Feeling Old in Early 20s
I’ve been 24 for about two weeks now. Honestly, compared to 23 it has felt about the same. I haven’t hit a marker, and I don’t think I can even rent a car until I’m 25. Maybe I can get a hotel room? The only difference I can perceive is now I feel a lot younger than I did at this moment last year.
Flashback to when I turned 21; I was excited and very happy. Being younger than most of my friends, and having never owned a fake ID, reaching that specific age felt eventful. But what I didn’t realize, after spending all my years excitedly waiting for that particular age, was that I’d eventually be older than 21. And it wasn’t going to stop there.
Sure enough, by the time 22 rolled around, I was alarmed. The realization that the number continues to increase hit me hard. I never wanted to pause it, but suddenly I found myself resenting my age.
The weirdest part of it all was that I struggled to understand why precisely I was feeling so old. The logical part of my brain was telling me that I was a spring chicken, but I couldn’t shake this intense feeling. It was just that: a feeling. I just felt old.
I spoke with friends my age, and they all shared a similar sentiment. How could this be happening? We’re just tots. I get it, we pay our bills, work jobs, take part in serious relationships, but those are actions that should inspire feelings of independence, not ancientness! If those particular aspects of life make you feel old, they should have been making you feel old since age 18. Why was I feeling this way in my early 20s?
I decided to confront this emotion and get to the source. Every time I felt that wretched feeling of oldness, I would pay attention to the conversation or thoughts that inspired it. I came to several observations.
First, reminiscing about moments that happened a while ago will make you feel old. I would experience vivid memories of playing my N64, waiting in line for the release of Harry Potter, seeing a specific movie in theaters, and more. I’d share these memories with my friend, and then realize that they happened over 10 years ago. Having lived long enough to have memories from over ten years ago seems crazy. Remembering the way I used to enjoy things I no longer enjoy, that’s wild.
Second, seeing young people will make you feel like a grandma. I mean really young people, like not even in their 20s yet, young. Seeing kids will make you feel old, but teenagers are even worse. Observing the way they interact, the things they say, the decisions they make, and seeing how obvious their intentions are; feeling their insecurities and watching them fret over things that you got over waaay long ago; knowing you’d never speak of such things because you’re too old for that. There it is again.
Third, interacting with old people makes you feel old. This one’s funny because comparing yourself to someone older seems like a good way to feel younger. But the most startling thing for me is the disillusion that accompanies my interactions with older people. As a younger person, I remember that I could safely assume that adults were wiser than me. They were older, more experienced, and therefore smarter. That was a pretty reasonable thing to assume. Now, I can interact with someone twice my age and realize they have no idea what’s going on. That’s good though because neither do I.
The last, and probably most potent ingredient for my feelings of ancientness was seeing the way people my age were living. When people your age are suddenly engaged, married, or pregnant, you realize adulthood is in full fruition. The same goes for non-personal life accomplishments. Seeing your friend buying their own house, or finishing graduate school: oh my god. Who’s letting you pursue a Ph.D., Sandra? A moment ago you were eating mud. Oh wait, that was 20 years ago.
So, after collecting my oldness data, I noted one thing that all these triggers of old had in common: other people. My feelings of being old were the result of comparing my 22-year-old self, with other people, or with old versions of myself. That was the realization I made at 23.
Yeah, it’s been a while since I bought my Nintendo, and no, I’m not married, I’m not buying a house, and I’m definitely not going to be a doctor any time soon. That’s okay though. We progress rapidly through some areas of our lives, naturally, and others will take a while to develop. I took a deep breath the other day, stared at my babyface in the mirror and forgave myself for feeling pressured to accomplish so much so quickly. I looked forward to achieving everything I want to achieve and felt blessed for all the time I have to do it. Which, by the way, is a long time.
The moment I had that realization, I felt very young.