“And I’m going to be 40!”
“In eight years!”
— Sally and Harry from When Harry Met Sally
Sally’s emotional outburst is one of those fantastically absurd, and painfully relatable human experiences. Whether we panic at the thought of turning 25, 30, 40, 50, 70…there’s an age we have in our minds when we know we’re supposed to “have it together”. We’re supposed to be living the grown-up, adult life. Perhaps purposeful, intentional. Or at the very least, healthier, more responsibly, satisfactorily even.
All the things we envisioned for ourselves in high school should be realities now, surely. A life on track. I’m 32 today and that panic Sally prematurely experiences recognizing she’s closing in on a milestone is something I can relate to.
I never saw my life going in a “typical” direction. But I did think that by my 30s I would have gone confidently in the direction of my dreams. But instead I’ve fallen victim too often to the same problem that plagues so many of us, we go blithely in the paths of least resistance. And there’s any number of silly and valid reasons to justify treading water and floating upstream.
But I have that secret knowledge, and you might understand, that I’m just not quite the person I wanted to be. It’s possible I have too high of expectations. Or that I’m a fundamentally unreasonable person. Or that I’ve seen too many movies where people who dream great big dreams inevitably achieve them through sheer will and force of personality — surely those are cultivated skills?
But mostly I have to acknowledge that younger me didn’t really understand what it would feel like to age. To have high school memories close to the surface of consciousness, and the ones from two years ago feel like ancient history.
I suppose I trusted too much in the confident and authoritative faces of the adults around me that conveyed a settled sense of direction and contentment that I assumed was the result of maturity brought about strictly by age.
Sally’s panicked about “someday”. The someday of waking up and discovering you’re not the you that you were meant to be, and that maybe you’re even fine with that now. You’ve settled in whatever way that means to you. You’ve lost the anticipation of the better.
I’m absolutely terrified of settling. But am I terrified enough?
I don’t mean, you know, terrified enough to rebound into a one night stand with Billy Crystal…
But that fear which recognizes what I’m doing perhaps does matter. That choosing a direction, even if it’s not perfect or ‘right” or what I’d wish to be fated might be for the best.
To quote an anecdote from William Goldman’s excellent Which Lie Did I Tell:
“The choreographer sat in the audience alone, his head in his hands… “I can’t figure out what they should do next.”
Mr Abbott never stopped moving. He jumped the three feet from the stage to the aisle. “Well have them do SOMETHING!” Mr. Abbot said. “That way we’ll have something change.””
But probably not a tryst with Billy Crystal.