The Best Thing About Being My Age

Please excuse the title, which feels at least a little like it could have been the proposed title for a creative writing project for a group of 7-year-olds, but it feels like the best title for the job. It’s not, I know, but it’s my blog and I don’t care. I just wanted to share with you one of the single worst things about being a child (and equally, perhaps more so, a young adult) that I mostly now get to look back on.

That thing – the thing which thankfully gets better with time – is the patronising cynicism of your elders. Over the course of my life, I’ve made a great number of decisions: some of which I’m happy with, and some of which I’m not – that’s the nature and the beauty of life. And, of course, others may approve or disapprove of my decisions. That’s fine too.

The problem comes when people try to use their age to invalidate your independence. How often have you heard a parent or grandparent or teacher imply that a younger person is "just going through a phase," or that, perhaps most critically of all, "they’ll see" when they’re older: the implication being that they will see that they were wrong when they were younger and remember the smug faces of their mentors.

I’ve made a great number of decisions, and, because I’m a rather unusual individual, some of these have been unusual decisions. Not all of my plans have unfolded as I’d expected, and many of my ideas have changed, but some haven’t. I’d love to be able to more clearly remember every single person who implied that by now I’d have changed my mind, and slowly and calmly explain what belittling twats they were. Of course, it doesn’t take too great an age before you start forgetting things like that, and it’s all a bit theoretical… but I’d love to be able to better announce, "Yes, I’m still me: surprised?"

My single favourite example – because it’s trivial, "tame," and easy to debate, as well as being a genuinely good example – is my decision not to marry, which will come up again in a blog entry in the near future, I suspect. Allow me to elaborate:

This decision is based on a great many things: that it provides me with no benefits I don’t seem to be able to achieve by better means, that it has societal implications that I disagree with, and that I feel that whatever benefits it could conceivably get me would be given to me in an example of unfair positive disrcimination, which I object to. Plus a million others (if you’re looking to debate the point with me, catch me in person or wait until a blog post more specifically on the subject). Now this isn’t a new revelation for me: I’ve been sticking to my guns on this point for about a decade now, and I’m not showing any signs of changing my stance… I have no objection to people disagreeing with me: in fact, when I hold an off-the-beaten-track viewpoint like this one, I ought to expect it. But as a young adult, the number of times I was told that "I’d grow out of that," "I’d change my mind someday," or, worst of all, "I’d fall in love with somebody, then I’d see," – like there’s some kind of magical link between love and marriage that appears in your mind exactly ten years after your balls drop – goes beyond my ability to recount.

Why do people do this? Statistically speaking, adults who say these things are usually right: they’re speaking from experience, albeit their own experience, and they’re not stupid. But that’s not an excuse to tell anybody, and especially a child, that their feelings are invalid or somehow wrong because they will probably be changed by time. Those younger than you may lack experience, but that doesn’t make their opinions wrong – just different.

I got lucky. My parents were always brilliant at nurturing and helping me through anything I felt was right… even the decisions which in hindsight make me cringe or were blatantly just anti-conformism for anti-conformism’s sake (and the huge area of crossover between the two). I’ve spoken to many, many people who had a far more upsetting experience in this area than I did, and even those whose growth as an individual, I expect, was crippled by the blind criticism of their parents.

The best thing about being my age is that almost nobody tries to tell me I’m wrong in my opinions based on their age and experience, under the implication that I will in time see my mistake. The exception, of course, is the devoutly religious, who still insist that "after death" I’ll understand that they were right.

They’ll see.

8 replies to The Best Thing About Being My Age

  1. I agree with your post, but are you roundly condemning the older saying that the younger will realise their mistake or the very notion? I have watched younger friends doing things that I used to do (and you hint at feeling the same in your post) so is this hypocrisy? That last bit’s come out a bit more accusatory than I’d have liked but I hope you get my meaning, or rather my confusion about the point you are making.

    I realise that you want to talk about your views on marriage in a later post but just a couple of thoughts that it raises in my head: the tax benefits of marriage (I guess falling under positive discrimination) and the other legal rights of a spouse such as determining medical treatment and even being briefed on your medical condition having been legally defined as family. IT worries me that should the worst happen Claire could be legally and ethically left uninformed about your condition and treatment because she’s not (nor likely to be) legally your spouse.

    With regards the religious objection, I like to remember the saying of Buddha: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who said it, not even if I have said it unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

    Or to put it another way “What might be right for you / May not be right for some/ It takes, diff’rent strokes / it takes, diff’rent strokes / it takes diff’rent strokes to move the world!”

    More on that later.

  2. Quick point about marriage tax benefits: it’s a myth. Most taxes are the same, and any differences make a married couple *worse* off for being treated as a single unit financially. I warned my dad about this, but he went and got married anyway, and has found that he and his wife have both lost their widows pensions. Any rights that you gain from marriage can be gained separately by any appropriate legally binding contract you draw up. Most of these aren’t necessary for us now, relating to children and property etc. Certainly, not marrying allows you to pick and choose the benefits you want, when they apply, without getting them all in a great big taxful lump.

