As we enjoyed a delicious and nutritious potluck meal, the topic of “getting older” came up.
Everyone agreed– we weren’t teenagers anymore.
Proper food, sleep, exercise, and stress reduction were big on everyone’s list of “stuff that matters.”
At a certain point, I casually mentioned that I’ve been experimenting with various diets, workout plans, mindfulness practices, etc. over the past twenty years or so, and– after a lot of trial and error– I’m feeling healthier than ever at “almost 38.”
This was, I must tell you, a conversation stopper.
“Wait…” said this one girl, after a lot of silence and staring. “You’re how old?”
“I’m turning 38 on July 1.”
Someone else chimed in: “I would have said 29, max.”
The original girl said: “I would have guessed 23.”
The guy sitting next to me actually reached over and– prodding my tricep with his index finger– confided to the rest of the group: “He’s real.”
While some variation of this conversation actually transpires fairly often when meeting people for the first time, only recently has it occurred to me to ask the following question in response (which I actually asked my dinner mates):
“What did you expect a 37-year-old to look like?”
* * *
We live in a society that worships youth and places an inordinate amount of importance/ judgement on how people “look.” Everyone (except an underage teenager trying to buy alcohol) wants to look younger.
Why don’t we just want to look the age that we actually are?
Anyway, whether or not people think I “look my age” is not the question.
The question is, why are people surprised when I tell them that I am the age that I am?
Why do they (inevitably) imagine that a 37-year-old should look “older” than I look?
* * *
I know that there are people in the world who experience something akin to “premature aging” due to any number of factors ranging from severe malnutrition to relentless stress to extreme exposure to the elements to excessive drug and alcohol abuse.
Not everyone has the luxury to “age gracefully.”
For those of us who do have the luxury to make “healthy” lifestyle choices (which is pretty much everyone who’s able to read these words on their electronic media device of choice), how we look is very much a product of how we act, and how we feel.
Now, you can say that I have “young genes,” or “a fast metabolism,” but I know for a fact that neither of these are the primary reason I look “younger” than my age.
Yeah, my metabolism was fast when I was 21 and I could eat anything I wanted and not gain weight.
These days, if I’m not careful with my food choices and diligent in my yoga practice and walking (the only two “fitness” practices I currently engage in), I will pack on fat around my middle like anyone else “my age.”
The fact of the matter is, though– I’ve cut my processed foods intake and my refined sugar intake by probably 80 – 90% of what it was a few years ago (when I also used to regularly lift weights at the gym, cycle, and swim laps), and my jeans fit looser now than they did then. (Incidentally, my skin is also clearer and my vital stats are all excellent for my age bracket.)
So, yes. I make it a priority to take care of myself in the ways I know I need to.
The other main reason that I look “younger than my age” is that I have, over the years, consistently refrained from casual consumption of intoxicating substances in their various forms.
Let’s be honest. Excessive alcohol, drugs, and the drug we call cigarettes will age you.
I look like a 37-year-old who treats himself the way that I treat myself– “Body as Temple of the Soul,” and all that mystical jazz.
* * *
But there’s still that other thing:
A person tends to look as old as they feel.
(I know there’s probably no hard science behind this statement, but I’m sticking with it.)
When I “feel” old and crappy, I tend to look that way, also.
The girl at the Seder table who would have guessed that I was 23 offered the following justification for her reasoning: “You just seem so… youthful!”
And, to be fair to my peers, maybe that’s because I’m not a “responsible adult” with a mortgage and a high-pressure job and a newborn and/or a kid or three running around the house, etc., etc.
But there’s something to be said for the fact that I refuse to consider myself “old.”
Not that I consider myself “young,” either.
I consider myself my age– and my experience.
I might look 23 or 29, but I feel 37.
And to be honest with you– I feel better at 37 than I did at 23 or 29, when I might have still been in pretty good physical condition, but a mess inside of my head.
Yeah, it might be nice to actually be those ages again with the hard-won wisdom that I’ve acquired in the past decade or so– but that sort of thinking comes from a place of feeling “old and regretful,” and I try not to go there if I can help it.
Truth is, 47-year-old Evan is probably gonna look back with another decade of wisdom and shake his head at the “naive youngster” writing these words.
Who knows, maybe he’ll be sitting around the Seder table and people won’t be able to get over the fact that he’s not 37, as they might have guessed.
* * *
Look, all I know is, I’m way closer to 40 now than I am to 20– and that potentially has the power to mess with my head a bit.
I don’t feel like someone on the cusp of “middle age” (whatever the heck that’s supposed to feel like), but I also don’t feel like a kid anymore.
I’ve reached the point where I’m starting to realize that it wouldn’t be such a horrible thing if adulthood started to catch up with me a bit; I kinda would like to meet “that special someone” already, and, well– if not exactly “settle down”– then “go steady” and adventure together with an eye towards marriage.
I’d also like to have kids one day, but (looking at my almost-mid-life bank account) I get the feeling that they’re not going to grow up with the same creature comforts that I grew up with in late 20th century suburban America. (Though, I have to say, I’m pretty much OK with that.)
* * *
You want to know something funny?
This wasn’t at all what I planned to write about when I started writing this post.
(I was going to write about yoga.)
I guess I ended up writing what I needed to write.
Come to think of it, though--
It's all yoga, isn't it?