This is a sort of follow-up to my last post. I was obviously pretty emotional when I wrote it, so this is an attempt to explore the ideas from a slightly calmer and more detached perspective, as I do think this is something I need to understand.
Maybe I’ll never feel the way most people do about this stuff… but maybe that’s OK. Maybe I can find a way to thrive regardless. The situation with my past kind of sucks but it hasn’t prevented me from (eventually) finding love, finding amazing friends, succeeding at work, becoming a father to a lovely boy, finding activities that bring me genuine joy. There’s a lot to be thankful for, and next to all that the fact that I didn’t necessarily get here by the same path other people took seems kind of irrelevant.
But it still bothers me, at times anyway, and I’d like to understand why so that I can try to minimise it. I think a lot of the problem is the way these formative experiences are often framed when people talk about them. I wouldn’t mind so much if people were just saying “This is what my experience of being young was like”… it’s the fact that it often comes across as “This is what EVERYONE’s experience of being young was like”. Maybe that’s not the intention and it’s just careless wording, but I find it very alienating. It comes across as if either I’m in a miniscule minority for having had a different experience, or that I’m somehow not worthy of being included in the class of people being talked about at all.
Another issue is that age still seems to be viewed differently from other characteristics. I wrote a whole post about this years ago, and even now I still really don’t understand why we’re supposed to see someone acting atypically for their gender, race or sexuality as something to be celebrated and encouraged, yet someone who acts atypically for their age should have scorn and derision heaped on them until they get back in their box. Again this is pretty alienating for those of us who, for whatever reason, found ourselves out of step with the rest of our peer group – I think I could have coped with missing out on typical student experiences at university a lot better if having typical student experiences later on in life instead was seen as a normal and valid thing to do.
At this stage I don’t feel like I have a peer group anymore. There are individual people who I do feel a profound connection with, but I don’t feel I have much in common with my age group as a whole. It’s not that I dislike them; as with any demographic, many of them are good people. It’s just that I don’t feel a particular affinity for them any more than I do with people who are significantly older or younger than me. I guess people typically bond with those of their own age because they share the same formative experiences, or because they’re going through the same life stage at the same time, or because they became friends at school or university where most people were a similar age. None of those is true for me with my age group. By the time I took my first fumbling steps into the world of dating and relationships, many of my school and university peers were already married with kids. And by the time my son was born, their kids were already in their late teens.
But, returning to my earlier line of thought, how much does this really matter? I suspect maybe not as much as some people make out. We all know someone who likes to hold forth about the good old days, who talks as if they lived at the heart of some momentous and profound youth culture movement that defined a whole generation, with their finger on the pulse of the very zeitgeist itself. But I bet if you dug a bit deeper you’d find plenty of people from the same age group who don’t feel like that at all. People who either lived through similar experiences but didn’t see them as particularly meaningful, or people more like me whose experience was different in some major way. So yes, it’s annoying having to listen to those sort of people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the majority.
Life is complicated. Everyone’s path is different, and many of the experiences that people may assume were universal actually weren’t. In a way I’ve become the inverse of the person I described in the previous paragraph: just as obsessed with this idea of the One True Experience that “everyone” should have when they’re young, except that while he (because it usually is a he) sees himself as the insider who was shaped by it, I’m the outsider who missed out on it. I don’t think that’s who I want to be. If the reminiscing pub bores think their best days are behind them then that’s up to them, but I’d rather embrace the wonderful people and activities I’ve found for myself and live in the here and now.
A part of me wants to end this post with a plea for more understanding of people like me who didn’t necessarily fit the mould. But I’m not sure that’s even really required. It’s not like we’re some oppressed minority, not really. I’ve never been barred from getting a job, or rejected by a potential friend or partner, because I didn’t get pissed enough in Fresher’s Week. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been treated differently in any meaningful way at all because of this. I’ve told various people over the years what my youth was like and their reaction was generally sympathy for how it was making me feel, but indifference towards the fact that it happened, as if they didn’t see it as a reason to treat me any differently. In one or two cases it turned out the other person had had an experience quite similar to mine and it actually made me feel closer to them.
(* Disclaimer: I know I sound calmer and more rational right now, but I reserve the right to sink back into the state I was in when I wrote the previous post at any future time my brain deems it necessary).