    Medical consent:
    There are no rules about who your next of kin can be, you can simply announce it to the hospital on arrival or keep a card in your wallet in case of unconsciousness. No adult can consent to medical treatment for another adult, in any case.

    I’ll let Dan explain the rest. It made me laugh that you think of Dan being injured rather than me, it’s by far the most likely way around!

  3. I wasn’t meaning to imply you were invincible! (Though I have sen Dan playing with fire…)

    Just thought that since it was his ‘blog I’d make him feel important by putting him a t the centre of the drama (we know how it’d really be, eh luv ;-) )

  4. I had parents who would tell me, patronizingly, that they were automatically smarter than me about things simply because they were older. This could easily hold true in many situations, but didn’t hold true in all of them, especially those which were most important to me. For instance, I had my father, an alcoholic, tell me he was smarter than I was about drinking, and knew what he was doing, and who was I to say he was imbibing too much?

    As far as medical consent goes, I’m not sure how it is in the UK or the rest of europe, but in Canada you can appoint someone as your legal “agent” to make decisions for you in the event that you cannot make decisions for yourself. This doesn’t even necessarily need to be legally binding, however, in a situation where a family fight might ensue, it comes in handy if it is.

  5. As you might have expected, I wholeheartedly agree. The remark that sticks out in my mind – one that was thrown at me when I said in passing that it was my decision whether or not I got married – was “It’s not IF, it’s WHEN”.

    Who knew I was raised by a family of psychics?

  6. Thanks for your comments. I’ll try to address all your points!

    Matt: I’ll try to clarify: I’m condemning people playing the “age” card as a means to win otherwise unwinnable arguments. It’s a trump card to say “Yeah, but I’m older than you and I’ve been through all this before and this is how I changed my mind so you will too,” for example.

    It’s belittling to tell somebody their feelings are invalid. And what? Is the victim supposed to just say, “Oh, yeah, I guess you must be right, then: I’ll change my opinions to match yours!” No, that’s almost never expected as a result: therefore, it’s mostly done as a means to later gloat in an “I told you so,” manner.

    People should be allowed to, so far as possible, make their own mistakes in life without being told that because they’re following the same path as those before them they will inevitabley have to come to the same conclusion.

    Claire/Matt: Nah, the most likely of Claire and I to be injured in some horrible way is blatantly me. Just yesterday I was flinging flaming brands over my head, right before I went home and started making some homebrew: either one of these things can quite easily give me a serious injury or illness. Meanwhile, Claire finished her work, walked home, and played some video games. I think I’m living the more dangerous lifestyle.

    Wrin: (who did well to leave a comment so soon despite the timezone difference) Perhaps your father knows more, and perhaps he doesn’t, but the crucial point is that – alcoholic or not – he has no right to try to tell you whether or not your decisions in life are “right” (he can disagree with you and disapprove of them, certainly, and that’s up to him, but you’ll probably ignore him on issues of drink, anyway, because of his alcohol problem). Thanks for sharing.

    Yes, what you stated can be made to work in the UK with a little wrangling. While we both still have living familial next-of-kin (I considered the term “blood relatives,” but realised that doesn’t make much sense in Claire’s case, as she’s an adoptee) we’ll probably not bother with formalities, as we believe that each other’s parent(s) will trust us when we say, “This is what (s)he would want.” When Claire’s dad or my parents die, we’ll put some thought into the implications.

    On the other hand, as we now share a surname and we’re both (but particularly me) able social hackers, we probably won’t have any difficulty making people believe we’ve a right of access to each other.

    Faye: Yeah, we’ve talked about this (in the college library, mostly, IIRC) before, haven’t we, and you recently made a blog post that at least partially inspired this one.

    Your response comes as no surprise, because you – like me – hold a number of strong and unusual views, some of which your elders disagree with. Would you agree with my theory that being older makes it easier: that you don’t get so many people telling you you’re wrong now than you used to?

    Thanks again, everybody.

  7. See next of kin card for the legal position on next of kin in the UK. Basically, most NHS hospitals would try to work out who it was (including partners) if you were unconscious, but could get it wrong. The next of kin can say what the wishes of the patient would likely be, but it isn’t binding.

  8. I suppose theres an emphasis on the fact that as you get older you become more experienced. Experience, age and independence are all linked but different at the same time.

    I’ve been thinking about this. I think its possible for someone young to have more life experience than someone older. But, that younger person won’t have had to have made some of the decisions the older person has.

    Over the years some of my opinions on topics has changed, and some has stayed the same. I remember being told that’d I’d ‘grow out of’ lots of things which I never did. The marriage topic interests me, because I still can’t honestly say if I want it or not. But talking to people about it interests me.

    Can opinions ever be wrong? Whether there a childs or an adults, there still just that, opinions. A persons personal view changes over time, with age, and with experience. All part of the joy of growing up I guess.

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