I am what adults like to call an “old soul.” It is a kind way of saying that I am different than my peers – someone who loves solitude and sleep, who loses her train of thought when she is cut off, who shushes kids at movie theaters. Even though the speaker has a had a bit of pity in her eyes as she says it, I’ve always taken it as a complement that I am perhaps a bit wiser (and yes, more ornery) than the rest of twenty-somethings.
But I am almost thirty and something strange is happening. As my favorite character Nick from New Girl said so well, “I feel like I am finally aging into my personality.” Things that were once strange for a young person to like (staying in on a Friday night to catch up on a crime show, complaining about sciatica after sitting for too long, wondering where the use of good grammar has gone) are no longer. Being articulate or well-read or self-reflective aren’t marks of a set-apart-maturity anymore but rather just what privilege at 30 looks like.
One clear indicator of this shift is that people my age are finally starting to make movies and television shows. New Girl is written and produced by Liz Meriwether, a fellow theater nerd at my high school with whom I spent nights rehearsing student-led Woody Allen plays and devising plans to set me up with the director’s younger brother. When last week’s episode pitted the thirty-something main characters of the show against their new twenty-something year old neighbors, I realized that I was squarely with the former group, howling at Jess’s impressions of Steve Urkel’s “Did I do that?” and Stephanie Tanner’s “How rude!”. Were my tastes so quotidian now? I had almost peed my pants in the romantic dramedy Celeste and Jesse Forever when Andy Samberg’s character made a reference to Corky from Life Goes On.
At a recent work gathering, I was the youngest in attendance at 28. The next person up was 29, then 33. I wasn’t far off from being middle-of-the-pack, a stage I have yet to know in my professional life. I’ve always garnered a bit of street cred from being a youngen’ amidst her elders. In high school, I refused to attend youth group (too loud) and instead joined the college-aged group that met on the University of Michigan’s campus. As rich as the conversations were, no one wanted the liability of hanging out with a sixteen-year old on the weekends. It was lonely.
It’s still lonely when I sit in a room of my colleagues singing along to John Denver songs. But I’ve made an identity out of being an outsider that can’t persist much longer. Soon my peers will catch up to my old soul. I will age into my personality. I will no longer be a marvel.
The older I get, the more I realize how much ego is involved in basing my identity on difference. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been eking toward an identity of belonging, one that puts me squarely in the mass of humanity. One that is less about distinction than commonality. Less about accolades than encouragement. Less about old souls entrenched in their ways and more about new girls finding their tribe.
As Nick puts, without an ounce of pretension: “It’s a weird life, but it’s where I’m at right now.”