Your best years are ahead & let's talk about sex
An argument in favor of experience and an introduction to Nadine Thornhill
A question that haunts me on the regular is “Are the best years of my life behind me?” This might not be something you are worried about. And perhaps it is a luxury to worry about it in general. I mentioned it to my sister and she said emphatically “yes.”
It is not rare that we would both be worrying about something at the same time, but it is also not common. I wondered if this was something other people were thinking about too.
Growing up, I remember my parents’ 40th birthday. The theme was “Over the Hill.” There is an irony here that I didn't understand at the time when you have this moment of celebrating one being past their prime. Perhaps no longer a contributing member of society. That all of one’s good years are in the past. And all that is left is to slowly let death and decay seep in.
In this case, prime as I understand it is equivalent to one’s happiest, most beautiful, most energetic, most potential, most creative years. If you are lucky enough to reach 40 (which depending on your global location and genetic lottery score is not given), you are given the gift of transitioning into a life that is “not your prime.” If we do a contrast study of the oppositional hue of prime, what would that look like? I could start with the idea of lower years. Or ancillary years. Subordinate. Secondary. Worthless if not the best. You get the idea.
I ask myself what is the point of going on in life when the following years, the future is destined to be inferior? I try to not get stuck in this type of thinking. But we cannot deny that the West has a value system and in that value system, there is declining use for us all as we age. We receive messages on the daily that youth is beauty. Money is beauty. Production and performance define worth. Productivity, in the narrowest sense, measured only by the very specific cultural lens of the moment by people in power.
What then, in a society that values people purely on usefulness, does someone past their “usefulness” do? Or why would they continue living?
Unsurprisingly, I was a dork in high school. The story I told myself then to combat my dismal coolness and sullen nature was that it would totally suck to have one’s best years of their life be in high school. A consolation prize for the geek, profoundly uncool, is that their prime years are ahead. I felt sad for the people who were “cool” in high school. I told myself that it would be such a shame to have your peak years when you were so young. Nothing to look forward to. This thought, however silly, gave me hope in the sense that I may not be cool now, but I would rather bloom late, than early. Save the best for last.
However, age does not follow the same rules. We all hit the same fate at some point in this Western culture of decline-in-worth as the years roll by. There are a few people, I would say, someone like Joan Didion, Betty White, or Toni Morrison who find themselves later in life. A perhaps seemingly more common occurrence is the fame of people like Miley Cyrus. Or Tia and Tamara. Or the super rare life-timers such as Will Smith.
I called my friend Lila Savage. I thought if someone can commiserate with me, it would be her. I wanted to feel the intense pain with someone who could deeply share it with me on a cellular level. Everyone needs a friend who they can be sad with. She wrote the book Say, Say, Say. I reference her all the time. She is brilliant. She is also very understanding of most human thoughts.
Do you ever ask questions to people with the hopes of some very specific answer? I do. However, I am often wrong about forecasting what the people I love will say when asked. Lila had tremendous success with her first novel. And has found herself with writer’s block ever since. This situation in some ways reflects the worry above, what to do with life when our best work is possibly behind us. “Lila, are you afraid that all of your best years are behind you?” I asked hoping for sympathy and to share in the dread that lay in the idea of the future.
“I don’t think that that is true at all,” she said.
This is someone like me who is dubious about certainty on all fronts. I am going to try my best to summarize her argument, mainly because I have been thinking about it; really thinking about it. Both Lila and I value creativity and art. Our production of what we would deem “good” art is a reason to keep going. The idea that our best work is in the future is sexy, enticing, and worth enduring existence just to experience.
Lila’s logic (for believing that the best years of our lives are still ahead) is founded on the idea that the richness of experience makes better art. And the multiplicity of understanding through other perspectives. Both increase naturally with age. Time, despite all its problems and its rigid nature, does offer some consistency with regard to its passage. Change is inevitable. With the exception that time will always move forward.
Experiences happen in time; naturally, with more time, more experiences build. Understanding occurs. Even given a small range of diversity in experience, relative transformative experiences are unavoidable with time.
This understanding seems to reflect my experience of time and understanding. The jump in the logic happens when you place value on this accumulation of time and experience. And I want to. Desperately.
An illustration of this that helps me clarify this jump is when I think about what a bad person I was when I was young. I did some mean stuff. I cheated on people. I lied to save face. I was mean. All the while considering myself a “good person.” Was your younger self as understanding as you? Maybe. Maybe not. However, you cannot deny that having both the experience of youth and age, perspectives on actions and being changes. Becoming nuanced. Becoming real. This excites me.
There is no way to know if the best years are actually ahead. Or for me, it would be the years when I make the most impactful art. The time when I can relax all my muscles and enjoy M’s Laugh. Yesterday, she climbed a net at the playground—for the first time. Who know’s what she will do in the future. The future holds risks. And today I feel willing to take them.
“In my nearly fifteen years as a sexuality educator, I’ve worked with thousands of people, and dozens of schools and organizations across North America. I offer regular media commentary on issues related to sex education. I’ve been featured on networks including CBC, CTV, and CITY TV and in publications such as Today’s Parent, Huffington Post, and Oprah Magazine.
In 2018, Ontario government announced the repeal of our province’s sex ed curriculum. In response, I created #SaveSexEd, a YouTube project wherein I taught every sex education module from Ontario’s Health and Phys Ed curriculum. That same year, I was named one of Flare Magazine’s Heroes In The Fight Against Gender-Based Violence. I currently produce and co-host the acclaimed web series Every Body Curious. Season two premieres June 1, 2020. You can watch season one here.”
A few loose ends:
I know you have heard of Schadenfreude. But did you know about Freudenfreude?
Schadenfreude refers to the unattractive human tendency to take pleasure in the misery of others. Freudenfreude describes its opposite, the lovely enjoyment of another person's success. (click on this link to read about how these two concepts are intertwined with depression and wellbeing). Interesting.
I did some reading this week on combating uncertainty with the idea of the inherent worth of the transformative experience. This is in tangent with the above argument. But basically, the idea if I understand it correctly, is that deep experiences in life are where we derive meaning. So even if it is a hard experience, the meaning that will come out of it will have worth. I am not saying that we should seek out hard things (maybe I am? IDK) but the idea that meaning comes from a diverse set of experiences is comforting. Especially when finding meaning and understanding are what make life interesting. Here is a link to the article.
As we live our lives, we repeatedly make decisions that affect our future circumstances and shape the sort of person we will become. Some of these are major, life-changing decisions. In such cases, we stand at a personal crossroads and must choose our direction. If we make these sorts of life-changing decisions about our futures rationally, can we also make them authentically? —L.A. PAUL
Ok, that’s it for the moment. Thank you so much for reading. Sending you love and understanding. XO, Carissa