The afternoon of life

I am 37 years old.  I’m not going to pretend it is without angst, this early middle age of mine.  Two summer ago turning 35 made me very thoughtful and somewhat melancholy.  I got what felt like endless emails that summer protesting that 35 is not middle age.  But I disagree: I view middle age as a range: literally, the middle of life.  And there is no question in my mind that’s where I am.  The ferris wheel that I write about over and over nears its apex, and the view is breathtaking.  I can feel in my stomach, however, that we’re lurching close to the voyage down the other side.

I’m in good company, by the way: Carl Jung said that middle age begins at 35.  (he called it the beginning of the “afternoon of life,” something I read for the first time in Dani Shapiro’s gorgeous Devotion.) And life does have a different flavor these last few years.  The evidence that I am an adult continues to pile up: two children, a marriage, a graduate degree, a mortgage, a station wagon.  Oh, and the wrinkles.  I feel like a grown-up in the full sense of the word, which is both liberating and heavy.  Part of fully leaning into adulthood seems to be accepting all the things that will never be, and there is a deep sorrow in that though also a kind of sturdy settling, like an exhale.

But at the same time I feel a persistent disbelief that I’m actually an adult.  I still feel like I am 18.  I am still waiting for the real parents to come home and to take over with Grace and Whit.  It’s not a secret that one of the things I struggle most with is time’s passage; I wonder if my apparent willful ignoring of my own maturing is a way of refusing to acknowledge this reality.

I’m not sure.  It’s just one of the ways that life continues to surprise me, I guess, this oscillating between feeling very old and very young, sometimes in a single moment.   The constant letting go of what I thought, over and over again, that is never enough.  Releasing my hold on what might have been in order to embrace what is.  What is, in all of its new-wrinkled, dark-circled, surprisingly-achy middle-aged glory.  Maybe that will be primary joy of this afternoon of life: acknowledging and appreciating this life, this 37 (almost 38) years, right here.

Click over to Momalom to read many beautiful posts on today’s 5 for 5 topic, age.

17 thoughts on “The afternoon of life”

  1. feels so resonant, lindsey. the ache of letting go of what could-have-been (youthful potential fading). the fullness of what is right now (deep gratitude in blossom). both/and. all.

  2. Beautiful. I will be 34 next month, and I very much feel that creeping sense of the “finality” of adulthood. I just spent the weekend with two of my oldest friends, and sifting through memories of our 18-year-old selves feels like yesterday; truly. But I wrote in my post about the experience that we are all carrying so much more baggage than we were half a lifetime ago. I love what you say about, “Part of fully leaning into adulthood seems to be accepting all the things that will never be.” This is the cornerstone of my life, and my struggles. My girlfriends were talking about how glad they were to be fully ensconced in their 30s just as I was reading an article from NPR that said 80% of what you’ve achieved in a lifetime happens by the time you’re 30. To be honest, that was a little hard for me to swallow!

  3. “Releasing my hold on what might have been in order to embrace what is.”

    Yes. I sometimes think about the way my life could have turned out. If I had made different choices. Not because I am not happy, I really and truly am. But because it is human nature, I think, to ponder the other path. The path we didn’t take, for one reason or another. And then I tell myself to stop. And to look around. And to embrace this life. This good life that I have made for myself and am trying with all my might to live to the fullest.

  4. I live in fear of being OLD. Not old in age, but OLD in the way that I perceive the world. When I turned 30 several images pushed their way into my mind. Things I’ve let go. However lately I’ve definitely lingered on the negative. And often I feel as if I’m 18 still as well. It is all just how you live your life, right?

    Thank you for posting this. I struggle with both feeling young, but living a life full of responsibility. It is what it is. I don’t long for yesterday. I just wish today was just a little easier.


  5. The upside is that some of our young girl questions get answered. Will I marry, do I know him already? Will I have kids? Boys? Girls? Some of each? What will I do? Who will my friends be? Will I live behind a white picket fence? In town? On a farm? Will I be happy?

  6. I feel the same way–sometimes on the outside, with all of my aches and pains and wrinkles, I feel ancient. But inside, I’m just a little girl who wants another bowl of ice cream.

  7. I feel this, deeply. One of my mantras these days is: This is my life. Emphasis on the “this.” Not some urban work of art, not the soft spring of a country house, not the quiet and clean corners of independence. This. The clutter and the kids and the cat and something for dinner every night and always dishes to wash and socks to find. This is my life. I never could’ve imagined it back then, and there’s nothing to do but live it now.

  8. The evidence piles up. I began to feel that shift into the afternoon at the same time…I agree it is a range it cannot be absorbed all at once. We shift into it. I am a couple years in now and life is much more meaningful to me now because what I took for granted (my youth)I realize now I wan’t get to keep forever. We are looking at the view. How lovely and how poignant it puts a lump in my throat this ‘accepting all the things that will never be. It is the first thing that came into view for me on the ferris wheel. xox

  9. I don’t feel like I’m getting older, but my joints beg to differ. When my hips ache after skipping out on too many yoga sessions and my body is still trying to recover from a bad night’s sleep three nights ago, it’s hard not to think about age and what it does to us physically even if I’m fine with it emotionally.

  10. I had to chuckle to myself as I read this, because we both write about similar topics: being in our mid-life (you almost 38, me almost 40) and feeling sometimes 18 and being in sort of a denial (maybe?), except you, as always, wrote it so beautifully…and I, this time around, am drowning my mid-life crisis in neon lights and martinis. LOL
    P.S. I, too, am waiting for Ben and Aidan’s REAL parents to show up, because SURELY, it can’t be me!?

  11. Eleanor Roosevelt has a lovely quote–
    “Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday. ”

    I thought of that as I read your title.

  12. Fully leaning into adulthood…

    This settled over me, each word, with a familiar hum. I am finding it less terrifying for me, but with more ache as I try to leave more for each girl. A longer cuddle, a deeper conversation, a more robust laugh.

  13. Well you’ve read my post and I completely agree – it’s so odd to be both young and have all this evidence of being an adult. Maybe part of me doesn’t want to be an adult – I want the comfort of childhood, of being taken care of, of no responsibility.

  14. One of my closest friends, whom grew up with since middle school, always reminds me that I am clearly not old enough nor wise enough to be a parent. We laugh about it all the time. How did we get here?

    Having just turned 34, I still feel like a baby. That this post could not possibly apply to me. Ha. But I’m not sure if that’s out of denial or due to the fact that age just doesn’t matter to me. Of course, ask me that in one year, in five years, in ten. Who knows what I’ll say then.

  15. I love this post, Lindsey. It’s so relevant to where I am. When I turned forty, I felt joyful — that sense of exhalation that you write about so well. It was as if was finally a “grown up.” I remember thinking, “wow, I don’t have to care anymore about what people think of me!” I don’t know why that hit me, but it felt liberating.

    Then came 41. When I turned 41, I suddenly realized I was about halfway through . . . halfway DONE. Ugh. This second realization was about as rational as the first one (in other words, not at all). And as powerful in its impact. I had that same sense of loss that you write about here, the knowledge of “all the things that will never be”.

    So, now at 42 (my revelations seem to be annual), I’m somewhere in the middle I think — between gratitude and crisis, stumbling along. I do love what Halie wrote above about all those girl questions getting answered — wow, I had a lot of them. And they all turned out better than I expected. And I also really appreciate Kelly’s mantra: “This is my life”. Love that. Thanks for a great post and conversation.

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