Throughout my teens and twenties I was terrified of “growing old”. Most of the “adults” in my life seemed to live boring lives that didn’t appeal to me at all. I love my parents, but I never saw them explore hobbies, go on vacations alone, have passion for anything, or really have close friendships. Their lives revolved around work and raising kids, and that is about it. Outside of my parents the adults were very similar (this is likely because my entire life was a middle-ish class, white, protestant Christian suburb). Adulthood meant the end of freedom and the end of fun… at least until retirement, but by then your body and mind would be failing you.
I’m sure a decent therapist could link many of my decisions back to this fear of adulthood, this fear of growing up, this fear of becoming my parents.
Things have changed though (as they often do).
Now that I’ve seen “adults” who don’t let their kids and family dominate their identity I see getting older as an amazing adventure. I’m stronger and healthier now than I was in most of my 20’s. I have passion for more things and the opportunity to explore them at my leisure. I have a partner who is catalyst for new experiences (travel, sexual, friendships, intellectual, etc) instead of restricting my opportunities for variety.
In some ways I know I lucked out. If I had stayed in Oregon or decided to marry my first fiance then my life would have been very, very different. I guess that isn’t really “luck”, but you know what I mean.
I also think my younger fear of growing old could have been avoided if I had more adults in my life who lived lives different than my parents. I don’t think my folks were intentionally shielding me from variety, I just think they started a family young and naturally gravitated towards like-minded people. When you are still in college when your first child is born it is difficult to make friends with people who don’t have the same backgrounds. My parents turned to the church for support and community, but the church was very much like them.
If I had seen adults who were in their 40’s and happily single, or who had passion for art and creativity, or who made fitness and health a priority in their lives it would have shown me the options for adulthood and given me a little guidance when I realized I didn’t want to be like my parents. I think there is a lot of value in having friendships and bonds with people who are different than you, especially if you have children.
Now that I’m in my mid-30’s (and the internet exists) I have lots of models for how my 40’s-120’s can end up. There are centenarians who run marathons, there are authors who started in their 40’s, there are PhD students in their 50’s. I can look upon all these people and be inspired, and pick-and-choice the traits and paths that appeal to me most. I only wish I would have had all that when I was younger.