Today is my 33rd birthday. And because I’m so old now, I wanted to take an opportunity to make some observations about the experience of aging.
Your early 30s are an interesting age because I think it’s the first time in your life that you actually experience what most people would call aging.
Everything up to about age 20 or 25 is growth. You don’t “age” as a teenager, you grow. Then, throughout your 20s, you “mature,” you “find yourself,” you “figure things out,” but you’re still young and you’re still certainly not feeling any effects of aging.
Physically, the human body peaks around age 27, and I think that’s when the sense of physical decline kicks in. I also think it’s around then that one has gained enough adult experience to be able to look back at oneself 10+ years ago with some decent amount of perspective.
I don’t actually. I know very little. But this is kind of why the subject fascinates me at the moment. It’s a new experience for me. This feeling of “getting old.” So, in honor of my birthday, I just want to take a moment to talk about it.
1. Time speeds up
First, the obvious. The older you get, the more your perception of time speeds up. Years go by faster. Entire weeks go by without you realizing it.
The acceleration of time makes sense. The older you get, the smaller proportion each year is to the entirety of your life. When you’re 10, a year makes up 10% of your lifetime. That’s a big deal! When you’re 30, it makes up only about 3.3%. And when you’re 50, it makes up but 2%. In a sense, a year at 50 feels five times faster than a year does at age 10.
The acceleration of time perception is a bit stressful. One, because it never slows down. But two, because the older you get, the more you feel as though time is “slipping away” from you.
Relationships become affected as well. When you’re 18, knowing your friend for a year is a big deal. You’ve shared a sizeable chunk of your life together. But at 32, a year together isn’t such a huge amount. Relative to each of your life experiences, you’ve shared very little of your history with one another, and so that bond doesn’t seem to solidify as strongly or as quickly.
But aging fucks with friendships in other ways too. So much so, it probably deserves its own bullet point.
2. Friendships become more complicated
One thing I’m realizing in my 30s is that friendships are something that a lot of people begin to struggle with. I think there are a few reasons for this.
The biggest one is probably marriage and kids. Once you’re married, you generally look for other couples to hang out with. This adds a layer of complication when meeting people, as sometimes your wife might like somebody, but the husband is a raging jackhole — or vice-versa.
Throw kids into the mix and it gets even more complicated, as now you’re extremely focused on meeting other young parents, preferably with kids around your kids’ age. And if their kid is a dick to your kid, well, then that just kind of screws up everybody’s weekend.
But I think the struggle with friendships in your 30s has a deeply psychological component as well. And that’s for the simple reason that friendships don’t serve as vital of an emotional function as they do when you’re younger.
When you’re a teenager, you live and die by your friends. Everything you do is based on what your friends are doing, what they think, etc.
In your 20s, meeting new people from all walks of life is exciting. Everything is new. Everything is being experienced together for the first time — first dates, first parties, first jobs, graduations, etc. You want to meet everybody and do everything for the simple fact that you can for the first time.
But by your thirties, you’re pretty solidified in who you are. You know what you want and what you want to spend your time doing. You’re not so reliant on the people around you to decide what you’re doing with your life or find meaning. Therefore, you end up in this kind of double-whammy period of life where friends are harder to meet than they were before AND you don’t feel like you need to hang out with as many people as you used to. The result, for a lot of people, is a slowly atrophying social life.
I think your 30s is the first decade in life where you have to start making a conscious effort to build and maintain friendships. It’s something you have to invest time and effort in, much like your career or your family. And that’s kind of a bummer. Because gone are the days when you were younger where friendships were so spontaneous and exciting and purposeless. As you get older, you have to get more strategic about them.
3. Less bullshit
Or maybe it’s just that you’re willing to put up with less bullshit. It’s funny, the last few months, I’ve been playing some video games online with a group of college age guys. And to listen to their concerns and “drama” that goes on is kind of endearing. And pitiful.
They don’t know how to say no to people. They also don’t know how to hear no from people without taking it horribly personally. When we play, if there’s someone who’s being annoying, I’m invariably the one who tells them to cut it out.
This is then seen among these younger guys as some sort of super power. As if I was born with some uncanny ability to say what everyone else is embarrassed to say.
No, it’s just called age. I’ve listened to 12 more years of bullshit than any of these guys have, and so through the simple fact of time and experience, I’ve become adept at dealing with it.
And it’s great. Don’t let anybody tell you getting older sucks. Any drawbacks are counterbalanced by the gains you get in regards to calm and confidence.
4. Leisure over excitement
This past Friday, while my wife was out at dinner with a friend, I turned on a documentary I had been meaning to watch for a few weeks. Within 20 minutes I was asleep on the couch.
About an hour later I wake up and look at my phone. My wife asked, “How was the movie?” I told her I fell asleep and missed it.
Just another wild and crazy Friday night in the life of Mark Manson.
But here’s the kicker: I liked it. If you had asked me that night if I’d prefer this or going to some crazy party, I’d probably have picked the couch.
When you’re younger, you equate fun with excitement. Fun is all about discovering new things. But as you age, fun becomes much more about leisure. It’s about relaxation.
I think there’s a reason for this (and it relates to my post about The Four Stages of Life).
When you’re young, everything is new. Life is essentially just a cascade of new, higher-level experiences.
As a result, your life is full of a lot of excitement and emotion, and because you’re so young and just starting to live independently, everything feels so new.
Life is also kind of simple. And while there may be stress, it’s a much more shallow kind of stress. Like missing a class, or hating your summer job. You (probably) aren’t raising a kid. You aren’t 10 years into your career and haven’t accumulated huge responsibilities at work. You’re not paying off a mortgage.
By your 30s, most of that has reversed. You’re old enough to have experienced a lot of what you hoped to experience. Excitement for its own sake is less interesting to you. Instead, you have deep commitments in your life that you have to live up to — your career goals, your family, your financial ties.
And as a result, what’s way more valuable to you? Leisure time. Time where you can just get away and unwind and not think about anything for a while.