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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

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Do you feel older?

A question for the ages

It’s your birthday. After responding to your grandma’s grainy balloon GIF and justifying your choice of chocolate cake for lunch, one of your friends finally hits you with the inevitable question: “Do you feel older?”

You might pretend to think about it for a while, eventually responding with the perfunctory “Oh, you know it” and a self-deprecating laugh or, for the more serious: “Not really. Time is a concept anyway.” 

If you’re like me, you’ll probably reply with some joke about how you’ll always feel like a teenager, adult life so abstract it’s almost laughable: “Me? They’re allowing me to sign this lease and buy this plane ticket? Suckers, looks like the jokes on them.” 

The question is amusingly futile — I don’t know anyone my age who’s actually answered “yes.” And yet I’m also guilty of asking my friends the question every year, as if an entire year’s worth of wisdom has suddenly descended upon them in one day. 

Here you are, some newly enlightened being now that the earth has completed yet another trip around the sun. I can almost see the wrinkles forming!

But in light of recently turning twenty – and still failing to respond with a resounding “yes, of course!” – I started to worry. Entering a new decade feels like a major milestone, the official end of my teenage years and the beginning of my “roaring twenties.” 

Our culture paints our twenties as the most important period of our lives: it’s when Bill Gates dropped out of college to start Microsoft, when the Beatles released their first single, when Sophie Sheridan frolicked around Greece to find her biological dad. 

In your twenties, truly anything seems possible.

Yet, much like birthdays past, I didn’t wake up feeling magically transformed on my twentieth. Maybe I accidentally missed my own official aging ceremony, the part where I deleted all my favorite Olivia Rodrigo songs and renounced texting in lowercase. Because all I know is that I still listened to “Love is Embarrassing” on my run today and that my texts still read as super cool and casual (obviously).

I think the problem lies in the fact that you aren’t officially dubbed an adult in one day. The feeling of aging requires an emotional weight — a birthday just marks the passage of time. 

Because when I stop and think about it, I do feel older! It’s just that expecting one day to legitimize it is pointless. Waiting to feel older on your birthday is like waiting for North Quad residents to finally admit that South Dining Hall is superior. No matter how much you want it to, it’s just not going to happen.

Instead, the feeling catches me by surprise when I least expect it — like when my not-so-little cousin asked me for advice on his college applications, or when I realized that I’m now one of those sophomores who I looked up to last year, thinking they had it all figured out (we don’t). 

“Feeling older” is seeing how far you’ve come, but not remembering when or how you got there. It’s realizing that time moves on without your permission. And like it or not, each little reminder that sneaks up on you is a sign that you must be doing something right.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling birthdays overrated or arbitrary. I’m just saying that if you don’t feel different on that day, it’s okay. Growing up doesn’t happen overnight – you might say it’s what happens between them that counts.

So, the next time it’s your birthday, take a second to reflect on your year (and happy birthday!). Even if you feel like an imposter because you haven’t launched into young stardom or reinvented the wheel, chances are you have done a lot of maturing. Cut yourself a little slack. 

And when asked if you feel older, you can now launch into a really long explanation of how “it’s complicated,” and that maturing is really more like a day-to-day, continuous journey of growth and responsibility that we undergo from childhood to the present moment, never ending until we pass from this Earth.

I’m kidding. But in all seriousness, enjoy the struggle to answer this question. We’re lucky to be able to spend the rest of our lives growing up.

You can contact Allison at aelshoff@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.