Forty feels nothing like what I imagined forty would feel like.
Even into my early thirties, I imagined someday I’d probably just stop playing video games. I imagined this in the context of some fundamental and inevitable change that I would undergo as a person. At some point, I imagined, I'd finally get the appropriate psyche that you'd expect for an old person and with that I’d just put away these childish things and start reading newspapers more often, and maybe walk around talking to other old people about how tragic it is that no one reads newspapers anymore.
In hindsight it’s a pretty naïve way of thinking about age and identity, but until you'd have lived it, you just don’t know. When I was young I looked at people ten and fifteen years older and I'd wonder what was the thing that finally dragged down the edges of their mouth and made grim their expressions. The answer is "gravity," I suppose, but what I didn’t know was that, regardless of wrinkles and grey, they were probably the same person they had been when they were my age.
Thing is, I feel young. Arguably, at a mere forty I am still young. Sure, my bones make slightly different complaints than they once did, and my beard looks like a dingy snow bank, but if I go long enough without looking in a mirror, I’m always slightly surprised to not see the once-familiar young face there. It’s not just nostalgia, it’s that on the inside I really don’t feel much different.
That’s a pleasant discovery.
I’m at an age normally reserved for good, solid midlife crises, and if I’m honest I now understand why they happen. I don’t think, like a lot of people seem to, that it has to do with someone finally coming to terms with the certainty that someday — and it’s not as far from now as it used to be — the world will happily spin without them alive on it.
No, I think instead, it’s just that we of middle-age live in a moment between simply not being able to afford a whim and having lost the desire to do the whim. My own personal midlife crisis activities are pretty much plastered all over this front page already. Largely, if you just walked into my life without context and found me writing about video games and playing enough of them to justify that writing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I must be trying to recapture my youth.
Well, no. I don’t have to recapture anything. That youth is still bubbling at a good, rolling simmer on the inside. When I see the stereotypical older person in a relationship with someone much younger, I don’t find myself automatically assuming there’s anything intentionally prurient there. It’s probably just a reflection of how that person still sees themselves. If you gave me enough time, I’d be able to forget that I was 40, that I wasn’t still in college, that I had to know what my cholesterol level was.
With some caveats around not doing anything unreasonably stupid, I think it’s probably healthy for people to avoid acting their age the older they get. There’s the whole young-at-heart cliché, which is only a clichéd because it’s mentioned a lot and not because it’s untrue. It’s just that I think making a conscious decision to put away these things that sustain your energy and enthusiasm is pointlessly self limiting. The idea that I want to learn to play the guitar and start a band with some of my other old-person friends isn’t the desperate cry for help that I might have suspected when I was in my twenties. It’s just on the list of things to do that I haven’t been able to get to until now.
There should be a primer — a realistic, experiential guide that helps you know what’s coming. In many of my most grand experiences in my life (and certainly aging is among them), I can find out the facts of what will happen before they come along, but rarely do I see someone come along and say, "This is what it might feel like. This is what you might think. This is what the human experience will be."
Or maybe they did tell me, and I just wasn’t listening.
It’s encouraging, though, for me to think that as my body grows older, that growth doesn't mean that the source of "me" has to grow older as well. I can see the temptation for obsession over the idea of being a young person trapped in an increasingly fragile and frail casing, but if the outside is bound to decay either way, I’d rather at least get to experience the ride as the version of me to which I’ve grown accustomed.
Perhaps this is all wrong. Perhaps when I turn 43 I will cross that “I’m old!” threshold and pack away the Steam account and my guitar. Maybe it will at some point be as I had always suspected, that the person you are on the inside begins to grow tired as well. I hope not, though.
I kinda like being a big kid.