Culture

What It Means to Say You’re an Old Person in a Young Person’s Body

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If you just can’t keep up with kids and their slang these days, here’s a protip: when millennials say they’re “basically like eighty years old,” what they mean is, “please, please don’t make me drink until I vomit again.” (Also a protip is a piece of advice from an expert in the field. And a millennial is . . . you know what, never mind. One step at a time.)

For twenty-somethings, it’s sort of inversely cool to call yourself old. There are blogs, articles, and adorable BuzzFeed lists about being a grandparent trapped in a grandchild’s body. We’re all adorably grumpy, we stay in on Friday nights, and is it not just precious how we have our own recipe for stew?! The internet is crawling with perky little counter-cultural curmudgeons.

I’m one of them. I’m a cranky libertarian who goes to sleep at 10pm, except on weekends when I treat myself to a single glass of scotch and promptly fall asleep face-down in a bowl of roasted cashews. I don’t hook up, I go on dates — candlelit ones to restaurants with flowers. I wear ties.

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Here’s the thing, though: I’m not an old man, I’m just not interested in behaving like an oversized child. I’ve adopted this way of life because I was being sold a bill of goods in college about how people my age are supposed to act, and it was making me miserable. I suspect I’m not alone. “It’s your glory years! Let loose! Go crazy!” everyone said. “Going crazy” meant pounding vodka on a sticky dance floor until 2am on Wednesday night, waking up in a stranger’s dorm, and humblebragging about your hangover. You were meant to keep this up until Sunday, when the cool place to be was in the library, frantically cobbling together some sloppy assignments because, as you made sure everyone knew, your weekend had been crazy.

No one enjoys this. No one. The great modern lie about young adulthood — the one chanted in every pop song and insinuated by our teachers with a wink, the one we tell each other over coffee the morning after — is that drunken, indiscriminate sex is a liberating, cheeky, rebellious adventure. In fact it’s the height of conformity, a nightmarish sludge of exhaustion and sickness we put ourselves through only and precisely because everyone is doing it. It only takes one morning of waking up vomiting next to a man you don’t know (not an exaggeration — happened to several friends) to realize no one wants to live this way.

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We all want out. The same people who hook up every weekend are the ones lamenting the death of dating culture in the Elite Daily and the New York Times. But we’re trapped. It’s an obligation. More than an obligation: It’s cool.

So college kids are binge-drinking in record, catastrophic numbers, and drunken sexual assault is through the roof. Sounds like fun, right? We are literally poisoning ourselves to death with this stuff. But we’re so terrified of being unhip that we insist stubbornly to one another that we’re having fun. It’s Mutually Assured Destruction.

“Being an old man” is the escape valve. It’s a self-deprecating, snarky way of admitting you don’t like drinking yourself stupid and you’re not going to do it any more. One popular BuzzFeed list on the subject, “22 Signs You’re An Old Person Trapped In A Young Person’s Body,” reads, “Weekends are for errands and chores, not drinking and partying!” Translation: “I choose maintaining some base level of responsibility over pretending to enjoy music so loud it’s physically painful.” We’re all starved for the things college culture robbed us of by labeling them stodgy: self-discipline, moderation, simple pleasures. Those things are so obviously preferable to the ravenous self-indulgence and sexual license being peddled to us that we’ve constructed a way of claiming them that’s ironic and goofy enough to be cool. We’re not old people trapped inside young people’s bodies, we’re young people hiding inside old people’s lives.

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So I say, it’s time to stop hiding. I am not an old man. I’m a young man who believes in self-control. I claim my reasonable sleep schedule, my loving, committed relationships, my civilized dinner parties as my own life, not the life of some imaginary octogenarian. I hate binge drinking. I hate the way it makes my friends suffer. Shocker: now that I’ve stopped doing it, I’m healthier. I run faster, love deeper, write better, and wake up happier. Simply put, this life is better. Not “better for me” or “better for this time in my life.” Better. The sooner people my age admit that (and come on — we’re all thinking it), the sooner we can stop fantasizing about being eighty. I hear it’s not that great.

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images via shutterstock /  aastock / Wallenrock / EmiliaUngur / Maridav