorter posts about this on social media but have yet to find any more robust articles.
I will admit that I have felt irrelevant and invisible many times post-30, and still do some days even though I know I shouldn’t. I know this is true of many people, not just “old-ish” people.
I know I’m just letting capitalistic propaganda get to me and convince me that my value was my youth and now that it’s gone, I should just lock myself away and not bother anyone anymore.
Just as some younger people inspire me (such as Greta Thunberg), I know that there are or have been younger people who have looked up to me. It’s a wonderful two way street. Being able to inspire someone just by existing and doing your own thing is definitely a worthy reason to keep going. So whether the person you look up to is your junior or your senior, take the motivation and run with it!
I definitely feel like I still have a lot of tread left on my tires, and the only thing that truly gives me pause right now is the question of how is the world going to be in 5 or 10 years. It went from global warming will be a real problem when I’m in my “retirement years”, to now it sounds like my 40s might not even be so pleasant. So I’m moving forward more cautiously now, but I know I can’t just stop living.
What Do Others Think?
I reached out to some of my friends (ranging from 30–45 themselves) to ask them a series of questions related to this article. They’ve granted me permission to share their thoughts.
CONTENT NOTE for mention of suicide and depression, but read to the end for some very positive sentiments!
Leading up to your [milestone] birthday, did you generally feel more positive (excited/joyful/enthusiastic), or more negative (anxious/unhappy/stressed)?
> Fairly neutral toward the age itself, but with some anxiety around aging in general. A little bit of comparing myself to others. Realizing by this age my dad had an 8 year old child and trying to imagine that for myself.
> I honestly feel very neutral about my birthday number. I often forget how old I am. I had to do some quick math in my response to you to remember my age.
> I’m always happy about my birthdays, milestones or not. I dealt with suicidal-level depression for more than half a decade when I was younger and I never expected to live past age 25, and now I deal with a lot of chronic illness issues that can become fatal. So once I found my way out of the depression around age 22, after that each birthday felt/feels like a bonus, another year of life that I’ve cheated away from Death. Each year I’m still here is a cause for celebration. I love getting older because I had to fight so hard for that privilege.
> Generally more negative/anxious. I’ve always been the “young one” and I think that contributes.
> I felt more negative and anxious when I was about to turn 30 because there was a lot of chaos in my life at that time. I think I still would’ve had a negative feeling towards turning 30 due to having thought I’d be at a different stage in life at that time.
> I turned 35 recently. 30 didn’t bother me, but 35 kind of did. Also my sister is 4 years older than me so if I want to panic about my age I just remind myself she’s “that much older” and it reduces my anxiety. I’ve also started to have more health issues in the last couple of years which has been a bit concerning.
Once you were far enough past [milestone] birthday that things were back to “normal” in your day to day life, how did you feel, more positive or negative?
> Once the chaos in my life settled, I felt more positive and less negative about my age.
> Past the milestone I’d vary. Some days I feel old, some days I rock it, some days I am just ME.
> After my birthday it just returns to being regular life. Regular life is neither better or worse than celebrations, just different.
> More universally neutral. Still some anxiety but a lot of it had faded.
> I really stop thinking about it for the most part (so neutral). Both my parents are born mid-year so that also serves as another reminder, but between the 6 month mark and the next birthday it’s pretty quiet.
Did you now feel “existentially old”, regardless of any physical changes?
> A little more perhaps but not overly. I didn’t really feel old or young, but I had the realization that, to 20 year olds I was “old” but to 40 year olds I was “young”.
> Not really. I’m not quite at feeling my own mortality and while I’m not where I might have hoped to be at my age, I am proud of my accomplishments thus far and I feel like there are plenty still ahead.
> The opposite… I still feel really young and immature. I don’t get how people my age are more adult… However the slight negative is that I’m worried that that’s why I’m not at the stage in my life that I had hoped to be.
> I feel old generally because I’m doing an undergraduate degree right now and most people in my classes are almost a decade younger than me.
> I certainly do sometimes. But they are usually pretty brief moments that I get over quickly. It comes mostly from comparing myself to others, which is a bad habit for sure.
> I’ve felt existentially old since I was a child. I never fit in with my peers, my interests then were aligned with adults and not other children. And then I got so sick with the depression and I was busy fighting for my life while the people I knew my age were focused on college and getting wasted on the weekends, and I couldn’t relate at all and felt much older than them. Then I settled down and got married and had my first kid at a time when other people my age were just getting out of college, so again, there was that life-stage mismatch. By the time some of my friends started having babies, my younger kid was in elementary school or middle school already, and I was far past that mom-to-baby stage. So yeah, from the time I was a kid I’ve always been forced to feel old, whether that was due to life circumstances or illness issues.
Did any of your typical media consumption at that time make you feel negatively about your age?
> I have always been a big kid when it came to my media habits. I love anime and cartoons, and video games, and angsty music. With age I have come to appreciate a wider variety.
> I can’t think of media that made me feel old. Sometimes I’m amused that “kids today” seem to think they invented activism or queerness or whatever, but it doesn’t make me feel “old”. I’m actually glad to be past “young”.
