It’s interesting to think about how size and scale change as we get older. It happens so subtly that we don’t remember it, but there are some rare cases when a memory or new experience might give us pause. Here are some examples:
A childhood object (stuffed animal, etc.) that we encounter as an adult we may remember as much larger. In fact we were smaller, so relatively speaking, it was.
A location that we remember as huge we may revisit as an adult and realize is much a smaller (a house, room, or park).
Reaching to a sink (or generally an object at some height) was a constantly changing experience. I have memories of not being able to reach the faucet, and now I lean down to it.
I suspect once we reach adult height the opposite starts happening - if we all shrink 1-3 inches as we age as our backs hunch or muscles weaken, everything gets relatively taller. I’m not sure about larger, but maybe yes if height gives the impression of largeness.
And I think these ideas can be extended to people and age. When you are a child, adults are large monsters. As a teenager, you sense that most people are older, but you are nearing the same size. As you get older, you see physical changes but don’t feel fundamentally different. Some of the same kinds of experiences can give us awareness of our change in perception of age:
As we reach middle age we start to notice that we don’t fit into the age bucket of TV shows and advertisements, whereas before we did. Some advertising company somewhere has concluded that your age bracket is not the most lucrative to target.
A group of people that you never identified with before, you start to realize you are either in that group or surpassed (an age where you need to be screened for a disease, child bearing, etc.).
Shows that we watched before where the characters appeared very old to us, they now appear very young.
And a very funny one I saw on social media a few weeks ago - the Quaker Oats logo guy starts to look younger and younger to us every year!
But most of this is perception, because there is no reason that someone who is middle aged needs to act (or even look it, if they take care of themself) like an “old person.” I would suspect that we do eventually hit an age where our bodies start to feel weaker or can no longer perform, and that can be a scary thought. But hopefully like all these things it happens so subtly that you adapt over time and it’s not a quick, unexpected changed.
And finally, time. There is a lot of structure and milestone to childhood and young adult life - relatively speaking schooling is a fairly short period, but it feels so much longer than, say, 12-20 years that might happen after it. Awareness of time and work schedules, to some extent, ruin that “life is infinite and I’m outside in the grass playing without a care in the world” feeling, but that’s just part of growing up. One nice thing about getting older, however, is the freedom that comes with it. We can choose to create new adventures or experiences that make time feel slower, and we can be selective to not do things that we don’t like. Things that we never had the luxury or desire to do as young adults (for me this was sleeping in) we can do as we please. And we don’t have to follow the hard coded rules that our society dictates we are supposed to do. It can be a stressful thing to look ahead in life and what you are expected to do, which might include everything from:
- Owning a house
- Getting married
- Having Disney movie-level romantic love
- Having children
- "Going out" or otherwise enjoying socializing
and realize that you want none of it. Or perhaps you think you want some of it, but when push comes to shove it’s either not realistic or attainable, or you pursue it and realize you don’t want it. It’s a battle between expectations, and awareness of our own wants and ability to deviate from those expectations. At worst, it means a young adult pursues a career path that they arrive at and realize they don’t want at all. Or it could mean marrying someone that looks perfect on your childhood checklist, but doesn’t really meet any of your emotional needs. As we are learning to recognize what we want for our lives, really, it means that we can encounter the same situation and view it with a very different perspective.
Here is an example. Let’s look at the cultural differences between dating, and marriage. In some cultures we have arranged marriages which can be more functional, and are not based on this idea of meeting “the one.” In Western culture we are bombarded with Disney movies and romantic stories that tell our impressionable young selves that “This is what love looks like, and if you don’t find it you are missing it.” It’s funny how the movies end with a wedding and you don’t get to see what happens after that. Many people have pointed this out. The problem is that we grow up thinking we might want something that isn’t good for us. Or we might grow up knowing that we don’t want it, and having adults tell us, “Oh, you’ll change your mind.” Instead of wanting the deepest of friendship and companionship (and even functional compatibility) we look for infatuation, and then are disappointed to not find it, or find it and have it go away. We can be presented with the same situation of meeting someone that is truly our best friend and soul mate, but feel that something is missing because the infatuation is not there. We can be in so many situations of wanting something that would be terrible for us, and not learning to want what we actually need. We may actually just be better of realizing that there are many people in the world we could be compatible with, and we will be happiest to choose someone and decide to be with them, at least for as long as that’s a mutual decision.
Most of us get more complex as we get older. I can’t put myself inside the minds of others, but I’d also suspect that some people hit a point where they change less, and become more consistent or set in their ways. But experiences continue to happen to us, and influence our emotional state and decisions. Logically, we’ve had more life experiences at middle age than as a teenager, and the number will continue to expand with time. The painful experiences that we’ve gone through have stuck with us, and although I hoped this to not be the case, I think they mostly stay with us. If you’ve lost someone, whether through their passing or just loss of a relationship, the hole may never fill. You might get distracted with new joys, but you will find yourself in moments of solitude where the vulnerability comes through, and a feeling of pain comes back strongly from the loss. Indeed this kind of pain is part of being human, or at least I can’t imagine that someone can go through life without having any of it. Does it make us stronger? Maybe. Do we wish sometimes that we had never met someone? Definitely. We grow in complexity as we get older, and all of our experiences become parts of ourselves.
Why am I thinking about this?
I think it’s a good practice in life, whether you are thinking about work, family, or personal things, to regularly check in with yourself about perceived expectations and what you really need. And if it’s the case that the expectation doesn’t match what you want, it’s important to identify that and find the courage to pursue the deviant path anyway. And given that some reality doesn’t match some original vision you had, or hope for the long term, it comes down to figuring out tiny steps to take, today, so that your new present looks different in five or ten years. Carry on, friends.
Sochat, Vanessa. "About Change." @vsoch (blog), 25 Jul 2021, https://vsoch.github.io/2021/about-aging/ (accessed 23 Nov 23).