Age Dysphoria

It’s hard to summarize what I do. 

“It’s even harder for me,” my mom informed me.

When my wife and I bought our house, she told an inquiring new neighbor that I “go to the library sometimes”. (At the time, I was volunteering there weekly.) 

A family friend once offered that I “really like to write in my journal” and, despite being about to publish my then secret third book at the time, I smiled, nodded, and agreed.

I do a lot of different things, don’t have a nine to five, and a lot of what I do is tied up in adult subjects that, even with adults, isn’t always polite small talk material. Even one of my more PG13 projects is still essay blogging about the deep dark corners of my mental illness.

Besides that, though, step one is convincing people I’m not in high school. 

I was lamenting this recently to two friends. “Yeah, you don’t look twenty-two,” one said. 

“I’m twenty-four,” I groaned. And, a few moments later, “How old do I look?” 

“Seventeen,” they said in unison.

Baby face. It’s a real thing. A blessing and a curse.

Besides my love of SPF and good skin genetics, I’m very aware of minor behavioral quirks. I glance around the coworking space I’m a member of, wondering if anyone’s noticing the Harry Potter decals on my Moleskine (filled with future class content, blog posts, and fiction—mostly erotica), which feel suddenly childish. From the same vantage point, though, I overhear a young man in an expensive suit tell his matching companion, “Remember, it’s just like on SpongeBob. You’re the manager now.” 

Or, I have to note the look on a mother’s face as I hop off the swingset at the park, hit the ground, say, “Sir, I asked you to schedule with the tenants,” into the phone, pacing away from the playground. 

I squint at my hanging lanyard of Disney pins and a few stuffed animals placed in nooks before someone new sees my home office for the first time, then turn around and see my collection shelf of filled notebooks, emptied pens, and copies of the six books I’ve published, along with my wedding dagger (just rings seemed a little blasé). 

But is any of that important? 

I don’t know what age I feel. My wife and I have nicknamed the confusion my age dysphoria. Everyone experiences it to some extent in their early twenties, I think, and the fact it’s somehow been 2020 for like two and a half years now doesn’t help anyone. We also live in a time when the majority of young adults live with their parents again, when the average age for major milestones is shifting later. I struggle to see which age group I should, on average, seek out as peers.

In a way, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot of the big things. I should be thrilled. I’m happily married to the love of my life. I own a nice home, drive a nice car. I’m opting out of the having kids thing, and have two healthy, adorable cats. I’m self employed, love what I do, feel accomplished, feel like I’m making a difference that will outlive me, and am financially comfortable. My affairs are in order. Bring it on, twenty-five. 

And yet I debate a lot of things with myself. Ask if it’s all just luck (the matter of privilege in productivity is a future post in the works—inheritance, the housewife versus primary breadwinner thing—but while I’m very lucky, luck is far from everything), or if there’s some milestone I need to be hitting that I’m missing (does none of it count if I don’t have kids or if the home I live in isn’t the one that’s paid off? I’m going with no.) Or I set arbitrary milestones. I tell myself I’ll feel like a real adult after I publish a book. Okay, two, because, y’know, the first one could be a fluke, and a recent first makes me a beginner, right? Okay, two books down. Well, y’know, third time’s the charm, maybe sixth time’s the charm—

Sometimes I suspect it’s all some kind of delusion about to come crashing down—a fun mix of rather common imposter syndrome and somewhat rare paranoid schizophrenia.

Or, I think it’s just all happened so fast I’m in a form of shock, that I can’t let it all sink in yet, and that it will sink in slowly with time—or, at least, acceptance that it will never completely sink in will come with age.

Only time will tell. 

And what now? Do I hit pause, sit back and enjoy it, take a break, seek out novelty and fun? Basic milestones covered, do I rush to accomplish more and more? Do I sit and review and accept the past, improve on what I’ve already done?

Relatively recently, having hit a major milestone (one that actually came to me late, due to health issues: getting my driver’s license), my mom asked me, “What’s next?” She said that I always had something big I was working towards. So now that I finally had my license in hand—whats next? We discussed that at this point, even publishing another book doesn’t seem like what’s next. What’s six books or seven, or seven books versus eight?

I’m not sure if there is something imminently next on that scale. I’m trying to let myself enjoy what I’ve already built. I’m trying to seek out a bit of novelty, even if it’s not a major milestone, taking up new hobbies from hiking to soap making. I’m doing a major sweep of editing past content (including this very post, right now). Still, I overall want to keep moving forwards. Teaching more classes, writing more books, graduating butler school, improving as a housewife, hosting more events.

Time is going to keep moving forwards—confusing as it feels—and so should I.

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