Young again?
April 1, 2019 8:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm only 30 years old, but I feel much older. I've become age-obsessed and can't stop comparing myself to other people because of this. I'm tired of feeling so damn old and I want to feel young again, or at least young-ish. Or at least not worry about feeling "old." How can I do this?

I don't quite know what is wrong with me, but I feel so old. I'm not sure how well I can articulate it, but I have really become age obsessed. I'm not sure if I have ever felt young, to be honest. I am constantly comparing my age with other people. I feel old (and like a failure) if someone younger than (even by a year or two) has "achievements" I don't quite have yet (a long-term relationship, children, a job they like/pays well/etc, a house... it goes on). Like, I guess in some ways I feel like a bit of a "failure" of a person because I am so much "older" than, say, a 28 year old who is married and owns a home. It makes me feel "old" to realize that I am older and nowhere near achieving that, yet. I feel "old" and I get soooo envious of these people, be they coworkers or classmates or whoever. Almost like time has passed me by somehow?

I'm terrible at putting myself out there to date, to make friends, etc (I suppose I have more "acquaintances" than close friends) I work at a job that I don't particularly care for and one that does not pay me nearly as much as I would like to earn (it really isn't great). But I'm working on getting my career in order (almost finished grad school this semester!). R

I also feel like other people think I'm old when they find out my real age. I've recently started to take improv classes and dip my toes into the local scene, but... again, when I'm around anyone younger than me, I feel super old. The university I attend has an improv group and they have all been excellent to hang out with, but because the majority of them are undergrads (i.e. younger than me) I feel so ancient! I just feel like an old weirdo joining their group, which makes no sense because a) it's a student group and I'm a student and b) several members are in improv troupes with people older than themselves (perhaps myself), so obviously they don't mind working with people older than them. This is just one specific example where I find myself hung up on age.

Recently, I had a conversation with one of my grad school colleagues and she's 30 as well, and she mentioned with great confidence how good she feels about taking this program a bit "later." She told met that she feels really glad that she has a lot more work/life experience compared to the people in our program who went in straight after undergrad. She said this so affirmatively and I was just shocked. I nodded and half-heartedly agreed, but in reality I do not feel that way at all!! I feel like an idiot for being so "old" and going back to school to get a masters when there are people who are 22 who did this straight out of undergrad and knew what they wanted! I feel like I wasted so much time!

I am in therapy and this is something I'll mention during my next visit. But in the meantime, how can I stop being so age-obsessed and/or actually feel younger? Are there any strategies that I can use? I know that rationally 30 isn't old, but I just fee old despite myself.
posted by VirginiaPlain to Human Relations (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
At various points in my life, I've felt the same way. I'm pretty certain a lot of people have. Maybe evenmost people have. This is actually a really normal, if uncomfortable, feeling.

For me, I think it came from being raised by people who wanted their children to be perfect. I was constantly pushed to get straight A's, to go to college, to make friends with "better people." My interests and hobbies were ignored or belittled. I carried a lot of those perfectionist expectations with me, while never coming anywhere close to meeting them. It was a long time, and a lot of traumatic events, before I learned to give myself a break. In fact, I would not recommend the path (surviving an abusive relationship) I took to finally appreciating just how good, honest, strong and happy to make it to each new year, I am. What I do recommend, is to do as much as possible to limit or eliminate anyone in your life who tears you down. It's good that you notice these thoughts and question why you have them. Maybe take it to the next level and the next time you find yourself unfavorably comparing your achievents to others, flatt out ask yourself why you think this benchmark pertains to you. For example;

YOU: "I should have had a kid by now. My friend Sarah has two kids already and I'm not even close to having one."


YOU: Well, why should I have a kid by now?

Who knows what your answers are going to be, but whatever they are, they will help you pin point where the pressure is coming from. You can work from there with your therapist.

Remind yourself that people are really not overly worried about how other casual aqquaintences are doing. No one knows you feel this way, and probably 99% of them see you as a successful young person with your act totally together.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:36 PM on April 1, 2019 [15 favorites]

29 was the oldest and most miserable I ever felt in my life, I could live to be 80 and never get as old as 29 again. 29 into 30 is the worst because at that point it still feels like turning 30 was a bad choice you made that you maybe could have avoided if you'd planned things a little better. that particular aspect of it does go away, it doesn't keep getting worse and worse forever. in another couple years you start aging backwards a little bit.

but also, you're hung up on age not just because you're 30, the Bad Year, but because everybody around you is your age or younger. this is not going to pass just with therapy or time, you have to surround yourself with people older than you. if it's just grad school forcing the company on you, you can wait it out. but once you're out, it's worth making the sustained and difficult effort to find interesting social situations where you're not the oldest person in the room. that constant forced perspective will make even a 22 year old feel ancient.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:42 PM on April 1, 2019 [47 favorites]

Ditto the above commenters-- this is something most of us go through, to different degrees I suppose, and certainly at different times in our lives. For me, ages 27 through 30 were a hellscape of age related panic which almost evaporated as soon as I turned the dread 3-0. I hope your corner is coming soon.

