Tagged: the abscence of possibilities

A Second Look At How Being “Settled” Can Be Very “Unsettling”

So, tomorrow is my birthday.


That “weeeeeeee” was meant to be read with a heaping dose of sarcasm, by the way.

So, yes……where were we?  Birthday.  Right.

So, tomorrow is my birthday.  I will be officially turning 36, but if you ask my husband, I’ve been 36 for quite some time now, as he likes to remind me that at 35, I was really in my “36th year.”  See, he’s splitting hairs here, about the way we humans mark the passage of time — on the back-end as opposed to the front.

The husband also recently revealed that yes, it was appropriate for M’s husband to suggest that she (38 years old) and I (a fresh 35 at the time) Google “office dress for middle-aged women,” when the two of us were curious about what, exactly, we would wear when we ventured back out into the world beyond the Target-library-grocery store circuit.

Middle-aged!  Middle-aged?

“No way!” I protested.  “You’re cracked.  Middle-aged…..puh-lease.”

“Baby — how long does the average human live?” he countered.

“Geeze…I don’t know,” I floundered, already sensing that I was not going to like where this was headed.

Being the prig that he sometimes is, he answered with what I believe is the actual average life-span number, according to the CDC.

“What, 78?” he quipped.  “So…what’s half of 78?  39?”

My stomach dropped at the notion.

“So, okay, then you have about three years left (remember at a fresh 35, I was really in my 36th year, so his math was sound).  And M is, well…….[her husband] was right about her.  Middle-aged, babe.”

This conversation happened in the kitchen: Me, at the computer Google-ing work dress for women in their mid-thirties, he, leaning against the counter, eating a stray piece of something from one of the kids’ already-cleared dinner plates.

I wanted to get up and give him a swift shove for being so smug.

I literally wanted to push him.  Hard.  Send him hurling backward to make contact with the refrigerator, shaking loose all the school papers and important reminders.  Sending magnets to crack and break against the ceramic tile.

I, of course, didn’t play out the fantasy.  But my violent impulse did make me wonder:

Why was I so spun up about the whole age thing?

It took me some time to peel at these onion layers — the ones that had covered an almost unnatural fear of getting older.  But I did eventually figure it out.  And, a while ago, I wrote a post about it.  I have re-published it below, and I invite you to read my theory and then let me know what you think.

Oh — and the mention of some content in my “About” page was referencing old material that I have since re-written, lest anyone get confused by a seeming inconsistency.


An essay on why I cringe at the thought of another passing year.  Turns out, I’m not completely vain after all.  Yay!:

….the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of all that will never be….

Okay, so, in my little “About” page, I made some ridiculous statement about not feeling like I had grown chronologically older since 25 or so, and I went on and on and on about “vertical” versus “horizontal” movement of time and growth and something about wisdom trumping years and blah, blah, friggin’ blah.

Well I am back — a mere five days after the fact — to tell you all that whatever I thought I was selling is such a pantload of crap.  Cancel your orders.  Don’t buy it.

Anyone in my most intimate circle knows that I talk incessantly about getting older.  I mean, like, incessantly (J and M, thank you for always listening, btw).  And I most certainly do not mean older “out” like I would have had you all believe, but I mean older “up.”  Up in age.  Up in years completed orbiting the Sun.  Up in moments gone by.  Up in number of pounds that won’t budge from my middle, in the number of creases that frame my eyes when I smile, in the sixteenth-of-an-inch increments that I swear — swear to goodness — I notice my hairline receding by every few months.  Older.  I am getting older, and I feel it now.  I feel the weight of that movement — that upward movement — every. single. day.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait — couldn’t wait — to get to the “next big thing.”  I was never ever satisfied with where I was. Too restless to live in the moment, I could never carpe diem.  Rather than “carpe”-ing I just, well, carped.  I could include several quotes here mimicking the “me” that I was during each phase of life that I deemed a necessary evil on the way to the golden ring (the golden ring always changed, by the way — being old enough to go to junior high, old enough for high school, old enough to date, to vote, to get a real job, be married).  But I think you get the point.  And yes, I listed voting.  I did not list driving.  I am a nerd.  I already know this, thank you.

And now?  Now I want to hold on to every moment of every day– down to the second.  I am absolutely beyond myself at the notion of putting another year behind me.

I don’t know how so much of my 30’s has escaped me.  Well, maybe I do.  I got married young by today’s standards (one month after turning 23).  While my peers were still dating and job-hopping, I was celebrating wedding anniversaries and managing a joint checking account.  And then I got pregnant at 25.  And again 15 months later.  Before I had turned 30, my husband and I were eyeballs-deep in meeting a mortgage, rearing school-aged children, negotiating in-laws, and hunkering down in our “forever” careers (my husband’s outside the home, mine inside of it).  My late 20’s and early 30’s were a blur because I was bum rushed by the milestones that most others parse out —  allowing at least a few years between each of life’s big “gets.” When I finally got my sea legs aboard this existence I created on the fly,  I was somehow already 34.  And I was incredibly aware of my age.

Huh.  That’s funny.  34 doesn’t sound old. And further more, things slowed down considerably at 34.  These last two years, my life has been relatively static.  Kids are incredibly self-sufficient. My return to graduate school was slow, and very very part-time; upon graduation, it was agreed that I’d hold off on re-entering the outside workforce for at least a little while.  Marriage kinks had been more or less ironed out several years ago — we’ve long found our rhythm as a couple.  So, what gives?  I thought it was the “fast” of it all until I entered the “slow” and still felt panicky.  I could never really put my finger on it.  Why I was obsessed with age.  Why I felt old.

There was one thing that should have clued me in:  I repeatedly considered women who were older than me quite young. Why?  It all came down to their level of “settled”-ness.  For example, a particular acquaintance of mine: At seven years my senior, she still seemed to me just beginning her life.  She had deliberately developed a nice career that still offered much upward movement. She was in a lovely condo in an important city.  She had established a serious relationship with someone she might very well marry.  She had things that mirrored all that I had with one exception: she had an “out” from it all.  With no wedding ring, no mortgage deed, and no children, this friend still had one foot in the land of infinite possibilities. And, while I would never in a million, zillion, trillion years ever, ever, ever want any “out” from my beautiful family and the life that we’ve built, the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of what will never be.

Could this be at the root of my whole “getting older” conundrum?  Was it not so much increasing years, but decreasing possibilities that was making me mourn for yesterday, and last month, and last year?

With this stressor always at play in the recesses of my mind, my heart, and my soul, I was ever grateful to come across this post by blogger Jennifer Fulwiler: Behind the Scenes of a Mid-Life Crisis.  I read it, and I knew.  This was it.  What she said.  Exactly what she said.  All of it.  I would love for each of you to take a few minutes to read her words; whether you share in my fear of getting older or not, I think there is still wisdom to be gleaned.

Do any of you feel like me?  Anyone unsettled about being settled?  Let’s discuss.