4 Creepy Ways Growing Older Shapes Your Thoughts
Many people don't know this, but every single person gets a little older with every breath we take. This strange phenomenon called "aging" is in fact so gradual that even if you observe it for an entire week, you may not notice anything.
The same applies for the many tiny ways aging and experience shape our thoughts and ideas. I'm 36, and while I can obviously still remember the guy I was 10 to 15 years ago, I doubt we'd have much common ground if we went out to grab a beer together.
Why is this? Because the sheer span of time between us has created some surprising changes to the way we think. For instance, there are some striking differences when it comes to ...
Those Dreaded Late-Night Thoughts
Do you ever lie awake at whatever passes for 2 a.m. in your sleep cycle? That unholy time past the witching hour when the all-too-familiar "Aaaaaaahhhhh we're all going to die someday!" mood strikes and the kinds of Questions that warrant capitalization start running through your head? Sure you do. It's one of the nastier symptoms of a condition called being a person.
Although this will probably keep happening every once in a while for as long as you live (hooray!), chances are the things you find yourself pondering in the dead of night to ward off the bogeyman tend to change focus over time. As a kid, it might be the shadow of a particularly grim-looking tree outside, or the bully from school, or maybe that weird noise that oh god oh god it's coming from under the bed, isn't it? Then, you hit your teens and suddenly your night terrors are about all those strange and frightening things you pretend you don't give a shit about during the day (and also about your awkwardness around people you find attractive, but that doesn't ever really go away, does it?). Finally, adulthood strikes, and you're kept awake by "How on Earth can I pay the rent next month?" this and "What if goes awry?" that.
A survey among three random senior citizens I cornered at the mall indicates this will later give way to
general dread of bladder-control issues and something they insisted on calling "floppage."
This shift is so gradual it's almost impossible to notice, especially because it's not uncommon for those older night thoughts to make temporary comebacks amid all the new ones. For instance, it took me well over three decades to notice this trend. I'm not sure whether this is reasonably fast or ridiculously slow, though I strongly suspect the latter, seeing as this thought occurred to me at around 2:30 in the morning between the time-tested classics of "Did that noise come from the closet?" and "I bet Tesla had a system so he didn't have to get up and walk to the toilet in the middle of the darkest night."
Activism and Causes
Take a moment, if you will, to reply to the following: what is the cause that you are most passionate about? What's the thing you always end up having arguments about with your drunk uncle during the holidays? What's the first thing you write down when doing David Wong's 60-Second Guide to Learning the Awful Truth About Yourself? What is your spark? You can write your answer down in the comment section, or on a piece of paper, or on the forehead of that hobo standing behind you right now. Remember, don't look him in the eye!
Done? Awesome. Next, imagine you're 10 years older or younger. What's your answer now?
Everybody knows that old cliche about how hippies eventually give up their dashikis and tie-dyes in favor of suits and regular paychecks. The same thing applies to pretty much any ol' agenda or activism you can think of. A fairly insignificant percentage of people spend their entire lives as hardcore punk fruitarians who protest against those Malaysian critters that poop expensive coffee. At some point, jobs and bills and family enter the equation, and before you know it, you've barely picketed a kopi luwak farm in years.
But does this mean you've completely discarded the part of your personality that liked to protest? Of course not. The way you do it has just evolved. Let's imagine the 20-year-old you was heavily against, say, fur farming. For the purpose of this analogy, let's say you were a full-on activist, throwing paint at people wearing fur coats, protesting, raiding farms, and releasing minks into the wild. Let's represent activist-you with this picture of a grumpy bag of quinoa:
Thank you, Getty image search.
At some point down the line, the conditions of your life will change. Maybe you meet your soulmate and skulk off to start a family. Maybe the bills start accumulating and you need to get a better paying, more demanding job. Maybe you'll just get older and your knees can't take sneaking around the fur farms with a wire cutter anymore. Years go by. You're now about 35, and your social and monetary situation is completely different. Let's generously assume you're in a pretty good place and represent you with this picture of a content bag of quinoa:
Hahahahaha! They had this, too? I'm seriously saving these guys for later use.
You might notice that, regardless of the state they're in, both of those anthropomorphized Chenopodium containers are still the exact same bag. It's the same with you and causes -- it's not that your fire stops burning, you just change the way it's channeled. Active activism tends to be a young person's game; as you get older and more experienced, you tend to find more cost- and time-effective ways to express your opinions.
A young PETA activist might grow up to become a politician, or gun for a professional position that gives them some leverage over things. At that point, they're not actively screaming anymore. Hell, they're probably not even thinking about activism. However, chances are they still retain a tiny part of their youthful opinions, like an aversion to the fur industry. So when a situation arises where they have a chance to do something that's for or against it -- approve or deny a bank loan, let a minor health regulation issue slide or report it, go fix a fur farm's plumbing immediately or say they're busy and go to another customer -- chances are they choose the latter option. They're now working within the system, pulling strings.
This applies to every passion, too. Look at that thing you wrote down earlier. Maybe your cause of choice is politics, or a Lex Luger Fan Club, or maybe you're just really passionate about campaigning for a Game of the Year award for the latest Call of Duty. Keep hold of that piece of paper, and look at it 10 years from now. Remember the fire you had about this thing when you wrote it down, and really, really think about where it has gone.