Unfortunately no magic cures to offer, but hopefully hearing that this is common will provide some relief. Keep up the sane self-talk: you say you know rationally that 30 isn't so old-- so keep reminding yourself.

As for when you do a master's degree, this also varies by individual. Neither me nor my partner started ours until our later 30s. Some people do uni straight out of high school, but you're not those people. There isn't one path through life, right?
posted by tamarack at 9:31 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have two cohorts of friends (gaming groups, really), one mostly 7-8 years older than me and one mostly 10 years younger than me. If I really think about it, I can see ways in which age marks us out as different, but seeing the former group as for the most part the same as myself likely helped with not worrying about being the oldest in the younger group--like, I had barely noticed my older friends were older, so I don't tend to think my younger friends pay attention to that in me.

I wonder if developing a wider friend group could help you in the same way. So, almost paradoxically, I'd suggest trying to cultivate consciousness of kind with folks substantially older than yourself, contemplating how they've dealt with the curves life still has up ahead, and appreciating whatever weird paths they're happily taking now. I wouldn't say the idea is to feel younger in comparison but just to feel more ordinary in having minor differences with both them and the crowd in your improv group.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:58 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm appreciating the advice so far, particularly about diversifying the ages of people I am acquainted/friends with. I hadn't thought about it until now, but for most of my life I have been segregated by age (for one reason or another) from people older/younger than me. Which might explain how I feel being around people younger than me, at this age.

This might be a no-brainer, but what advice would you have for cultivating friendships with "older" people? I don't think I'd know where to begin! Interestingly, I have remained close with a coworker who recently retired, so being friends with someone older than me is not some "abstract" thing. When we chat I really don't think about her age at all, so it's good to keep than in mind as I go forward!!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 10:08 PM on April 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

In my experience, community music people, contra dancers, and social dancers span a wide age range. Actually a lot of them have a crater in the 'parent of young children' range, but the overall span is wide. After meeting them and engaging in a commonality, age doesn't really come up, as you say.

Basically, every hobby I've ever had has put me in contact with older people, to the point that I feel like I've never really grown up. I used to leave home and go to school, and now I go to work; before, classmates had bar mitzvahs, and now they get married, etc. The only difference is that now a few people I know have passed away.

And as you say, it might get better once you enter the work world. I initially think of everyone as my age (and height, really), but after a while you realize that one teammate is 23 and another is almost 40 and you'd never know. Of course, I still sometimes get envious ("well if I'd started here when she did and been a little bit brighter, I'd make what she makes too"); I think a little of this is normal.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:44 PM on April 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

As I approach my (sigh) later 40s, I am trying to remind myself that right at this moment I am as young as I'll ever be again! So remind yourself regularly that you are currently your youngest self possible. :)

I hang out with a lot of people in their early and mid-30s and that makes me feel a bit old (bc of the different stages they are going through in life AND their still-taut faces!), but in other arenas (one of my exercise classes) I'm practically the youngest person there! It really is about your reference group and trying to find a group that makes you feel good about who you are right now.

So go forth and be young, you young person you. Seriously, I wish I would have realized at your age just how young I was. :)
posted by Halo in reverse at 12:15 AM on April 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am in my mid 50s and went back to grad school at 30, and had a similar experience. Now that I'm objectively truly on the older side of life it bothers me much less than at did at 30. All of the above advice is great but I'll give my little idiosyncratic trick that changed how I respond to age.
I realized that I actually thought of age as a trait, or a condition... like "I AM 30" in the way "I AM pretty" or I AM a good person" etc. In a way this is a trick of language, it would be easier to get past this feeling if we said "I have 30 years" as they do in Spanish for example. But how I started to imagine it was this: we are all on a long moving sidewalk going from birth to death. People get on the beginning and people get off at various points as they die. EVERYONE passes the various age markers as it moves along. The people ahead of you are not different or worse than you, they are just people a little ahead on the sidewalk. The people behind are not better, they are about to pass the same place you are.
I don't know why this helped me. But it made me realize my internalized ageism was hurting my own sense of self, making me unconsciously believe that there was something inherently better about a young person than an old person. This way, I look at a younger person, and see them as the same as a 75 year old, more aware that they are moving into that space too, and that it's all neutral.
Then I can focus on totally other things about people that are not related to age, and it's amazing how many people accomplish various things at diverse ages.
posted by nantucket at 5:17 AM on April 2, 2019 [14 favorites]

