What's Your 'Milestone Age'?

Illustration for article titled What's Your 'Milestone Age'?

There are some unarguably monumental age milestones — 16, 21, 50, — but what about the not-so-obvious birthdays that we deem meaningful for one reason or another?

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In a piece for The Awl, Adriane Quinlan writes about America's obsession with 27-year-olds:

...everything America mythicizes and celebrates and destroys is twenty-seven and has always been twenty-seven: Ingrid Bergman, in Casablanca; Heather Graham, in Boogie Nights; Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes; Jemima Kirke, in "Girls"; and every other actress expected to be a sexual prize for the first 89 minutes and believably settled down in the final frame.

The twenty-seven-year-old can accomplish anything: Yuri Gagarin orbited at age 27; Flannery O'Connor published Wise Blood and Hemingway The Sun Also Rises-their debuts. Think of Ryan Lochte v. Michael Phelps just last month when both were 27, or LeBron James, 27. This is the year at which baseball players ripen, like cantaloupes, their desirability on fantasy rosters spiking (think Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder). And it's not because they're so good (Delmon Young, 27) but because next season, they
settle in; because twenty-seven's home runs and "Play-it-Again-Sams" wax into twenty-eight's solid OBPs and loveless marriages.

At least that's what Julia Roberts' character thinks in My Best Friend's Wedding, which is predicated on two friends promising that if they are not engaged to others by twenty-eight, they'll marry. I watched it while eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's (founded by two twenty-seven-year-olds) and wept: twenty-seven is the last year of romance, ego, mania. It's the last year of Bold Moves. It's the age of the real man of the hour, Christian Grey, who at twenty-seven jumps out of the playpen and into the arms of boring Anastasia. How mature.

We asked some other women about their personal milestone ages:

"I feel like I need to be chasing my dreams by the time I'm 25," an almost-24-year-old said. "25 sounds thrilling but also scary." The same woman said that 32 sounded intimidatingly rock solid, "‪like the decisions I've made will all of the sudden make total sense, and life will stop being so full of possibility, but in a stable, positive way."

A 32-year-old said she liked her early 30s, but hated 27, because it was the official crossover from mid-twenties to late-twenties. "By 27, I didn't feel so young and special anymore," she said. She also said she wasn't looking forward to 36, "probably because the media pounds it into our heads that fertility drops at 35. I dunno. Just sounds not good to me: 36."

A 36-year-old woman felt differently:

My thought is that the milestones have changed pretty significantly in the last years, and what's a milestone at 27 might be the same thing at 36...it's not that there's a particular age at which you have to buy a house or get married, particularly in urban life. The "milestone" if there is one that's more shared is probably a sense of feeling like you truly know who you are and/or are moving toward who you want to be. And that can happen at any age, but I think it really gets going in your 30s, probably, for women, when you start letting go of some of the trappings of adulthood or who you THINK you're supposed to be, and instead embrace yourself for who you really are.

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A 41-year-old woman we spoke with said people were weirder about 41 than 40, but she didn't know why. "Everyone makes a big deal out of turning 40 — even if that big deal is "40 is no longer old!" (a la Oprah, etc)," she wrote via IM. "But 40 felt like no big deal to me. But saying I'm 41, that feels like a big deal, I see people's faces change at that one. So while 41 is not a milestone internally, I see people react to it like it's a milestone, more significantly than 40."

It's reassuring to hear that people have different age milestones because it reinforces the concept that age is really just a number, what you make of it, etc. Unless you're Jennifer Aniston, of course. (KIDDING.)

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Twenty-Seven [The Awl]

Image via Elena Schweitzer/Shutterstock.

DISCUSSION

DorothyBelle
DorothyBelle

As the official Oldest Lady Of Them All, I assure you, it's all good—or at least it is until you hit 60.

25 is important. 30 is grand. 40 is a whirlwind. 50 is exciting—kind of hard if you haven't done a lot of the things you meant to do, but definitely lively nevertheless, full of fine moments. You're pretty sure you look good, and in any case you feel as though on the whole you're the person you wanted to be. You've stopped worrying about a million little things. You can still go wild on occasion without feeling absolutely foolish. You know things you didn't know before, including what matters and what doesn't matter. It feels awfully good to know what doesn't matter.

Then comes 60. At 60, you cross a bridge. You can look around and see the other side; all the things you've left behind you are clearly visible; but you can never cross back over again.

Some hotel clerk calls you "young lady," and you realize in a rush that that's the kind of thing hotel clerks only say to females under 10 and over 60. It's kindly meant, but it doesn't fool anybody. What it really tells you is that your neck is going.

Someone smiles too broadly and tells you "you're not 60 years OLD, you're 60 years YOUNG!" and even though all you want to do is smack them, you have to smile and accept it, because you know they mean well—they don't want to insult you by acknowledging that you are O-L-D.

You are out of the running forever when it comes to sex and beauty. The best you can hope for is that someone says you look good for your age, and they always say it a little too gently, a little patronizingly, as if you were an anxious child who needs to be reassured and placated. You're all of a sudden becoming one of those people that the kids make vomit noises about when they associate you with sex in any way shape or form—they flap their hands and say, "ew, ew, ew!" just like you used to do, talking about old people and sex, the most ludicrous and grotesque of erotic possibilities.

A little more time goes by, and now you're the little old lady who's driving too slowly and blocking traffic. You can practically see your own young self in the car behind you, stamping on the brakes and snapping, "Oh, come ON, get out of the WAY, you old bat!" You can't very well lean out the car window and shout, "Now I get it! The eyes and the reflexes, they don't work quite the way they did! I'm not driving slowly to annoy you or to humiliate myself—it's just that my body is starting to betray me, and this is the absolute best I can do."

It takes a while to deal with all that. But then you deal with it, because what else are you going to do? And after a while, you realize that if you're going to have to be an old lady, you'd might as well be fully alive while you're being it. The capacity for joy and invention lingers for a good many years, even when all you look like is just a wrinkled old thing.

Meanwhile, do enjoy—madly enjoy—being 25, or 27, or 30, or 35, or 38, or for that matter 50 or 55 and beyond. It all really is exceptional. Don't waste a minute of it worrying about the passage of time. Time, I assure you, will rush past on its own even without your worry to hasten it along.