published Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Harpe: Age is not just a number, it can also be an insult

By Corin Harpe

Aging is an interesting phenomenon. I have spent much of my life familiar with the idea of being young and, even more so, comfortable with the idea of individuals being older.

Most of this feeling comes from being in school seemingly indefinitely, which has kept me in the youthful category. This year, however, I am experiencing a new phenomenon -- freedom from the young age bracket.

My age outlook has been subtly changing in the years since I graduated from college, but recently, at age 26, it has become more pronounced. I started to feel different this year while watching college sports. I realized that many of the players receiving praise and awards were as much as eight years younger than me. Throughout my life I have considered these players to be either older or to be my peers. Now, suddenly, most of them have birthdays in 1990s, even the late 1990s.

Along with being surrounded by a younger population, there is subtle and more frequent pressure to leave behind the college years. Any stories I tell of my college days are met with small, biting comments indicating that I am immature. I also have noticed my own eyes rolling when people refer back to that time in college when they did this or that amazing thing.

With each passing day, it is more apparent that I have established an identity apart from who I was in college, which is strange considering it was not long ago when I was experiencing the uncertain and scary time void that occurs right after graduation.

The years are melting away, but I find myself adjusting to age in understated ways. Many of these changes are actually beneficial. I have become a lot more practical. I think ahead, plan and organize more than I ever have. Spontaneity is no longer desirable or thrilling.

The need for responsibility seems to bring about these changes. More than ever I am in charge of my own life, and it is up to me to be successful or to fail. This awareness of duty shifts over to my activities. Staying up until 3 a.m. with my friends does not sound appealing because sleep is now a need and not an option. Dropping everything and driving to the beach one weekend is just annoying because it disrupts my entire schedule.

In reality, I might just be an old soul, but I also dislike being called young. I doubt that everyone my age shares this same feeling, but wherever I am, someone older is always saying, "Well, when you get to be my age ..." or "You are just 26."

The worst was when I worked in the retail industry. People would always ask me what grade I was in or compare me to their 18-year-old granddaughter. They would be shocked when I told them my actual age.

Even though some might consider them compliments, I dislike age comments because they give the impression that I cannot act or think for myself. I have worked hard to be responsible and independent. The last thing I want is for someone to dismiss that because of my age.

It seems our society does not value old age. People are constantly trying to look or act younger, and some of this isn't bad. Stereotypical youthful activities, such as exercise or travel, are good, but I think the real issue is that people do not fully understand age. It is not all about gray hair, health problems or loss of adventure, but more about greater life perspective.

Next time you think about making a comment on how young someone is, think twice; they might not appreciate it.

Contact Corin Harpe at corinharpe@gmail.com.

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