Dramatic Signs of Aging That Occurred Between The Ages of 19-22

]I loved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when I was sixteen. I loved it because if you pause any given scene in that movie, it could stand alone as a photograph and that fact fit well with the Myspace aesthetic I had going at the time. Loved the movie also because, since I was hyper and artsy, people told me I reminded them of Kate Winslet’s orange-haired character Clementine (People also told me I was like Natalie Portman’s character from Garden State. I was an annoying teenager). The whole experience of that movie was an important one for my self-concept at sixteen.

The thing I love about it now is that one line where, in a cluttered and sad room in the middle of a winter night, Winslet’s character tells Joel aka Jim Carey, “I’m always anxious thinking I’m not living my life to the fullest, you know? Taking advantage of every possibility? Just making sure that I’m not wasting one second of the little time I have.” I am twenty-two and to the dismay of my therapist, feel like I am close to being an old woman. This makes me anxious and even sometimes mournful.

Forget the existential factors. Forget the fact that I, for one, lived harder in three years as soon as I hit New York than I ever did in my whole prior lifetime of suburban misfit discontent. I’m not even talking about how a person changes when they fall in love for the first time and get dragged through the mud and then lose the love. Not talking about the sallow shift in a person’s eyes that occurs when she makes real friends that become infused with her red blood cells, finally meets people who become tied to the surges of her dopamine levels and then some of those people die. Because 19-22 is the age where we as humans are exposed nerve endings, out rushing through our new worlds driven by the idealistic energy that stunningly connects us to each other – so the friendships are close. 19-22 is also when in the name of youngness we rush into things that could kill us. I’m not talking about the world-weariness that comes from losing money and almost leaving school, or exposure to the insane things that can sometimes happen at the wrong moments in the big city. I don’t necessarily mean the losses and “growing experiences.”

All that I mean is – my body is getting a half-notch bigger and slower. People complain about aging in their 30’s, as though it doesn’t hit till then, but these changes are starting slowly but surely right now as I emerge in the world as a post-grad.  My complexion is a little paler. My cheeks slower to flush in moments that ought to embarrass me but cannot anymore. My eyes are deader, maybe because I am less easy to surprise. Eyebrows do little to aid this; we may smile, but the contortion of our faces can’t hide that we’ve shut off behind the cornea. There are two faint lines on my once shining, gold-brown forehead and I know it’s from all the cigarettes. I’ve started finding the grey hairs, at least four. I feel 36% less spry and fresh.

The changes are so slight that a person in their middle age would call me vain and spoiled. I had a Kim Kardashian ass- I’m serious, just a smaller proportion – all leg, straight and thin, and then the shock of a round butt. Something’s changed. I exercise the same amount, but there’s a transitional thickness now from leg to ass, a blur of flesh that bridges the two. Effortless muscle tone doesn’t define my arms anymore, which are now softer and formless. I have to run further to feel smaller. These days, I worry about being smaller. I used to be a young feminist proud of my total indifference to media-BS-body pressure. Maybe I was taking for granted my hotly burning metabolism, telling others to not care when it was easy for me not to.

19-22, everything hotly burned. Now if I have a day of too much passion, too much excitement, it doesn’t absorb into my reserve of craving more and more. I need to sink my face into my pillow because tomorrow I have to get up at eight. My dreams are about writing checks and depositing checks and chicken sandwiches. I can’t do the splits anymore. I can’t look at computer screens when I’m hungover. Art is less vivid; beautiful words don’t fall from me how they used to – when I was eighteen, I had a lot to say and I’d type for seven hours straight to let it all out. Now, I don’t have that kind of time and there is not much to say that I couldn’t just search on Google. I remember to take my vitamins and I finally understand the social value of “small-talk.” I get excited when I receive appliances for Christmas. I don’t know how or when these changes happened.

I also missed out on things; I wished I’d gotten snake- bite lip piercings. Now it’s too late. I wish I’d gone ahead and dyed my hair blue instead of worrying about my mother’s wrath. Now, I need to be decent for a job. I think about the recession and it gives me headaches. I worry about my generation. I have more worries than impulses, suddenly.

I look back on 19-22, years when I was all about the idea of “having no regrets.” My best friend who is gone now once asked me if I would ever “eternal sunshine” certain people, meaning erase them from memory, and I said no. A year later, I said yes. I aged myself fast in trying to prevent wasting the little time I had. I had assumed there would be a payoff for all of this; not a buildup of mistake-residue and a dulling of the senses.

But I know I’m young. Older people remind me of it, eyeing my still-bright face with some envy, and they tell me things like “You have so much ahead of you” in wistful-stern voices. And I think, “I hope that’s true.” What about 22-26? I am nervous, but I suspect, somehow, that this next stage will be different. If anything, the lurching, quiet changes of a secret growing layer of heaviness have afforded us all who are in this bracket a new kind of strength. I have a good friend whose life was chaos until she was 26 and then all of a sudden she met the love of her life. They had a fresh spring Lower East Side romance that was like a movie, it lasted for years, and now they’re going to get married in the fall. For her, there was payoff. Together, they are young. My friend’s years were not wasted and they did not use her up. Instead she had a grand rebirth and there was a point for all of it. These next years may feel slower and duller, but I don’t want to miss anything in 22-26. God knows what my ass will look like then. TC mark

image – Tony Hall


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  • anon


    • Anonymous


  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    I’m 26…looks like I was ridden hard and put up wet.  I wasn’t ridden, though.  I just gorged myself on too many fried foods my undergrad years.  … I feel Lindsay’s pain.

