Recently, I’ve had a lot of talks with friends my age (we’re all generally around 21) about getting older — something we know a fair amount about. Okay, I lied about the parenthetical part of that intro. We’re all pushing 40. And we’ve found ourselves in that awkward “not-old, definitely-not-all-that-young-anymore” phase. Well, not all that young unless we’re hanging out with, say, a random gang of 80-year-olds. Which I really should do more often because my skin would probably look amazing in comparison.
Just kidding. That’s rude thing to say. Okay, not kidding. I thought it and meant it. I’m rude.
Anyway, we’re deeply in that “woah, did you see so-and-so from high school on Facebook? How do they look so OLD” part of our show. Followed by the requisite pause…
“Do I look that old?” Then the rush of mutual assurances and “Oh my God, please, you look amazing,” various accolades doled out to our favorite Korean skin care products, agreements that the efficacy of moisturizer is directly proportional to how overpriced it was and other ways we reassure ourselves that we could totally basically pass for Elle Fanning. (Please note: The majority of these conversations happen in New York, where, for some reason, the under-40 population has made a profession out of substantiating claims that we look younger than our non-New York peers. I think it may have something to do with a false sense of entitlement we feel comes with paying $800 a month for a parking spot in a shady garage. That perceived privilege of Benjamin Button Syndrome may also be an unspoken trade-off for the amount of human waste we come into close contact with on a near daily basis on the city’s transit system. Somehow the proximity to a pile of human feces is subconsciously considered a fair exchange for looking like you graduated high school in 1999.)“I probably couldn’t pick another 37-year-old out of a lineup. Unless the lineup were a 37-year-old, a newborn, a cat and the dancing old guy from those terrible Six Flags commercials.”
But the conversation inevitably shifts back to “Do I look old and I’m just not aware of it?” And that sudden calamitous internal panic sets in where you realize you may have no true sense of how old you appear to the rest of the world. This feels like a distinctly 30s thing.
When you’re a kid, it’s obvious who the other kids are — those blessed creatures with zero concept of financial burden and zero fucks to give when their faces were covered with three-day-old Fudgesicle crust. Teenagers also instinctively know other teenagers. Senior citizens coolin’ out on lounge chairs by the pool (dream job, by the way) are like “game recognize game.”
But my fellow 37-year-olds? I probably couldn’t pick another 37-year-old out of a lineup. Unless the lineup were a 37-year-old, a newborn, a cat and the dancing old guy from those terrible Six Flags commercials. (And even that’s up for debate because I read that he’s actually this guy, who could easily be 37, so, again, I have no idea.)
I just know I’m at that weird place where I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to hard too be “young” (I believe that’s called “thirsty”), but I sure as hell don’t want to seem “old” (which is, of course, a fluid designation and social construct but fuck if I want someone mistaking me for my 25-year-old cousin’s mom. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH BEING THE MOTHER OF A 25-YEAR-OLD. I’m just…not one.)
And I ABSOLUTELY don’t want to seem like the person trying to seem younger than they are because that’s just the saddest. It’s like watching someone with very little upper body strength try to haul themselves out of the deep end of a pool or a poor roller skater try to stand up after a spill or Mike Huckabee try to understand anything ever. Everyone knows it’s just not going to go well for them. And, quite frankly, I’d rather just seem old. (Also, I just really aged myself by referencing roller skates. So be it.) But there’s nothing worse than the judgment of young people. Young people nodding their heads and furtively glancing at each other in a desperate, knowing grip of “Did you hear when the old person said ‘word to yo motha?’ It was so sad…”
A well-timed bon mot used to go over like fireworks. Twenty years later, a person of a “certain age” saying “slayed” can feel as grim as a fart in an elevator.
And language plays a big part of the smudged, smeared gray area of age. The digital age (probably something old people say) has made it easier than ever for humans to speak the same language, share the same colloquialisms and communicate in the same slang. Language now cuts across all ages.
When I was growing up (in the very late ’90s… just kidding, it was the ’20s…just kidding it was the very early ’80s), kids read Highlights or Sweet Pickles books. Teenagers read some pandering “boy crazy” crap or Nancy Drew or Babysitter’s Club books, adults read “the paper” and National Geographic.
Now we’re all drinking from the same well: Adults and kids share Harry Potter. People of all ages read Twilight series, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey. (Perverts. Okay, whatever. I read that one too.) The same TMZ and same New Yorker. It may be easier to hide out on different corners of the Internet, away from parents’ prying (or oblivious) eyes, but it’s easier than ever to figure out what the hell “the kids” are saying. To ascertain what “bae” means (ugh) or “on fleek”…she types, aging this article faster than a ripe avocado, sliced open and left sitting out on the kitchen counter.
So, now I’m at the point where I wonder if my references are out of the date. Is the cultural attaché case in which I reference and recall those idioms, catchphrases and pop culture reminiscences totally last season? To put it bluntly: Is my shit stale? I haven’t seen or read Paper Towns. I know some Ariana Grande songs but not all of them. I do not care at all about Ed Sheeran. I know some things are Drake lyrics, but there are other things that I don’t know if they are Drake or Future lyrics or something some Vine person said. Or a Vine of a reference to that original Vine. I cringe every time I see a young person dressed like the human embodiment of day two of Coachella. I just can’t with a “Good vibes only” t-shirt. Sometimes I feel like that part in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil is like “I’m hip! I’m with it!” And then I remember that if ever an Austin Powers reference pops into my head, I must immediately and silently shush myself in that shrill between-the-teeth hiss and remind myself that I should never mention Austin Powers aloud in front of anyone ever. Oof. That was a close one. (Who’s Cara Delevingne, by the way?)
And yet, the word “selfie” makes me want to grab a rolling pin and run out onto my stoop and shake it feebly and angrily at a pack of youths. Youths with their perfect skin and their automatic pogo sticks and their Fetty Wap.
The Internet is younger than me, and it’s only getting younger. Even Taylor Swift and her “squad” are getting older and will soon be replaced by some newer iteration with their own iterative language (much of it inevitably “borrowed” from drag, black and gay cultures.) Possibly this fetus or a Tumblr queen with a penchant for making double peace signs and always sticking her tongue out in photos. Pretty soon even GIFs will be lame (and we’ll all be fucked.)
When I was younger, I was an active participant in pubescent patois. Maybe even a ringleader. Now I’m a cultural voyeur doing a drive-by. Not even. I’m the Felicia in Friday.
But aside from not wanting to look like the real-life version of Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls, I’m both old enough to make my peace with generally not totally caring. Yet oddly young enough to know what “bae” means. But also old enough to know it’s just not cute coming out of the mouth of a 37-year-old grown-ass woman. I mean 27. I mean 32. Wait. Lied again. I’m 37.
Passing the linguistic torch is a rite of passage, and I’m fine with that. If this essay were a movie, this would be the part where I tumble off the boardwalk, lose grip of the lifesaver, get sucked back into a tumultuous sea and just let the water pull me under. The young people pay no attention. “I WAS ONCE LIKE YOUUUUUUU! I WATCHED ‘THE O.C.’ SOMEWHERE BETWEEN IRONICALLY AND COMPLETELY SERIOUSLY!” I’ll yell, growing hoarse, coughing, choking up water and wondering what ever happened to Velamints and Sucrets.
They don’t hear me. They’re too busy taking the Snapchats.