I’m turning 34 in January. It’s a weird spot to be. If you’re like me, you’ve probably felt it or at least read about it.
There are plenty of articles out there about the “pre-midlife” crisis we’re supposed to be going through. It’s based on not having kids, or having too many kids. On not having a career, or having had one career too long. Though the latter seems not to be so frequent with our flexi-labor generation.
But to me, the real weird part of being 34(ish) comes from something even more existential.
Everywhere we look, kids seem to keep popping out like pre-made buns from the oven. They’re ready so quickly, it seems. At the same time, older people seem to be dropping dead in a domino effect. You can’t get any more existential than this. And those of us who are passive spectators of the life cycle at work – neither producing buns nor biting the dust – may feel somehow floored.
The ones who’ve made babies may actually feel something similar. A new friend I met the other day told me how having had her daughter in her mid-30s, and watching her grow, has made her realize she’s getting “old.” She fears not being around anymore to see her daughter fully develop into a woman. Like me, my friend lost her own father not so long ago, and has had to struggle with thinking about death while raising new life.
By the natural order of things, this is the age we start experiencing the deaths of people very close to us. Our grandparents, if not yet our parents, the grandparents and parents of close friends, aunts and uncles, even (older) siblings, seem to be checking out of life one by one. And with the #instaobits on social media, it’s hard to miss anyone’s passing, which you can catch pretty much every week if you’ve got enough Facebook friends. It’s an onslaught.
Besides social media, the statistics coldly number our days and reinforce our fears that time is slipping by. We’re already middle-aged in our mid-30s when we look at the average life expectancy of about 70 (all countries considered). #instapanic
“Oh shit, I’m mortal too,” you say to yourself.
You’ve known this all along, of course, but now you’re painfully aware. Meanwhile, your family unit, the (false) sense of security you had, starts to crumble bit by bit as the people cementing it are suddenly no longer around. You miss them dearly, and the innocence you’ve permanently lost.
The family regroups, or falls apart entirely, and/or a new family is born. If you haven’t accomplished the latter in your fourth decade, you tend to feel weird, left out and maybe even inadequate, because society tells you that you should. The clock is ticking for you, ever faster, it seems.
But bursting out of the bubble, and facing our reality head-on, is not all bad. It’s important to realize how natural decay and death are – our bodies are perfectly built and equipped to close the life cycle.
Actually talking about it and trying to get less terrified of the idea that we, too, shall pass, is probably bound to make us happier, besides better prepared, in the long run. It will be really uncomfortable at first, but I think it’s well worth it.
And then you’re confronted with the flipside.
You’re told this is also the age for giving life, for multiplying your seeds and your love. The age to stop being selfish and alone, to build a nest where you can rest in your “golden years.” And how can you escape this notion when almost everyone you know appears to be doing it? #instafamily #instalove
It seems so easy for many to find a nest to land on and make warm. But I think that’s because on social media, you only see the snapshots. And for some people you’re far away from, you only catch these every few months or even years.
People you knew when you were 15 seem to have suddenly gotten married, moved into a house in the suburbs, and purchased an SUV big enough to also fit their #instapartner, multiple #instakids and #instarelatives.
Yes, social media seems to have sped up the pace of the life cycle. Because what is time if not a perception?
Those of us caught in the middle of birth and death – our own and others’ – have a whole lot to ponder. Without a family (old or new), and amid the thinning security net of the state and the trend for short-term positions and contracts, will our “golden years” be more like copper?
But I think that, at their core, many of our worries also stem from our false sense of control. And that they serve to anchor and comfort us, as weird as this may sound. For our worries, barring death-related ones, tend to tell us that there will be a tomorrow to worry about.