Over the Hill?

I am currently surfing the next wave of social angst. The first one related to size; this time, the culprit is age – with the shadow of the former still remaining.

At 30, I feel over the hill.

I have not achieved what I should have achieved and it feels, horribly, like it’s too late.

I have been trying to pinpoint the source of this impression. It is more illusive than I would have supposed. It would be easy to point an accusatory finger at the media but I think it’s more subtle than that. To be honest, I rarely watch TV, venture less to the cinema, and most of the magazine I read are about empowering all women, rather than just those under 21…

No, the message is more pervasive and closer, I think, to home. Perhaps it has become so embedded that it needs, no longer, to be said? Or, it could be the thousands of images that we see on a daily basis – and don’t even notice – which have been whispering, insidiously, around my head.

Maybe it’s not the thought of aging that’s the problem; it’s this constant staging of life that is so hard to see beyond.

I should have shimmied through my early twenties, doing wonderful things and demonstrating boundless energy. Have found a partner in the second half of the decade, whilst developing strong career foundations and maybe bought a house. At 30, I should be married (or at least engaged), know where I’m going and be considering when it’s time to have kids….

I have failed on all accounts.

So many wasted years – and now I‘m horribly behind.

What makes it worse, on this occasion, is that there is a logical undercurrent that I can’t seem to ignore. There are reasons why people experiment in their teens – and lay foundations in their 20s – and want children whilst they’re still relatively young –

I suppose it’s the overlap of biological fact and social expectation that gives the aging anxiety that extra, painful, push. It makes it harder to challenge the negativity because I’m not just arguing with what the media – or even wider society – says; I’m trying to deny a biological truth – albeit one that has been painted over with negative overtones. We are, I think, as a society, scared of getting old.

There is a Lily Allen song, 22, that captures this sentiment far more astutely than me –

When she was 22 the future looked bright
But she’s nearly 30 now and she’s out every night
I see that look in her face she’s got that look in her eye
She’s thinking how did I get here and wondering why

It’s sad but it’s true how society says
Her life is already over

I was winded the first time I really listened to the lyrics. It struck me, with horror, that the girl might by me. Only I’ve already slammed into 30; and, at 22, my future didn’t look that great –

At 22, my future didn’t look that great.

I suppose this is the only saving grace in the age predicament; the slight counter-argument that I am trying to leverage, somewhat perversely, in my favour. At 22 I was, if I recall correctly, on a daypatient programme following a MHA Section 3 with nothing even approaching enthusiasm for the rest of my life…

Hmm.

It is hard to hold onto the personal experience when the expectations start to crowd in. Plus, youth seems to get rosier, the further away from it that you are…

Only I don’t think, after writing all this down, that I want to keep playing along. My 30 has, after all, been far brighter than my 22.

So, I’m sure it will be hard to tune the messages out; and, I’m under no illusion that the sense of inadequacy will rear it’s ugly head on a regular basis –

But my teens and twenties were muddled by size, and I’m not too hot on the idea of losing my thirties and forties to age.

Any ideas?

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4 Responses to “Over the Hill?”

  1. GirlAnon says:

    Wow. This is a really fitting post for me, too, and from speaking to some of my friends it is not just us.

    I am plagued by feelings of being behind in life and I’ve got a feeling this started in my teens, when I became disinterested in school and rebellious against conforming with what was expected of me.

    I went to University a couple of years after my peers (probably as they would be graduating) and looking back, even this was too soon as I had still not figured out what I really wanted. This is where my ED kicked in, slowing down and even reversing my social development as such, whilst I ploughed on determined to succeed from what I saw as a disadvantaged position.

    Now I’ve done my MA and I’m working in admin, nearly a year into it, and I am no closer to knowing “what I want to do” than I did as a teen. My peers are well into their careers and are generally successful, whether in work or in relationships etc. I am renting with others whilst they are in a position to buy. My boyfriend and I are in a relatively new relationship ( a year and a half) and we aren’t at the moving in etc. point yet for all kinds of reasons. He is feeling this pressure too, given he is older than I am and his peers are often married with children now.

