Alas, I am not referring to those under age 21, although there are days when I wish some would act older than their current time-stamp. No, I’m thinking about how many people refuse to serve as stable, calm, sensible role models, and instead insist on acting as if they are in their teens or twenties when they are, oh over fifty.
What brought it to mind was a commercial where a woman has a much younger lover because of her fast internet. It used to be, in certain places, if a widowed woman either married “too soon” after her husband’s death, or married a man too young, the community would make its displeasure known. Often, if private words didn’t dissuade her, a “shivaree” or “charivari” would be held at her residence. Torches, rude songs, loud hand-bells, and banging of metal would go on for hours each night until the woman apologized or in some cases, left town forever. It was less common when a man remarried, but it still happened, especially if the age difference was, ahem, notable even for the place and time.
People tried to act older. They wanted responsibilities, or at least accepted responsibilities at what we today consider scandalous ages. Boys were proud to get factory jobs at age 12, because now they were men, men who contributed to the family. Which makes me wonder about the idea that “the brain does not mature until age 25.” Until very recently, by age 25, many if not most people were married with multiple children, running businesses and farms and working. Now, granted, bad judgement was dealt with swiftly and firmly, by nature if not by the people around the offender. (There’s nothing like going hungry because you goofed off to inculcate proper work habits.) Ageing was not optional, to put it mildly.
Today ageing is sometimes seen as a sign that you messed up somewhere. You didn’t take the right nostrum, or you should exercise more, or eat the superfood-of-the-week, or something. Adults who are well past their teens talk about leading the revolution and not trusting older people. And do it with a straight face, even though they ARE the older people. Gents in the 60s try to dress and act as if they are in their 20s. A few can carry it off. Others . . . Are best passed over in silence. This applies for women as well. In my opinion, leggings and a crop top are not garments for those over age 40, unless you are an aerobics instructor.* Ditto cycling shorts and a tank-top for men.
Physically, many of us in the First World are younger than our ages, and are likely to stay healthier than our ages for quite a while, barring bad rolls of the genetic/vehicular/cancer dice. I know that plays a role in people behaving like young idiots well into their 50s and 60s and beyond. And some people are just that way. Any society with enough resources is probably going to have one of “those guys” or gals, the individual who stays inappropriately juvenile well past the age of adulthood. Not playful, or energetic and curious, but juvenile. There’s a place for play, and I’m all for being physically active as long as you can. I strongly encourage curiosity. I intensely dislike people older than I am trying to hold onto being a teen with tooth, claw, and super glue. It’s embarrassing at the very least, dangerous at worst.
I suspect part of it is that we have lost the ceremonies that clearly separate childhood from adulthood. Not religious ceremonies, like Confirmation and the Bar Mitzvah, but rituals where the community says, “We recognize you as an adult. You have the following rights and privileges, these duties, and we expect you to stop acting like a child.” High School graduation used to serve that function to an extent, until college became a requirement, and so many employers stopped hiring teens. Then came the idea that “well, brains don’t develop until 25, so you can’t expect young people to be responsible, so let them enjoy themselves.” Military service remains a clear dividing line, at least in some places, but I think we need a return to some sort of public acknowledgement and understanding of adulthood and how grown-ups behave.
Dignified maturity seems to be dying away, and I’m not sure what will revive it.
*Actually, leggings and a crop top do not flatter anyone, even the svelte and confident. The less said about large prints on leggings, the better. In my opinion. If you are teaching or doing aerobics or the like in a gym, then wear what works.