I’m now in my mid-30s.
I’m now three years older than Mike ever was.
The passage of time always bothers me when I think of things in the context of my life with Mike. When I was 26, his 32 years seemed so much older and more mature, even though he was as silly as me most of time, and we understood each other. Now I’m 35 and it really feels no different to me than 25.
Most of my older friends still call me a baby. Which annoys me. I wish they’d stop doing that. I know it’s meant as a compliment because they wistfully remember being in their 30s and some of them–especially the single ones–seem to think dating should come easier for me, that men are just lining up at my door for dates because I’m so young. But that’s so not so. It’s just as hard to find someone as it ever has been. I can’t say I’ve ever had a time in my life when finding someone to date–even casually–was particularly easy.
Besides the dating thing, some of my older friends try to tell me that the world is more open to me at my age. That I can do anything because I’m “so young.” I think the world and opportunities are open to you at any age; you just need the bravery and inspiration to go attack them. People publish their first novels at 45, 55, 85. It doesn’t matter. There are men in my bike club who are twice my age who can kick my ass up any hill and pass me within seconds on a flat. I’ve seen others who ski quite well at 75. Never underestimate someone’s ability to succeed at anything. The only thing really holding you back in life is your inner critic who gives you arbitrary reasons for why you can’t do something you want to do. If you want to bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it.
I wonder what age I have to become before people stop remarking how young I am. It kind of bothers me because it seems to invalidate me as possibly having any of the wisdom and experience that age brings. I feel with having lost my husband at the age of 26, I’ve got far more life experience than many of my same-aged peers. The experience of widowhood alone should give me ten more years of emotional experience; mentally, I’m 45, having gone through something of which most people my age can’t even conceive and are made uncomfortable when it comes up in conversation.
Besides widowhood, though, I’ve been out of college for over 10 years and I’ve been working just as long. I’ve held a lot of different jobs. I’ve owned three different houses in my life. I left Northeast Ohio where I was raised and lived, for a very short time, in Colorado. I have bought my own car without anyone’s help, dealing with the schmuck salesmen completely on my own and never letting them take total advantage of me. I’ve lived on my own, supported myself, and have never gone into credit card debt or needed to file bankruptcy. I do my own taxes (though, with the help of TurboTax). I’m not green to life.
I usually don’t tell people my age unless asked to avoid the “you’re so young” comments. It grates on my nerves like nails on chalkboard. Likewise, when someone younger than me reveals their age, I never repeat the same ritual words. I don’t want to make anyone feel as if their experiences don’t count for anything. I don’t know what they’ve been through in life, the battles and inner demons they have had to fight.
In the end, we’re all the same. We’re all moving along our own paths, headed to a place we want to go or trying to deal with the path on which we’ve been helplessly propelled. Age doesn’t matter. We may say a person is too young to die, but it’s just something we say to ourselves because obviously Death doesn’t card you before fulfilling his task. Age is just an arbitrary number assigned to keep track of how long we’ve been treading on our individual paths. I don’t put much stock in a number.
I don’t get particularly sad about my own advancing age and I never really have. I like celebrating my birthday and I like claiming a new number for a year. To me, it’s a source of pride to have managed to navigate another year of life and claim this new number. I intend to be thankful for each advancing year, no matter how high the number climbs, because I know all too well that some people–like my husband–never get to have that number for themselves.
They say you’re only as old as you feel. Most days, I still feel like that teenager wistfully planning what I’m going to do when I grow up. Isn’t it funny how we never feel as wise and knowledgeable as we always imagined, at much younger ages, we would be when we reached that age? 35 could be 16 to me except that I’ve got the freedom and means now to do those things I’ve always wanted to do. And I’ve got more friends.
It’s a lot scarier being an adult. You have to rely on yourself. You don’t get to live under the happy, carefree protection of your family. Freedom gives you many things but it also leaves you vulnerable and alone. The 16 year old in me sometimes comes out in the form of my fear. How did I get here? I wonder. I look at my face and I clearly see a 30-something. My brain is both 16 and 45–part of me naive and dreams, the other hardened by the experience of loss and the realities of life. Do we ever really grow up? Or are we forever just winging our way through all of this, hoping we know exactly what we’re doing?