Few and far between: learning to live with the person you've grown into being

While driving back from buying my lunch today, I was thinking about the concept of age, and how much it matters to people. We have a twofold conception of age in this society—we are obsessed both with our chronological age and our mental age. Due to our obsession with numbers in base ten, we see numbers that end with a '0' as being somehow more significant than others, more indicative of a stage of life, than any number in between.

Normally, this isn't a problem. But things get interesting when mental age doesn't equal chronological age. We as society members expect everyone to mature somewhere along an expected scale. We have certain expectations about the emotional maturation of two-year-olds versus forty-year-olds, for example.

How the incongruities are perceived have much to do with the direction they point in. For example, the six-year-old prodigy is looked upon with a measure of fear, awe, and sorrow. How does a child so young reconcile knowledge that s/he cannot possibly comprehend or process? On the other hand, the childish forty-year-old is reviled as being irresponsible—why else would s/he spend all that money on something that Isn't Important[tm]?

Examples like this are few and far between. Most, like the rest of things in life, are not nearly so well-defined, and can easily escape all but the closest, most careful, scrutiny. (I started thinking about this last night while I was out with some friends.)

There are times that I'm with my friends that I honestly can't figure out where I fit in. I've had this feeling for so many years now that I'm almost accustomed to it. In elementary school, I was double-promoted in an attempt to keep me academically challenged, because I was—academically—so far ahead of my peers that no one quite knew what to do with me. I spent the rest of my childhood and most of my teenage years aping the manners of those older than me, in an attempt to garner the respect that my lack of age denied me.

I entered college at the age of sixteen. I told nobody but my roommate how old I was, and let everyone else draw their own conclusions. I worked, and worked hard—I was determined for people to take me seriously. After a while, I was taken seriously as an adult. Then I graduated from college, got married, and moved away. A year after that, at age twenty-two, we bought a house.

(We're not even going to go into the terror that went into THAT experience.)

Then I changed jobs. I met some people who were my age. I felt incredibly guilty for wanting a piece of their lifestyle—piling up in someone's car on the spur of the moment to see a Friday night movie or buy a pint of ice cream. Or going to the liquor store, buying a bottle of something boozy, and whipping up a mess of frozen drinks and playing computer games until everyone was too tired to move.

I watched what they did and envied them—until I realized they looked at me, saw my situation, and envied me. They wanted to come over to our house, sprawl out in the guest bedroom for a while, and read. Or soak in the tub for a while. Or have dinner with us, or cuddle and spoil our cats. They are 21 and 22. I am 23. There shouldn't be that much difference between us, right? Ah, yes, it's that OTHER age thing coming into play again…

Strangely enough, I actually felt guilty for participating in some of their activities—that I wasn't acting "grown" enough. I thought this over for quite some time, and finally realized that, deep down, that I was being irrational. There's nothing guilt-inducing about having a drink with friends on a Friday night, or spending Saturday window-shopping with friends. I have my responsibilities; my home, my spouse, my chores, my cats—probably more so than most people my age would be willing to take on—but once those responsibilities are met, what I do with my free time is of my choosing.

It's okay to want to go out and socialize every now and then. From what I can tell, it's actually good for me. My friends do a good job of making sure that I come out of my shell every now and then, and my presence tends to ensure that my friends won't do anything they'll regret in the morning. I think I managed to completely miss the point while growing up that adulthood isn't about acting like an adult all the time—it's about balancing your priorities, taking care of the people around you, but remembering to take care of yourself in the process.

At this rate, I might even grow up one of these years.