> Not really. Maybe my instinctive pushback against societal bullshit has helped me feel better about it though, because the last thing I’m going to accept is society’s ageist, misogynistic bullshit that I should feel crappy about getting older.
> I wasn’t consuming much media at that time, though I do feel I am starting to get dated by my pop culture references.
> I would say Facebook especially and Instagram sometimes does make me feel negatively about my age, but less because of my actual age and more because I compare where I’m at and where others who I know who are younger than me being further along in their lives.
> I’m starting to notice how everyone in social media/models are so youthful and it’s because they are all like 20 years old but dress and act like adults so it’s confusing.
> 10 years ago I was still seeking out a lot of “new” content media wise (TV shows, movies, games, music), but for probably a solid 2–3 years now I’ve really been focusing more and more on familiar stuff I’ve watched before, with some new stuff peppered in. I find checking out/getting into new stuff takes so much energy, and I often don’t have a lot of patience to sit through a lot without being entertained, I want something I already know (like re-watching The Office yet again…)
Have you always felt similarly socially proficient to your same-age peers, or did you at any point feel perhaps 2, 5, 10 years behind?
> I feel older than my age in terms of social skills. I’m an only child and was brought around older adults since I was little. I had to learn how to not be an obnoxious child, so now I like hanging out with people 5–10 years older than myself.
> I feel 5–10 years behind. It’s a bit hard to deal with sometimes.
> Intellectually ahead or the same, mentally behind or average. Lately I feel like I’m average or above.
> I’m autistic. Socially, I’ve often felt behind though I have noticed that feeling has driven me to always be closely observing social interaction and rules and norms and look very closely for clues and patterns. By extension this seems to have normalized for me this constant state of looking too mature and I’m now finding many of my age cohort seeming less emotionally and socially mature than I.
> I feel like I get both of these. I have ADHD and Autism, and I think trauma and abuse causes you to mature REALLY quickly in some areas, but get very stunted in others. So some of my social skills are super well trained, while others scare the crap out of me and I shut down.
> I remember in school that I ALWAYS felt several years behind. There was so much that went over my head or just bounced off of it. I got teased/bullied a lot. My parents never figured out I was autistic, I figured that out for myself in my 20s. While I struggled quite a bit socially, on the flip side I felt really AHEAD emotionally and intellectually. That combination can be pretty awkward. In my 20s I began to focus very heavily on making up for the social deficit, and as a result I ended up eventually feeling ahead there too. I’ve always been above average in language skills, but my communication needed refinement.
When you meet new people socially who seem to be around your age, are you greatly surprised to find out if they are more than 5 years older or younger than you? (ie if you meet someone new and they seem close to your age, and you find out they’re actually 8 years younger or older, is that a big shock?)
> Over the majority of my life, the people I have most consistently connected with deeply have been between 2 and 7 years older. That said, I enjoy the company of people ranging from 18 to about 60. I find Boomers difficult (and immature!).
> Not really. I have friends ranging from 23 to 62; I’m comfortable with a wide range of ages and understand that life circumstances will really affect the rate at which people mature.
> It’s actually the reverse for me. I’m fairly good at judging age but most people (young or old) are surprised at how old I am because apparently I am very “youthful” looking… whatever that means.
> Yes, every time, unless they seem “obviously older”. Not many of my friends have even come close to the “over the hill” point yet.
At your current age, what is the biggest age difference you are still comfortable with to date someone new? (assuming appropriate maturity and compatibility of values).
> I think it would come down to the person themselves, but my general rule is within 10 years. I find bigger than that generally has too big of a generational gap to really click.
> My last forays into dating were lovely while they lasted, but have left me with deeper trust issues than I ever had before. I would have to be very into someone and very sure of them to embark on a relationship at this point. I’m married, but if I weren’t I would be looking for an age range roughly between 35 and 55.
> Ten years in either direction, skewing younger.
> Yes — I’m currently dating someone younger in this range and had to quickly decide if I was comfortable. We met in real life (vs online) so I didn’t find out right away. I go for +/- 10 yrs, assuming they’re great and also interested?
> Currently I’m in a relationship with someone who is 5 years older. Previously I dated someone 5 years younger. I think if I end up single again I probably wouldn’t date younger than 3ish years but I would date maybe up to 8 years older. It’s a case by case scenario.
> 9 years younger and 15 years older.
> I would say +/- 10 years myself, but have been realizing more recently that someone 10 years younger than me is often a lot less mature, so I think realistically it’s actually more like “up to 7 years younger, up to 10 years older”.
What was the biggest age range difference you would have considered at age 25?
> 5 years older, I didn’t want to date anyone younger than me.
> Probably no more than 35, but if it’s good, go with it.
> 19–35 probably.
> At 25, I was looking for 22 to 33ish. I already had kids and generally, my life experience was very different to most folks my age.
> Likely still in the “within 10 years” range, except 18 on the low end. Just makes things easier.
> I think I was doing up to 5 years either direction, but I can’t remember for sure. Back then 5 years felt like a lot more.
Do you wish there were more of those “30 under 30” type lists, but the other way? ie 30 OVER 30, 40 over 40, etc?
