June 13, 2003
Having faced the fact that I'm now comfortably middle aged, I can't help wondering why everyone wants to be a teenager again.
Of course everyone wants to be younger, if only for the very good reason that being younger means were further away from the big dirt nap that waits for us all at the other end. But theres a big difference between feeling young and acting childish. For example, if I see one more out of shape, 45 year old, bare belly sticking out from under a crop-top Im going to scream.
And when you hit fifty, its time to put away the nose ring. I cant wait for them to be eventually sitting around the retirement home comparing body piercings and complaining the cleaning staff must have stolen their favourite tongue stud.
As usual, pop media is to blame. Magazines and TV are full of images of ever younger faces and bodies. Young people lounge on cars they wont be able to afford for another ten years. You know there is something seriously wrong when wrinkle cream is being sold by fresh faced 16 year olds. If supermodels get any younger they're going to have stem cells modeling next year's fashions.
Although I had very happy teen years myself, I wouldn't want to go back. We forget the awkwardness and limitations we had - although Id give anything to believe I am as smart as I thought I was back then. Being older means you develop a healthy sense of self-doubt.
In our search to be 14 years old again, I think were in danger of missing out on the joys of being adults.
Take sex for example. I'm not going to go into detail here, but by middle age you ought to know how it works. As a teenager, it's either mostly theoretical or pretty much a hit or miss affair. With a little luck, after a decade or two you can be past the basics. And you can buy whatever you need at the drug store with pride and not embarrassment.
I dont miss the emotional drama of the teenage years. Whether you were prone to displays of hissy fits or not, before you hit twenty everything feels like a tragedy or a triumph. A little more life experience smoothes out the highs and lows and teaches you that life carries on. Think of middle age as natures own Prozac.
One of the benefits of getting older is acquiring a better sense of taste. You can appreciate the better things a little more, and your booze doesnt have to have the flavour of cherry, rootbeer or watermelon, or need to have the word "wild" on the label. You also realize that drinking until you fall down, wreck the car or take off your pants at a wedding never really was that much fun in the first place.
By forty years old you should have learned to say "no" without worrying what other people think. When you think about it, that one little word can keep you out of a world of trouble, and becomes your first line of defense against aggressive telemarketers.
Being out of your teens also means you can stay up and out as late as you like. Ironically, thats also the same time you start to make excuses so you can get home and to bed early. After all, its tiring being that mature all day.