January 4, 1996 in Features

Growing Pains Grip Generation

Gail Sheehy Universal Press Syn
 

Many members of that forever-young generation known in America as Baby Boomers find that they are now running up against the first implacable reality that one cannot change: They are no longer kids.

One of the most dramatic changes in contemporary society, as the biggest bulge of the Baby Boom passes the first marker of midlife, is that every year millions of people are turning 40. Consider:

In the United States an average of 12,000 people will turn 40 every day during the decade of the ‘90s.

One quarter of the Boomers have already reached or passed age 40, and in many ways the early midlife passage is a unique experience for them. So successfully did these vanguard Boomers delay many adult duties and commitments, it’s as though they “retired” for their 20s — to play guitar, join the Peace Corps, travel to exotic places, experiment with drugs, and pledge themselves to ending the draft and winning the civil rights movement. Many got around to real life only in their 30s, whereupon they cut their hair, cut back on the weed, started jogging, and took straight jobs.

Since then, legions among this generation have dieted, weight-trained, body-contoured, nipped and tucked, dyed and liposuctioned, until most of them look, and actually believe, they are five to 10 years younger than their birth certificates would attest. In many ways they are at least a decade younger than 50 ever was. From my interviews and surveys, I find that the image they carry around of themselves usually falls somewhere between ages 28 and 35.

It is almost universal to have a hurry-up feeling as we hit 40. The first little fissures appear in our physical shells. Damn, why is the type in the phone book so small? Students start calling you “mister.” As a new mother over 40, you have to set down the cell phone from working on an M&A; deal to put on your invisible bifocals to breast-feed.

Says a 40-ish Manhattan doctor, “All of a sudden you reach an age where you look at a young woman and — click —you’re not even under consideration. That hurts!”

The reason for all this nervousness and fear of falling apart is predictable:

You are nearing the end of your First Adulthood, and since you probably have had little experience yet with facing your own mortality, it may seem imminent.

MEMO: Excerpted from “New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time” by Gail Sheehy.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Gail Sheehy Universal Press Syndicate

Excerpted from “New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time” by Gail Sheehy.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Gail Sheehy Universal Press Syndicate


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