Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety
Antony and Cleopatra, Act II Scene II
Looking in the mirror these days tends to confirm the inevitable – I am getting older. Of course, we’re all getting older, and always getting older. But the process is more noticeable at some points in life than others. The first fine lines. The realisation that people I went to school with are getting married. The impending need to find a Real, Grown-Up Job after years of higher education. Traditionally, the process of recognising of one’s aging (and, by extension, one’s eventual mortality) is regarded as an intimidating and depressing one. In reality, though, I haven’t found it to be so. It’s incremental, full of surprises, and even rather interesting. Bring on the grey hairs!
The physical aspect of aging is only the most visible to the casual observer. That said, it’s still a pretty damn important one, given the premium placed by
me society upon youth and beauty. I don’t want to overstate the issue, given that I’m no more than on the generous side of twenty (yup). We’re talking teeny-tiny crows’ feet, not full-on ploughed furrows and general lassitude. In fact, it seems to be impossible for me to go more than a few days without getting mistaken for an 18-year-old (and no, this isn’t vanity – I’ve been asked to prove my age when requesting a bra fitting, boarding a flight solo, and even while buying butter knives from John Lewis. TRUFAX). Nonetheless, when I scrutinise my reflection in a bright light, I can see what cosmetic companies call the ‘first signs of aging’. Of themselves, these signs are nothing dreadful. But, logically, ‘first’ implies a progression to ‘second’, ‘third’ and so on. I confess that I have fallen for the preventative hype. Sunblock, vitamins, water and soooooo much expensive face cream. I have a theory that moisturisers and the like always work more effectively if the packaging is labelled in French rather than in English, so of course I have had to seek out the most rechérché unguents, concocted by ineffably chic French scientists from ‘ze pure spreeng wah-tairs of ze Vosges, ze saliva of ze unicorn, an’ ze leequeed diamonds, non?’
I’m very aware that there is a bit of a gender imbalance here, with the notion that women are socially encouraged to retain a youthful appearance for as long as possible, while a few lines and grey patches do little harm to perceptions of a man’s attractiveness as he ages (I’m looking at you, Paul McGann, my imaginary ’80s hipster-actor boyfriend). I won’t drone on about it – I’ve addressed vanity and appearance in previous posts on this blog – but, like I say, I am aware of the dichotomy. More important than any concerns over physical appearance, however, is the notion that aging brings with it the expectation that I will start to narrow the parameters of my life down to the adult essentials – career, relationship, property, and so on. Please excuse me while I go and scream into a brown paper bag.
OK, I’m back. Like I was saying, I have started to notice that being on the ‘wrong’ side of 25 is the time when one starts to realise that a lot of people in the same age group are buying houses (scream) and getting married (double scream), and a fair number of those are having offspring (triple scream). I can barely keep my bank account in credit and the houseplant on my windowsill alive. Sad face. For various reasons – PhD-ing being one of them – I’m just not on the same life track as a lot of the people with whom I went to school or university. That isn’t inherently a problem; quite the opposite, in fact, as I sincerely enjoy what I’m doing with my life. However, I can’t help but feel that I’m living a sort of extended adolescence, existing in a liminal space between studenthood and ‘real’ adulthood.
I think, perhaps, that I’m only beginning to realise the existence and meaning of this intermediary stage as I approach its end. Not only in practical terms – the end of the PhD and the world of Grown-Up Jobs beckons – but also mentally. I have started to come to terms with some of the realities of life that 21-year-old me just couldn’t have accepted. It’s alright to fail and lose sometimes. Brains alone won’t get you to the top without commensurate effort. Parents and other adults are fallible, and don’t always have to put their children before themselves. The opinions of others are not a solid basis for a sense of self-worth. And so on, and on.
I’m getting old. So are you. You know what? I don’t really mind.