Time is a slippery old thing.
One moment you’re revelling in being able to use your garden furniture for more than two weekends on the trot, the next you’re overhearing the word “Christmas” pop up in conversations like the awkward dinner party guest who turns up half an hour early, just as you’re switching your hairdryer on.
Also, you become another year older. Or I did, earlier this month. And as a result I’ve been thinking about time passing and I guess, more explicitly, ageing.
But here’s the thing – I’ve been thinking about it in a positive way.
I turned 34, which as it turns out is quite a strange age to be, especially as a woman who doesn’t have a husband or children. Not because I feel pressure to tick those boxes – I live in London where it’s not that unusual to leave those kind of commitments until later on, or – don’t spit your Horlicks out – decide not to do them at all (but that subject’s for an entirely separate post, perhaps).
The reason it’s strange is because I’m starting to feel too old to be young – but at the same time, too young to be old. And if you’re over the age of 40 and thinking about how much you want to bash my face in with something materialised out of my own self-indulgence, just hear me out.
It’s weird because I do feel pretty sorted. I have a fulfilling relationship, fun career, busy social life and more disposable income than I’ve ever had – but now I’m seeing constant reminders of how my peers are “grown-ups”. And I’m not talking buying their broccoli from Waitrose grown-up but the babies, mortgages, start-ups, second weddings sort of grown-up.
Meanwhile, the only sort of growing up I’ve noticed within myself lately is the fact I can’t quite get away with two bottles of wine and three hours of sleep on a school night anymore (or on a weekend one, for that matter) and a slight permanent tired look that even a fortnight in the Caribbean couldn’t erase.
Life “goals” aside though, let me just mention that magic moment when you realise that you’re older than you feel. More and more often I find myself talking to people at work or down the pub who I assume are around my age – only to discover I’m a decade older than them and they’ve never heard of NSYNC. And that’s not to say I spend a lot of time with reverse Benjamin Button types who’ve been dealt a hard knock in life – I just completely forget I’m a bit of an old hag now.
I jest, of course. Though it’s not exactly a massive epiphany to observe that we’re obsessed with our own decay. It’s funny though, because now I’m noticing the social and physical effects of ageing more and more, I don’t care about it quite so much as I used to.
I remember when I turned 23 and panicked when I saw a picture of myself with slight lines on my forehead. I was bereft, all of a sudden very aware I could no longer pass for a teenager and was now hurtling full pelt towards real life and real responsibility, whether I liked it or not. In fact, looking back at the whole of my 20s, all I see is a blur of raging worry and discontent. Thanks to being preoccupied with things that were either unimportant like my weight, or things I could easily change such as having a boyfriend who was being a dick to me, all I could think about was what I wanted next, what I could have and most of all, what I didn’t have.
And then around the time I hit 30 a few things happened that really shifted the way I perceived life. One of my best friends almost died and I left an unhealthy relationship that I’d been unhappy in for around a year. After that, life was just about getting by rather than having it all.
Now, as I edge towards my mid-30s, I’ve found the kind of things that used to give me a panic attack on the tube have somewhat diminished. I’ve relaxed and realised that as long as you’re happy in your present, what else do you really need?
And this is why I wonder, why as a society are we so afraid of time? Why do we pine for our youth so much? Sure, the average 22-year-old’s got dewy skin but they’re also more likely to be absolutely ridden with anxiety, thanks to this abnormal pressure put on everyone.
At that age I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and that terrified me. Now I don’t even preoccupy myself with the future because I know I am already living it – and I think younger me would be pretty chuffed with where I am now. And the main thing is, present me doesn’t really give a stuff what that young woman or anyone else thinks, anyway.
Of course my life isn’t now perfect and there are always going to be things I want and would like to achieve. But my 30s have given me that little bit of wisdom and confidence I needed to realise there’s no point in sweating about what will and could happen.
This is why I’m not merely tolerating ageing but I’m embracing it. It gives you one of the most bittersweet yet useful gifts of all – retrospect.
And sure, time can be cruel – but if you still have it in front of you, then it’s being merciful.
So I’m just going to enjoy it while I can.