When I am a Young Woman I Shall Wear Purple

I was waiting to cross the road the other day when an extremely old lady came up and started chatting to me. I’d put her in her eighties or maybe even nineties; she was frail and wrinkled and huddled over her stick.

“That’s a very nice jacket,” she told me.

“Oh, thank you!” I replied.

“An unusual colour,” she continued.

“Yes, it’s vivid, isn’t it?”

And then she hit me with it: “You’re keeping up with the young people.”


Keeping up with the young people?

“Ha ha...” I replied, summoning up all my manners. “Why should they have all the fun?”

Keeping up with the young people?! I am thirty-three years old and little old ladies no longer think that I’m young. What a blow.

“If somebody had said that to me this week,” said a friend who was turning thirty-four the following day, “I would have burst into tears.”

But it got me wondering: when do we stop being young?

I know I’m not young to a two year old. I know I’m not young to a teenager. I’m not even young to many people in their early twenties but to friends my own age (I broke my Facebook ban to do a quick bit of research on this) I am still a young person.

I have always kind of assumed that the older I got, the older "old" would get. Middle age would always be a little bit beyond my reach, like a half empty paint can with the lid not properly on - threatening, but harmless if ignored.

I had figured I could drag out the being young thing indefinitely. I pictured myself in my seventies, celebrating because I finally had pale enough hair for turquoise dye.

I hadn’t really considered that there might be some sort of cut off point.

I definitely hadn’t considered that I might have reached it. I still believe all technology can be mastered with practice. I still think children's choirs sound sinister. None of my cosmetics have anti-wrinkle properties. How can I be anything other than young?

And then I thought about two technically old men I interviewed last year. They had a combined age of 170 and big bald patches and they were urging me to think about my pension arrangements, yet I still came away thinking of the pair of them as young. Because they were. Not literally. Not in the strictest sense of the word. But in attitude. I don't remember ever meeting a bigger pair of comedians.

It's a cliche to say you're as young as you feel or as young as you act, but it's true. All around me, I have friends doing apparently grown up things - buying their homes, slipping wedding rings on fingers, popping out offspring - and not one of them has morphed into middle age.

Not one of us is a "youth", of course. We've grown out of the worst of our angsty attention seeking. We suppose our parents can understand us a bit. We no longer treat this place like a hotel.

We're adults.

But we're ever so far from old.


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