In my second work-in-progress novel (WIP2) the main protagonist utters the following phrase: “A responsible adult should be taking care of this, not me!” It’s not a good thing when a fictional character speaks with the writer’s voice, but Gareth and me are in 100% agreement over this. Gareth, by the way, is 32. I am 40.
When I was 10 years old, I couldn’t wait to be a Grown Up Man. My mom would buy the most delicious sweets – chocolate-covered marshmallows – and give me one a day. Perhaps two if it was a holiday. (For sake of transparency, that was Communist Poland and getting more sweets wasn’t as simple as popping out to the corner store, but try and explain this to a 10-year-old.) I promised myself that one day when I’d become An Adult I was going to buy myself those marshmallows and eat the whole box in one go. Twenty-five years later, after an exceptionally heavy shift at the forge I opened a brand new box of exactly the same marshmallows, and started eating them mindlessly. I made it through half a box until I began to feel sick. Clear proof that adulthood sucks – as a child I would also have gotten sick, but I would have enjoyed it.
When I was 12, I had my first crush. He was an old man, 20 years old, doing all the adult things like being photographed with a motorbike, wearing a leather jacket, being scruffy, hangin’ tough. He was Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids On The Block. Just LOOK at this chunk of a hunk! (Unfortunately I failed to find a photo with the jacket, the bike, AND the scruff all featured at the same time.) Sometimes he even wore a bandanna. I came off Donnie pretty quickly though once I laid my eyes on Seal. Holy Monopoly, THAT was a gorgeous man, even if he was somewhat decrepit (26 years old at the time). But he was such an adult, making music videos with his own music in them, wearing leather, being the God Of The Wilderness decades before Justin Timberlake recorded a song called “Flannel”. Seal gave heartfelt interviews where he spoke of his journeys to find his true self, and I read every word religiously twenty times until I could quote them. (No. I don’t remember them 26 years later. But if you need someone to quote every single Paula Abdul lyric, just let me know.) My true and deep love for Seal lasted until the moment he got rid of his dreadlocks. I was devastated. He didn’t even ask! But hey, he was an adult, and adults didn’t need permission from teenagers. One day, I promised myself, one day my very old husband Seal will HAVE to ask my permission. Assuming he lives that long, of course.
I believed my parents were Gods, because they made me. That was clear proof they had Special Powers. They also fought a lot until my stepfather disappeared, taking along all the money and leaving seething debtors to call my mom in the middle of the night. Since they were Gods and therefore infallible, it clearly must have been my fault, I realised around the age of seven. They were adults! They knew everything! They couldn’t have possibly been doing anything wrong! This meant it was my fault. I couldn’t wait to grow up so that I wouldn’t make my parents fight by being too dumb to understand how I was even doing it. Don’t worry, it only took ten years of therapy to get over those thoughts. In unrelated news, my therapist retired early, and is now travelling around the world on his private yacht.
I expected to gain the adult wisdom the day I turned 18. Nothing happened. Therefore surely I would receive my laminated adult card once I get my degree, I reasoned. It didn’t happen. My first job? Still nothing. I did, however, discover something when I was 18 and still studying. You see, one of my fellow students had an ancient boyfriend, whom we discussed every time we went out. He was 30. “Look,” we’d whisper when she couldn’t hear, “his face is all…droopy. AND he has wrinkles! AND he wears a Rolex, and everyone knows only old men wear those!” We even saw him wearing a suit once, and not because someone made him – he enjoyed wearing it! At this point my decision to become an adult started to waver slightly, but I still wanted to start feeling like someone fully in control of his own life.
This didn’t happen.
Things continued to go downhill when I lost my job at the age of 34. There we were, me and my brother, who was 27 at the time. It was difficult to convince me there was no mistake and I was the older one. My brother had kids, a mortgage, a responsible job requiring that he’d wear a suit and tie every day, a company car, a wife. I had a mortgage I couldn’t afford to pay, a group of friends with benefits, a lot of spare time, and very little money. In “Friends” terms, I was Rachel, he was Ross. Except we didn’t fall in love with each other, because that would be weird, and also his wife wouldn’t approve of that. But as even more time passed, I acquired a husband all of my own. This didn’t make me feel like a real adult either.
