I have discovered the secret to eternal youth and I am prepared to share it with you (how terribly kind of me). Here goes; I have stopped having birthdays. That’s not to say I’m claiming that I shall forever remain the image of vitality and baby-buttocked facial freshness that I was at the age of 16, sadly I don’t have an attic in which to keep my portrait á la Dorian Gray, but I have found myself now unconstrained by the awful terror of impending age.
Ok, let’s get this out the way. I am not going to discuss my actual age so please don’t bore us all by guessing. Besides, I think I may actually have blanked it from my memory some time ago, either that or I lost track after having introduced a film franchise style of birthday for a while. First there was 21, then there was 21: The Sequel. After that we had 21: Again (not the best according to the critics), 21: The Return and who can forget the gripping 21: Strikes Back. I was 21 for quite some time but that all stopped when people started laughing in my clearly 25-year-old face. Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m 25. You at the back, stop laughing!
My deep rooted hatred for birthdays is a complex matter that some future therapist will probably charge a vast sum of money to explore, so let’s not deprive them of their early retirement fund, let’s leave that for now and instead look at just one of the many, many reasons that people dread certain age marking milestones (other than dry cake and poorly thought out gifts) and that I believe causes signs of premature aging.
When you were a wee nipper, you could not wait to be that little bit older, that little bit closer to independence, to riding a big-boy bike, to staying up past 19:00, to being allowed to get your ears pierced. When asking a four year old how old they are, they suddenly turn into Rainman with all kinds of mathmaticals being spouted with alarming accuracy. They are not four, they are four and nine twelfths, born on a Saturday at exactly 09:11 which means that they will be 5 in precisely 85 days, 15 hours, 38 minutes and counting. Then they go back to eating blue paint and trying to put shoes on the dog. Being older cannot happen fast enough.
Until you are older.
Once you get to your adult years, certain milestones start looming ominously like a dentist appointment. Milestones were there when you were younger, only it was up to your poor frantic parents to fret over these. Well, now that baton has been passed and you can start forming your own wrinkled brow, both metaphorically and literally (Botox allowing). When you were small, your parents worried that you hadn’t said your first word by the time you were 1, they worried that other children were walking before you and they also worried, in certain rural areas, that you weren’t pregnant by the time you were 16 (“She baint be fertile, she’ll not make a wife. Sell her to the neighbour for tendin’ thems pigs”).
I call these milestones in adulthood ‘Magic Numbers’ because of all the unrealistic mystical power and ridiculous fairytale endings that we pin on them. I’m not talking about the legal age markers, such as the ones that allow you to get drunk without having to hide round the back of the youth club, or the ones that mean you can have sex, again, without hiding behind the youth club, I’m talking about the ones we set for ourselves. Everyone has at least one, you may have passed the first one but you can bet your fertile farm daughter that there’s another one round the corner.
Let’s use 30 as an example of a Magic Number. I could use another number but then 30 might get offended and I have no time for sulking digits.
Chaps, don’t pretend turning 30 doesn’t/didn’t get you too. Yes, it’s mainly the women who are vocal about dreading the impending commencement of their fourth decade (it sounds worse like that, doesn’t it?) but after a few sherries, more than a few of you boys have confessed to me that you also produce enough bricks in your undercrackers to supply a building site when mid-twenties turn to late-twenties. You thought you would be fine with it, you thought that it was funny to watch other people squirm through their Magic Number Melt Down. Well, you’re now regretting that “hilarious” getting-too-old comment you wrote in their birthday card because you, yes you, are sobbing into your pillow each night because you are nowhere near where you “should” be in life and that age is in the post.
Show me someone in their late twenties and I will show you a nervous wreck filled with self-doubt and terror who views the approach of their 30th birthday like some slow moving, unavoidable, deadly zombie. They aren’t in a long term relationship so there’s no way marriage will happen in the next 3 years which means there’s no chance of a baby in that time either *gasp*. Still working at the job which just about pays the bills but sucks their soul and yet everywhere in the media are foetuses parading round making millions from their dreamlike careers (Mark Zuckerberg and Miley Cyrus, I’m pointing my finger in your direction) *shudder*. They don’t own a house, they don’t even rent a very nice one *tremble*. They can’t afford to pay off their credit card bill without joking about turning to prostitution. They are joking, right?
The list goes on and on. All these things that we MUST have accomplished by the time we hit our 30th birthday or something really terribly awful will happen. So awful, so terrible, the thing, it’s um, well. What will happen if you haven’t done all these things is, um…
On the other side of 30, 40, 65, or any other Magic Number (so I’m told, I’m still 25 so don’t really know), isn’t a gaping chasm of failure and you don’t get carted off to The Valley Of The Sad And Lonely to live out the rest of your days alphabetising your DVD collection surrounded by cat hair. What actually happens is that you get to breathe a huge sigh of liberated relief, the dark clouds of doubt lift and you realise that today is exactly the same as yesterday and the universe still holds you in about as much regard as a pimple on its bottom, just like it does everyone else.
You still have your entire life ahead of you to marry the wrong person before finding the right one, to have a fantastically dysfunctional loving family and make questionable career choices that earn you less/more and make you happier/richer. The mortgage? Well, you realise that you don’t know if you actually want to live in this climate for the rest of your life so paying rent to a cockroach is probably very prudent for the time being.
You can breathe normally without the aid of a paper bag (or a bottle of wine) again. You can enjoy getting on with real life and not counting down to that awful day where you officially earn your failure merit badge. Things are rosy again, you can skip down the street like a giddy school girl on her way to the free ice cream store, until you suddenly notice a dirty black smudge on the horizon… Oh no. Another Magic Number!!!
Fear not, for there is a solution. You can exchange all this terror and grey hair inducing torment for eternal youth, simply by ignoring all the silly expectations placed on age related achievements or, like me, just give up birthdays!