Only in old age does one see that the precise moment one’s youth was over was much later than it seemed at the time.
— The Dowager Countess (@theLadyGrantham) February 7, 2013
I just started following The Dowager Countess on Twitter. It’s hilarious. To her statement, though: I’m not in old age quite yet, but from middle age, here’s what I think.
When I was younger, I thought my youth ended when I got married. I was 29 years old, and by the act of marriage, closed myself off to seemingly infinite possibility, which was the defining attribute of youth.
I see now that my youth ended, not when I married in 1997, and not even two years later, when we had our first child. It ended on the day in 2003 that I got on an airplane and left New York. Julie and our toddler were already by then living in Dallas; I stayed behind to oversee the move. Leaving New York was heartbreaking. Those five years we had in NYC as newlyweds, and as new parents, were the happiest and most vivid of my life. We left New York for several reasons, but the biggest one had to do with accepting the necessity of limits.
Marriage was (is) about this too, but for me, it was also the fulfillment of something, a taking-on of something rather than a renunciation. I gave up my liberty as a bachelor for the greater liberty open to me as a married man. I kept thinking, “I really can have it all.”
Leaving New York, though, was a real renunciation. It had to happen, for various purposes, not least among them the fact that we couldn’t afford to live paycheck to paycheck there. Turns out we really couldn’t have it all. New York, we came to see, is a city for young single people with great resilience and boundless energy, and without big responsibilities, and it’s a city for rich people, who can insulate themselves with money. But it’s a much harder place for young families to live in. Not impossible, but for us, no longer desirable. After 9/11, and with our desire to have more children, we realized that it was costing us more (not just financially) to stay there than it would to go. It was time to leave, and I knew that leaving was the right thing to do. I knew it then, and I knew it as we settled into life in Dallas, with new friends, and new things to love.
Still, the day I left New York alone on that plane bound for Dallas, 10 years ago this spring, was the precise moment I left my youth behind. I can see that now. I was 36. That’s a long run for one’s youth. And you know, I’m one of these people who doesn’t mind getting older. I like how age takes the edge off. I’m so much less anxious today than I was back then, and less driven by passion. Life is less vivid in many ways, I guess, but more richer and more rewarding in others.
So, let me poll the room, or at least the middle-aged and older people in the room. When did you once think your youth ended? When did it actually end?