I’ll be 41 here in a minute, and around these times we mark out as indications of aging, I like to spend a few minutes reflecting. What does it all mean?
This year, I’ve decided to think about the upsides of aging. Sure, there are downsides, but we can’t have everything. The occasional focus on what is good won’t kill us.
Sex comes quickly to mind, because it doesn’t, at least not as quickly as it once did. At 41, I find myself far less distracted than in years past by sexual thoughts and pretty people. Some men chew Viagra or rub their underarms with testosterone when they realize their sex lives are not going to be as rampant and urgent as before. I find this age to be increasingly peaceful.
My mind has previously been filled with all sorts of sexual fantasies a civilized person ought not to own up to. Now I can take comfort in the fact that, even should they start to come true tomorrow, I would lack the energy and enthusiasm to take advantage of the situation. I think it is the perfect time for my career as a writer to take flight: the dangers of indiscretion that accompany fame and fortune hold much less appeal than they might have 20 years ago.
Also to my credit, I have never been handsome or otherwise attractive. As my body changes, and it is harder to keep lean muscle and easier to turn cheesecake into waistline, I find myself less and less alarmed by the whole prospect. If I weren’t so poor, I could just buy bigger pants and get on with life. A little padding around the middle can even be seen as distinguished. And if I ever feel disappointment that five years ago I could do hand-stand push-ups and now I get out of breath carrying laundry upstairs, I just wonder what the actual good is of hand-stand push-ups anyway.
Beards also get better with age. I’ve always want to grow a beard down to my belt buckle. Well, metaphorical belt-buckle: now that I have a belly I find a buckle tends to poke into tender flesh. I prefer suspenders. And Mork and Mindy is sufficiently out of date that almost nobody snaps them like a rubber band thinking they are funny.
Back to beards: long beards look creepy when they are full of youthful color. blond or black or brown or red, they make a man look disturbingly counter-culture, like they live on food gathered from dumpsters even though they make good money writing code for iPhone aps. Finally, my beard is starting to noticeably and convincingly gray. The only colors that look good in a long beard are grey, silver, and white, so the time is ripe to start not trimming it so periodically.
This is good because I can’t quite seem to see as well as I used to. Keeping a beard trimmed and in shape becomes an exercise in squinting and cautious cuts, or else paying someone else to do the job. And, as noted before, I’m quite poor. Perhaps the sensory sensitivity that accompanies Asperger’s syndrome might eventually fade sufficiently that shaving would not be torture and that would solve a number of problems all at once.
All that is to the good, really. Peacefulness, more comfort with difficult feelings, less anxiety about the things that don’t matter like bodies or beauty. More concern about the things that do matter, like relationships and the far future, beyond my lifetime, where our children will live.
Another thing that happens to us is our cognition has a chance to evolve beyond what Piaget thought was the highest stage of reasoning: formal operations. Later in life, we can start to discover that some questions—most questions—have more than one right answer. Multiple perspectives are simultaneously true. Whether a theory is true becomes a little less important than whether it is helpful, and problems are more likely to be solved by relationships than by reason or brute force.
So, 41. While the world is worse than I ever remember it being, and maybe it’s not such a good time to be alive, I still feel like this is shaping up to be my best decade on Earth. I can write without effort, I have a family who, inexplicably, love me, and I feel a peace inside I have never felt before. I have outlets for my thoughts and feelings, and a chance to steer the teaching of psychology just ever so slightly away from false objectivism and towards compassion and empathy. Sure, a million bucks would be nice too, but what do you want? Everything?
— Jason Dias
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