Chances are, you'll find it. It might come out in different -- and often a lot more subdued -- ways, but it's still surprisingly close.
A few weeks ago, Kristi Harrison wrote a great piece about the weirder aspects of aging. Her musings on how age atrophies our ability to deal with new music prompted someone (we'll refer to him as our test subject) to perform an experiment of his own. First, he'd listen to whatever new music YouTube chose to throw at him, then he'd revisit a few of his old favorite albums in the CD player, because the subject is old-school in a decidedly uncool manner. He started with Lorde because it turns out that, much like the co-workers Kristi so tactfully refused to name in her survey, the subject of this experiment was also clueless re: what a "Lorde" is. For the record, the subject liked Lorde's songs just fine. Imagine Dragons were found to be a surprisingly tolerable spin on Coldplay, whereas One Direction was described as "a New Kids on the Block composed entirely of babies somehow." After zoning out a bit on what he insisted was "just cleaning his ear palate with some Pantera," the subject then trudged through a number of current artists, only to emerge from the experiment with a shrug and a sense that his taste in music is exactly how it always was.
And then he picked up the albums he used to listen to back in the day, knowing full well that his taste in music used to be horrible.
We all know I'm just talking about me, right? I don't need to keep up this stupid third-person angle throughout the entry?
I started with Terrorvision's Regular Urban Survivors, a recording that I have long since realized is actually pretty awful. I couldn't understand why I once held it in such high regard, but I found myself strangely unannoyed by its inanity. Next up was some godawful Euro-trance album from the 1990s, which ended up in my possession thanks to a badly read "CD of the Month" club contract, and which I presumably neglected to return because the singer was pretty and I was 15. It was the opposite of music, but once again I noticed this didn't bother me the way it probably should have. Reactions like these proved to be par for the course: whenever I came across an ill-advised album or a nails-on-chalkboard tune, I just shrugged and moved on.
This is strange, because, like many others who have found their musical sensibilities relatively late, I spent my 20s as chiefly a one-genre guy (look at my caricature in the column banner and take a wild guess which one it was) who was more than petty enough to openly spew hatred on other genres. And while I was aware on some level that my musical sensibilities have somewhat mellowed, I'm not used to not hating music I don't actively love. Yet it only recently occurred to me that it's been a long damn while since I actually heard a song I disliked to the point of throwing an "Oh lord that lightsaber has a crossguard this ruins everything" type of fit.
This experiment on a significant and no doubt scientifically valid group of one leads me to a conclusion: although it's true we tend to paint ourselves in the corner of whatever music we loved back when we were young and susceptible, a good number of us also seem to stop actively hating the kinds of music we didn't like back in the day. After all, we have a limited amount of energy to worry about things -- what's the point in using it on something someone created that we just don't happen to personally enjoy?
Of course, this theory doesn't apply to everyone. Nothing ever does. Five to 10 years down the line, I might well find myself hating 80 percent of music again, or maybe I'm just a freak of nature that's on his way to accepting everything. Maybe I should just put this to the ultimate test and try to sit through a full Nickelback album. Probably not, though -- finding out they might not be distilled awful would probably break some fundamental gear in my head machine.
Your Favorite Vices
Unless your name is Fred Rogers and you're somehow reading this despite having passed away in 2003 (in which case, hi!), there's an excellent chance that you have at least one considerable vice. Let's not even discuss which one; we both know what you're up to, you monster.
While it's certainly possible to ruin your health and even life with almost any vice at a relatively young age, people generally stay on top of their naughty habits during their 20s. I will now represent young-adult-you and your relationship with your favorite vice with a picture of a delighted bag of quinoa:
What, did you think these guys wouldn't turn up again?
But fast-forward a decade. Your body starts to catch up, your doctor starts giving his diagnoses by slapping you across the face. What used to delight you so gradually slips on a different jacket; it is fast becoming a thing that is wrecking you. Is your thing video games? "You should get out and exercise more." Food? "Your cholesterol is so high, your blood is literally 50 percent butter." Getting angry at things you see on Facebook? "Blood pressure." Alcohol? Cigarettes? Drugs? "Death, death, death."
See what's happening? The vices are still there, and probably even give you pleasure, but a combination of societal norms, health concerns, and your own brain slowly starts to eat away at their attractiveness. Slowly, thoughts of, "Should I just stop doing that?" start creeping into your 2 a.m. introspection marathon. Subtly, almost unnoticeably, your relationship with the vice becomes troubled. You know what picture comes next:
"Beer makes me happy and sad at the same time!"
How you deal with this is your own business and depends highly on the potential distruptiveness of your particular vice; if you're into, say, competitive knitting, chances are it's not going to wreck you too much until Groggath the Bloodthirsty finally snaps and stabs you with a crotchet hook after you win the fifth consecutive award from under his nose. Still, it's probably not an accident that when you search this very website for the words "quitting" and any vice you care to mention, the articles that turn up are generally written by people over 30 (well, John Cheese, mostly).
I'm not saying you should outright drop all things that give you pleasure because you're sometimes worried about them. I have many vices and a tendency to scream about them for all the Internet to hear; I'm in no position to judge. All I'm saying is that, sometimes when you're lying awake at night worrying about that shit, it's good to remember that a) you're not the only one, and b) you always have the option to do something about it.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Things No One Tells You About Dating Until It's Too Late. And then check out 27 Hit Songs as Understood by a 5-Year-Old.