Haaah... I'm 29 and almost bought a house about these feelings. Then I realized it wasn't the best use of my money and it was more about proving something to the Boomers in my life than my genuine needs. For now, I'm going to do my best to untether my self-worth from concepts of "success" that are rooted in 1950s America. That's not the world we live in. You've done some worthwhile, difficult things, like going back to school-- give yourself credit for that. Give yourself credit for working your terrible job. You're doing a lot of responsible things. Make those the center of your notion of adulthood.

(I think all of the Millenial joking about "adulting" isn't because we're not adults, it's because we're actually terribly, horribly adult-- we have the dreary, obligation-filled parts of adulthood down pat. What we're deprived of --houses, babies-- is all the GOOD parts. But handling the bad parts-- bills, stress-- are what actually make you an adult. )
posted by coffeeand at 5:37 AM on April 2, 2019 [16 favorites]

I think some milestone ages tend to throw us into reflections about where we "should" be, how much time we have left, and what it means in terms of age. As someone who just turned 50, I do feel acutely aware of my age these days, especially because I just joined a new company where the majority of the employees are under 30.

For me, it's mostly just trying to change the conversation happening in my head from "God, I'm so old and have nothing to show for it," to, "I have gotten this far and everyone's on their own paths, and what I've chosen and been able/allowed to do so far is pretty good, actually." It can definitely be a bit of a struggle, but until someone invents a de-aging machine, we can only move in one direction.
posted by xingcat at 6:47 AM on April 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Last year, at age 30, I started a professional graduate program with a bunch of 22 year olds. My program is huge (for a graduate program) and there are a few people older than me, another handful who are within 5 years of my age, and a lot of youngsters. It's definitely been a strange shift, suddenly I'm around people who are very young and have very limited life experience. I'm with your colleague who felt that their life experience was an asset. When I talk to someone who has never paid rent or handled bills or taxes before, I am so glad that I have all of my life experience.

I agree that expanding your social circle to include people who are closer to your own age might help. I feel like I remember who I am when I get to see friends who are closer to my age. While you might feel old and out of place sometimes, remember that you can be a role model of a slightly older person to others. When I was in my mid-20's I met a group of 30-35 year olds who were extremely helpful in showing me that life doesn't end at 25 or 30. They also gave great career and life advice. When I got into my program a lot of them expressed that they felt like more education wasn't an option because of mortgages/debt/kids/ or some feeling of "they missed their chance". It takes some determination and guts to go back and do something like graduate school when you are older, and there are all sorts of reasons why it doe or does not work for people to do it.

I've had a lot of similar feelings about why I didn't do this when I was younger and anxiety about the young, driven people around me in the process of getting into this program. You can't change the past and go back and do it earlier. You got there when you did, and that is no better or worse than the folks who came direct from undergrad.
posted by arachnidette at 7:16 AM on April 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi, I'm 50. In my 20s I was extremely poor and built up a large credit card debt through ordinary living, buying professional clothes to work in, eating in restaurants, etc. I was trying to find my way, my depression and anxiety were totally untreated, everyone I'd been to undergrad with seemed to have their shit WAY more together than I did, particularly financially, etc., etc. I remember a friend saying he thought he wasn't taken seriously at work because he was so young, and I couldn't relate at all, because I never felt young, I felt the crushing burden of adulting weighing down on me all the time.

It sucked. Things just got easier, I got a better job, went through credit counseling, gained more perspective, stopped trying to please my narcissistic mom and, most importantly, in my 40s I finally started medication for depression.

I don't know if any of this helps or has any resonance at all. But I think 20s in general are a really tough time and it gets much, much better in lots of ways for lots of reasons.
posted by Occula at 8:24 AM on April 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

I was so depressed the month before I turned 30. I felt so much like what you and other posters felt - not good enough, incomplete, like I'd missed out on so much that my peers had, that anything I had achieved I had only done so through the support of relatives, that I wasn't where I was supposed to be by 30. It was so hard but now I'm 36 and in so many ways I am so much happier and more together even though the 30s haven't been a particularly fun period of my life (my dad died, I suffered a spell of serious mental illness etc). But the strange thing about such bad things is that I emerged from them with a new appreciation of my strength and capability to survive hardship. If I felt I hadn't achieved much before I turned 30, I don't feel that way any more. I bought an apartment. I advanced in my career and achieved a level of financial security that I did not have in my 20s. It's a much more rewarding and easy time of life, I find, than being in my 20s. Being young is hard.