In case you missed this delicious interview with Kathleen Turner read it the second you’re finished with my post. The sentence that struck me the hardest was:
I remember I got sent a screenplay once where the character was described as “37 but still attractive.”
Obviously I know how Hollywood works. Yet still, my first thought was “OMGZ! I am 40. Am I even ‘still attractive’?” This thought never occurred to me when I was 35 (despite memories of the saggy-cheeked, wrinkly-faced 30-year-old boyfriend). My vanity quickly made space for crippling doubts: surely now that I am so old I should be able to figure things out without adult assistance. When I was 20, I used to think that I knew everything. Now that I am twice as old (excuse me while I decompose a bit) I keep on realising I know nothing, just like Jon Snow.
I mentioned “Friends”. When I used to watch it in the early 1920s when it came out, they seemed so…grown up. Silly, unrealistic, but old. I haven’t rewatched the series since it was first aired, but sometimes I bump into a clip or GIF, and I get confused. Surely it’s not possible for them to be younger than me. Is it? Are you telling me actors in movies and TV series don’t age while I do? That is so unfair! Where are my ten seasons of youth preserved in analogue and digital formats? (I’d also like to know where to find multiple credit cards with seemingly infinite credit, rent-controlled apartments, and being able to sustain a massive shoe collection whilst working as a waiter/waitress.) It gets worse. I am now a proper cougar. Jason Momoa is two years younger than me. So is Travis Fimmel. But nobody beats Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who is 29 and looks like this:
(Pictured above: a 29-year-old. Photo credit: xsport.ua.)
I expected age to bring God-like wisdom, ability to take care of my finances, chest hair, a full box of marshmallows, and most of all – the secure feeling that all decisions I make are correct BECAUSE I AM AN ADULT. Age, so far, brought me back pain, insomnia, grey hairs appearing one by one in my beard, and constant anxiety that all decisions I make are wrong. To quote the late *sniff* Sir Terry Pratchett, “…inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” (Moving Pictures) How did Sir Terry know? Was it…gasp…from experience? But surely Pratchett out of all people DID acquire the wisdom, and possibly marshmallows…?
I both want a Responsible Adult to take care of me and make all my decisions so I have someone to blame, and dread such possibility. Because such a Responsible Adult would immediately out me to the world: haha! Look at this guy pretending he knows something! His ID is fake, he’s really still 12-years-old! Do NOT sell him those marshmallows, it will end badly!
I am now acquainted with words like “adulting” and “peopling”, and slowly begin to realise that most people seem to feel the same as me. Did I really fill the tax form correctly? Why is my shoulder hurting? Why is my leg also hurting? Where is my youngest kid? Worse, where is my 17-year-old kid? How do I even have a 17-year-old kid? Is this the right house to buy? Is this the right person to marry? Do I work enough? Do I work too much? Perhaps the midlife crisis is the manifestation of all those fears? My name is John but I go by Jax, and this is my red Porsche, babe. Let’s go for a ride. My wife doesn’t need to know, she doesn’t really understand me anymore, not since the– nevermind, come on, tell me how old I look. Be honest. I look like I’m in my thirties, right? Early thirties? Or: My name is Karen and let me tell you all about benefits of anti-aging organic-only gluten-free cream I bought from GOOP, OMG can you believe how great it is to drink a kale smoothie after your sunrise yoga? How old do you think I am? No, really? WHAT?! Look again in better light! And I will have you know that I feel so much younger inside!
So do I! I always thought ageing was something that happens to other people. I was prepared for the worst case scenario, i.e. myself getting older as well, but I expected rewards! Whoever came up with the idea that we should get older every single second should be fired. 0/10, wouldn’t buy again. Maybe I really should start paying attention to the “30 Things A Man After 30 Should Stop Doing” articles? Buy a suit? *shudder* Get rid of my decidedly non-adult hair? No, but really, how old do I look? I don’t look 40, do I? I look like I’m in my thirties, early thirties, right? Come on, tell me honestly, I look very young, right? But first let me buy you a drink…
Main image: a 40-year-old adulting like an adult person that he is.