    I feel like I’ve lost or failed at whatever this ‘thing’ is, and it’s too late as you said:

    “I have not achieved what I should have achieved and it feels, horribly, like it’s too late. ”

    Thing is, when you look around you – really look – people don’t always follow this structure that we are holding ourselves accountable to. My boyfriend’s Mum became a teacher in her 40s and is now a head of a successful school. Most of the counsellors where I work came into their fields in later life. My Mum had me in her 30s and my youngest sister in her 40s.

    I don’t think there really is such a thing as too late if we decide not to follow other people’s paths. This is something I’m still struggling with – my boyfriend is in his mid 30s and it seems important to us to have children sooner rather than later, if we so decide; I need to get set up in a ‘career’ asap if I want to do well etc.

    Perhaps it’s the living in the past and future sort of thinking that an ED supports, rather than living in the here and now, which makes us feel this strongest? Maybe. But then I have friends with no food issues at all feeling pressure on these issues, too.

    What I know doesn’t help me are social networks like Facebook, where it seems to be a game of nosey neighbours (who’s doing what? where am I compared to her? etc.) I need to remember not to torture myself by looking at this type of thing when I feel down.

  2. Splinteredones says:

    Hi dearest–worries over age for me have always been like comparison shopping. Oh I need this and don’t have it but perhaps that will fill the void…bottom line is that even though 30 is a huge marker that of course suggests to you all kinds of concerns and lost opportunity, the “should be’s” (where I should be now), the bottom line isthat it is only what you decide the birthday to be. It was shocking to me when I hit 30. I was inamgood relationship busy being successful and all but I did feel differently. When j turned 40 I was frankly too doped up to care. A couple of months ago i turned 50. That’s a number in which it’s really hard to avoid assessing one’s life and lost opportunities. But I held on to the perspective that I have come such a long, long way. AS much time and potential stolen from me? Yes. And although I AM too old now to go off and live my life as a dude rancher or whatever, there is a different timescale for me. It’s about how much time I have left. It’s about surviving and beginning to see glimpses of thriving. It’s about raising myself now.

    So, happy birthday dear. I know that it’s difficult to resist self-evaluations on this day. I evaluate you as a kind genuine warm gifted intelligent courageous inquisitive socially brilliant tough tough woman. Whose life has only just begun. Congrats and happy birthday dear. Today is a day to celebrate. Trust me on this one ;) .

  3. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these comments.

    Splint – as we’ve already confirmed on Twitter, it’s not my birhday (just my unbirthday!) but I think you’re right. There is a huge element of “comparison shopping” and I suppose age is sitting duck for this as the number permits for a distinct comparison. You’re also spot on with the subjectivity and the importance of just holding on to where we are – and looking forward, rather than back.

    GirlAnon – You raise so many interesting points, and I’m going to hang on to this one “living in the here and now, which makes us feel this strongest”. Also, that no one’s life is really text book – and it’s not too late. Thank you. xx

  4. Evan says:

    I’m 51, so . . .
    I didn’t really have much clue about what I wanted to do until I was about 34.

    I think it is OK to wander here and there and get a sense of what I’m like and what the world is like. People who are ’successful’ early are often living off early decisions (do we really want a 4, 8 or 12 year old running our lives?)

    I am at my happiest now. Having a sense of who I am has taken me a while, contentment can take a while to develop.

    I’m of the male persuasion so I don’t have the same sense of the biological clock as you do. I know that it is harder for women. (There is some evidence that degree of fitness is more important than age – up to a point.)

    I do try to look after my health – my partner and I go for a walk most days. When I have enough of a routine I practise qi gong. But the biggest thing for me is remembering I have a choice and that I can usually do something about doing what I want to do. To age well means meeting the new challenges, not avoiding them.

    There are some books on healthy old age. One by George Vaillant is quite good. There is also one called Blue Zones about the places where people live longest and healthiest. Both are easy reads with lots of practical stuff. And the results are that it is about staying reasonably fit, valuing relationships and stuff – nothing esoteric or impossible.

    Hope you find a way to enjoy the day – and many more to come.