When I was younger I didn't really think that turning 30 would be much of a big deal and I had underestimated the cultural messaging I'd unconsciously been absorbing since childhood about 30 being a milestone age. What I'm saying is it's worth understanding that turning 30 feels like a big deal because we've been absorbing that messaging constantly all our lives. So it's totally natural for you to feel this way.
posted by unicorn chaser at 9:11 AM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

My twenties were a bit of a mess, yet to some extent I agree with your grad school colleague - I'm kind of glad that I didn't have easy success in my twenties, because I've learned a lot from all the roadblocks and course changes.

Still, I absolutely feel this anxiety, especially jealousy of other people's achievements. There's so much I hoped to accomplish in my twenties that didn't quite happen, and it sometimes overshadows what I did accomplish (surviving the Great Recession for one).

For me, anxieties about aging are really about not living life to its fullest, so I've been working on that - mindfulness, trying new things, spending energy on things I love, and working serious to achieve my goals.

I agree that socializing with folks of different ages is helpful for perspective. I really enjoy socializing with folks who are 20+ years older than me, and they definitely make me feel young. I've met a lot of middle-aged folks at book groups.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:04 AM on April 2, 2019

As I'm getting closer to actually being old, the best defense I've found it actually doing things I considered young people things - riding a bike is a big one for me. Playing a team sport might be another.

Also acceptance and understanding of things young people do instead of grousing about how it was better back in my day (it wasn't). Man you get a group of middle aged people together and complaining about what those younger than them is doing is like 50% of the conversation.

Finally keeping your body in decent shape, as various pains is the other 50% of the conversation among the middle aged.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:32 PM on April 2, 2019

For finding older friends, try

- social dancing, especially niche, non-sexy forms like Morris, contra, English, Scottish, international folk, Balkan. A lot of these are literally dying for new dancers. In the Bay Area, not exactly an area short of young people, 30 year olds still get a youth discount to some of the English dances.

- volunteering with churches. There's a group near me where a bunch of mostly retired people feed breakfast to all comers every Saturday.

- some low-impact aerobic spots have older fans. A lot of cyclists are middle aged or older. The same for swimming.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:07 PM on April 2, 2019

everybody around you is your age or younger.

This is a big one for me. I was always "our young man" in my twenties, then suddenly I was working mostly with people who somewhat younger than me - around your age I hit a sudden "shit, I'm old" wall for a couple years.

Now the students are generally in their twenties and my co-workers are either quite a bit older than me, or the same age as the students. Having older peers definitely makes you feel younger. I've always had a few older friends here and there, mostly based on sharing similar interests. Music and books have both been big ones. The other way I've met a lot of older friends is through volunteering.

Don't worry. None of us really has any idea how long we'll live. You've made it this far, might as well enjoy it!
posted by aspersioncast at 2:07 PM on April 2, 2019

Also, this is a bit self-defeating and a bit hopeful, but as far as I can tell, the obsession with getting older is in many cases largely a young person's problem. You're very likely to stop caring so much in a few years.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:08 PM on April 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can relate! When I was in my late 20s, I had finished grad school, moved back to my home, and was working at a retailish night job until I could find the real job. I ended up working that job for a year! It was tough at times to see my friends seemingly prosper with their career connections, etc. But I persevered, and things worked out.

I assure you, your attitude will change as you get older! It is one of the great things about getting older. You will look back and marvel at how awesome you have been.

All the discomfort with being too old is just a bunch of noise. Shake it off and enjoy your life. If you have friends or families with kids, go hang out with them and have some fun! I was a Big Sister volunteer for many years, which was a cool and rewarding experience.

I also would take some pride in your self sufficiently and owning a home.

The older the violin, the sweeter the tune!
posted by rhonzo at 5:07 PM on April 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

You're hanging out with early 20s college? Man. No wonder you feel old. I'm 26 and in school and the 21-year-olds make me feel ancient sometimes too. Try to find people like you, people who are older but still kind of finding their place. Join meetups, volunteer, whatever. TRUST ME, you're not alone. People like you are everywhere. It will make you feel better.
posted by Amy93 at 7:13 PM on April 2, 2019

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