Being Too Old Is a Beautiful State of Mind
some maundering about why i go to fewer parties
Recently, a bunch of my Internet acquaintances threw a three-day party in Austin, kind of a Burning Man type thing at which there would be many entertaining discussions, singalongs, and probably some high-quality pond swimming. I was excited about going. Then, one morning, I woke up and realized that I was Too Old for this. The time in my life for such things is over. I sold my ticket to a friend and felt very good about leaving certain joys to others.
When people asked me if I was going, I told them that I was Too Old to go, and they were quick to mention that there were people of similar age going, some older, some much older. (I’m 33.) Although true, this objection missed the really important point, which is that being Too Old is a state of mind. I find it highly desirable and think everyone should begin to cultivate it at the age of 24, so they can start opting out of big chunks of potentiality as soon as possible.
Essentially, deciding that you’re Too Old is deciding that this the right moment for you to choose depth over breadth. It’s saying, novelty is all the same, it’s the specificity found during repetition that’s really exciting. When you’re Too Old for frolicking with 400 acquaintances from the internet, it’s not that you dislike new people; you happen to think that new people are great! It’s that you’ve become aware of the sameness of existence. There’s no one person out there who is going to disclose the previously unknown truth of reality. There is no area where Actual Life is occurring, which, once glimpsed, will reveal that everything you had known previously is a sham. It’s all just more talking. Which is nice, you love talking. But you’re not going to go way out of your way for it. You can just talk to your wife and your existing friends, who you know will never invite you to a cuddle puddle, ever.
Choosing to be Too Old is the selective closing of your heart in certain domains so you can keep it open in others. I’m a tremendously loving person, with a lot of affection to give, for about five hours a day. But after a certain point, the only thing I can do is eat mixed nuts and stare contemptuously at the wall, or lie on the carpet and be groomed by my cat. I’ve got to conserve my love output by learning to omit a certain amount of communication. This is training for having children, which will instantly make me Too Old for a lot more of life, and I’m looking forward to this.
You do miss out on worthwhile stuff by deciding that you’re Too Old. It sounds like the party was really good, and I’m genuinely happy for everyone who had a transformative experience there. But you also take the stance that this is fine. Not everything that’s amazing is meant for you, and, whether you like it or not, you will miss out on nearly everything. You will find yourself moored in parochial irrelevance of one kind or another. Better to choose your own irrelevance, to make this an intentional decision, rather than find it harshly imposed by the limits of your capacities.
Being Too Old doesn’t mean that you resist everything that’s new. That kind of reactive attitude epitomizes the folly of youth. It simply means preferring structure-preserving transformations, changes that are extensions of your soul’s true and enduring longings, like, say, going back to school to be a doctor to fulfill your lifelong urges, if those happen to be your urges. This also implies that just because I’m Too Old for something, it doesn’t mean that this is true of you, no matter what our respective ages are; it’s all about deeply understanding who you are, specifically, and not apologizing for it.
My chess teacher, Ben Finegold, would avoid complicated chess positions, saying of them, “I can’t look at this, I’m too old.” This, I now understand, was an act of self-compassion, as well as a statement about his preferred style of chess. In this world of seemingly infinite association, the full flowering of possibility makes constant implicit demands on you. Don’t you want to embrace everything that’s out there? No, actually. You don’t, you don’t want to. And that’s fine. You are fine where you are, in the golden land of Too Old.