> I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to stand out. The amount of attention a 40 over 40 list would garner would make me very uncomfortable and the pressure to not fuck it up would be crushing.
> Those lists have never really felt relevant to me anyway because I don’t really care about chronological age. Show me what cool shit people are doing regardless of their age. Show me 30 badass activists. Show me 30 street artists. Whatever it is.
> 30 under lists give people a complex, but they’re trying to be inclusive to newcomers. Maybe go for more qualitative lists?
> Yes! That would be cool. Especially since I don’t feel like I’ve done much accomplishment wise, seeing people achieve something in their 30’s for the first time or 40’s would feel more like I’d still have a chance.
> Nope. I hate having unrealistic people to compare myself to. I don’t like comparing myself to anyone at all. Life isn’t a race and no two peoples’ circumstances are equal.
> Every time I see a post shared on social media that focuses on people who are famous NOW, but didn’t get their “break” (whatever it was) until well after 30, it always gives me a boost of motivation. I want to follow in their footsteps and maybe be on such a list one day. There is definitely a focus on youth in the media, and usually the only “older” people we hear about are celebrities or politicians.
Do you ever feel like there are some activities or experiences you’re just too old for now (barring actual physical limitations beyond your control)?
> I find I am mostly worried about others seeing me and thinking that, rather than being worried about it myself. Like say, trick or treating. If there was zero judgement and I was going with friends? Hell ya I would be out there.
> I’m feeling much too old for dating. I contemplated a social transition a couple years back, but I’m feeling much too old for that, too. So I guess it’s mostly an issue of activities that would make me feel socially vulnerable.
> Nope. Age restrictions on fun things are just societal bullshit. If I want to dress in a onesie and have a PJ party with friends, we’re doing it!
> Clubbing or hackathons — both too loud and also tiring.
> No, I like playing!
> Hard to say…. Most activities I want to do I would do and I don’t feel too old for. But as I have a monogamous partner right now I do feel like I missed my chance at trying certain things and exploring my sexuality more. But it’s not because I feel too old, iIt’s that I didn’t do these things before ending up in a committed relationship where that’s not an option anymore. I do feel like maybe I’m soon likely to lose the experience of being a mother due to getting older though.
> Oh yes. I am absolutely too old for night clubs. I went to one in Montreal with my partner (who is 33) and his friend (who is 32) with the idea that my partner’s friend could meet a girl but we realized everyone looked like children and were worried about underage drinking (not to mention drinking age in MTL is 18). The music was all awesome throwbacks but no one else seemed to care about them. Then a song came on that none of the 3 of us knew but every single person in the club was screaming the lyrics. That’s how we knew it was time to go.
> I definitely feel like I’m too “old and tired” for a lot of things now. I vaguely remember my 20s when I last felt more “invincible” and could really push my body and while I might be miserable the next day I’d be fine by the day after that, and now it’s more like minimum 2 days to recover if I really push it. I was recently out at an event and by 9:15pm I could feel my body saying “if you don’t go home right now, you’re going to start stealing from tomorrow” and so I left.
What is your least favourite thing about getting older, besides physical changes?
> Getting older in general tends to range the ‘neutral to negative’ camp for me. I often feel like I don’t have a whole lot going for me, and getting older both adds to that AND makes the judgments harsher for the things I am not doing (or not able to do).
> I do think it’s harder to break into employment at my age and that upsets me.
> I hate feeling like I’m jaded.
> Fear of missing out… and not accomplishing much or being able to achieve what I would like to.
> Honestly, I guess knowing I can’t go back on certain things that I feel like I missed out on. Also, I feel like there is a difficult to avoid air of cynicism that flows into your life as you get older (I feel like you see so many people clearly not giving a rat’s patoot and it can be really infuriating), and I really think it’s crucial to teach yourself how to keep the good stuff in focus otherwise that cynicism can easily take over and ruin your life. I can totally understand how so many in my parent’s generation have become really bitter and jaded, and it’s really sad.
What is your most favourite thing about getting older?
> I love how relaxed things get. I love how people don’t question my authority. I love my accumulation of knowledge.
> I have become so much more comfortable with my sexuality, and have become better at communicating it. I also won’t tolerate bad sex anymore. I know more of what I want, and I won’t just accept what I’m given if it isn’t what I want. I also question things a lot more and don’t just follow things as blindly now.
> Knowing what to expect in certain situations. Calling it out before it’s an issue. Whatever it is — my experience allows me to catch more red flags than when I was younger.
> Not taking things personally, and having more empathy to handle tough situations.
> Probably that the older I get, the more angry I become about injustice and the more I’m willing to fight against it. My self-preservation fucks are starting to disappear and that’s a good thing on a societal level. Getting older means I have more experience, fewer fucks, more skill, less bullshit to carry, more understanding of myself, and fewer fears to hold me back. That’s all amazing.
> Feeling less scrutinized in public is a big plus.
> Experience. Getting better at stepping up to people who are being bullies or jerks. Being able to help others with difficult situations. Being able to listen and relate more. I’m still getting used to kids viewing me as an authority figure and I really try hard to be gentle and thoughtful and improve their life experience in some small way.