  • ✗✗✗

    From 19-22 I just dropped out of college and turned goth…

  • 4Rull

    I feel you bro, I just turned 12 and shit is HARD

  • Francesca

    This is the perfect snapshot of where I am in this exact moment, and I doubt anyone else could have described it better than you have. Now, excuse me, but I have to go and mop up my tears.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1283010080 Brian Long

       Yes, I completely agree with you. I’m glad I am not alone!

  • cch

    As I read, I found this so beautiful and true. This may be your story, but as a matter of fact, it became mine and maybe others’. Thanks it was a beautiful moment reading you.

  • Minime

    This is a little depressing!

  • Bean

    21 and in my last undergrad semester, ah, the promise of things to look forward to…

    *adds another bean to the precariously wavering scale of postgrad related anxiety*

  • Anonymous

    Old Man Wisdom: Stop drinking the Kool Aid and start drinking from the “fountain of youth” 

  • LeTigreNYC

    I thought it was a bunch of overwrought, pretentious B.S. You are not getting “old”, you don’t “age” at 22. Get more sleep, drink lots of water, if you smoke… stop, lay off the cheeseburgers. Get over yourself.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1283010080 Brian Long

       Disagree. Not pretentious at all. As a 22-year-old recent college grad now working full time, I can fully relate to this. All of this.

      • Laffo Giraffo

        Wait until you’re 32, then see how stupid your comment is. I giggled the whole way through this, remembering how awesomely self-important I was at 22.

      • Calm the fuck down.

         You can’t take it upon yourself to invalidate someone else’s struggles just because you’ve got a couple years, or even a whole decade, on him or her. Dismissing someone’s plight as “pretentious” makes YOU seem pretentious. Everyone has to cope with letting go; these experiences are relative. Leave each person to his or her own growth process. Everyone’s just trying to do the best they can with what they have.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1235640060 Angela Holmberg

        “these experiences are relative.”
        THANK YOU for stating that. Everyone learns, grows, and deals with personal change differently and it’s not something that they need to justify to others. Bravo.

  • Justine

    Definitely not what I needed to read this morning, but definitely what I needed to read.

  • Yasdnil

    We don’t fear getting old, we fear having to let go. Change is inevitable, if it weren’t we would still be crapping ourselves and watching Aladdin on VHS. Its never too late to do half of the things you wanted to do…

  • Bridget

    Word. This shit is in my head every day. I’m turning 23 on Saturday and I’m not understanding the effects of almost quarter-life crisis. 

    • Bridget

      Woops I meant *now* 

  • Danjabbar

    This reminds me of someone close to me…
    And because of that, I feel rather calm now that I’ve read this.

  • Laura

    Wait till you turn 25. Your metabolism says eff you, see ya later. I’m 28 now and looking back, it actually gets better from 25 on. You learn to accept things you can’t change, make some modifications to your lifestyle and really start to understand yourself. You just gotta keep on livin’, man.

  • Carmen

    As a 22 year old who never dyed her hair pink or blue, this piece resonated with me. But as someone who met an aerialist (who’s 31 now, and who quit her day job to start trapeze work at 26 and run away with a circus), I know that feeling old at 22 is bullshit. 

  • Anonymous

    First comment – Well written, I can almost taste your angst…
    Second comment – Seriously? You are concerned at 22 that your body is degrading and that you missed out on doing “wild and crazy things”? That you ‘hope’ that you have so much ahead of you? I am so sad  that you feel burnt out already…
    Third comment – If you lose that sense of wonder, that sense of passion for appreciating beauty – you are going to end up OLD really fast..

  • FunFunFun

    I’m nearing 30 and my ass looks fucking incredible. Keep hope alive!

  • Billy Hoyle

    “…world-weariness that comes from almost leaving school.. ”
    This might be the most hilariously overwrought and immature comment in the history of thought catalog, thus making it a real candidate for most hilariously overwrought comment in the history of the Internet. But I still can’t look away.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone mocking from their “older” perch is being unnecessarily cruel and ageist.

  • Isabelle A Ferreira

    oh little darling, there are worse things in life. GET OVER YOURSELF. 

  • Dole

    Nazi Literature of the Americas

  • Oscar Wilde

    Good piece, but the non-physical stuff you talk about? That’s not aging, my dear. That’s maturing. Welcome to the world; we’re glad to have you.

  • http://twitter.com/LouPerseghin Lou Perseghin

    If you’re ‘older’ and commenting about how the writers feelings are less valid because of age, I’d invite you to just go ahead and keep quiet. Remember when you were 22? Yeah and how you felt like that?

    I do. I’m now 27 and the years between 22 and today have been pretty much the best of my life. And I’m not seeing an end to that feeling anytime soon. It’s the post college hump we all have to get over before moving on to the rest of our lives.

    Good piece M.J. I feel ya. Just trust that the best is definitely yet to come.

    • HR

      as someone in a similar position as M.J., what would you say you’ve done or has given you the strength to have the best time of your life from 22 to 27? I’m about to turn 22 and feel like M.J., and I want to know how others have dealt with this, and succeeded!

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t want this to end. Just like I don’t want my 21st year to end.

    • Anonymous

      It never has to end. There’s ’21+1,’ and after that, you can just stay 21 until you hit 30 :]

    • Anonymous

      Don’t worry — 21 is the one birthday that keeps on giving

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