Adult Onset Adolescence: How Your 30s is Like Being A Teen Again

How often do you wish you could go back to high school? Revisit those teen years where everything was new and exciting? Was it really as good as you remember it? Or are you glossing over the uncomfortable parts?

It’s convenient to forget the nights sitting on the sectional next to the pimply, braced-faced cousin of your best friend’s new boy toy, or the awkward parties that ended in either pools of throw up or the life threatening race back home before curfew. But no worries- we DO actually get a chance to live it all over again. In fact, our mid-late 30’s really aren’t all that different from the adolescent years after all.

You’re Neither Here Nor There

When you’re in your teens, you’re thrilled to be finally “not a kid anymore”. But you’re not exactly an adult either, are you? It’s this ambivalent in-between phase that leaves you longing for the security of being someone else’s problem but also pining away for the independence of making your own decisions and clinching your true destiny.

Well, once you’re comfortably into your 30’s, you’re out of the deep dark woods of self-discovery and self-inflicted physical abuse that was your 20’s, maybe married with a kid or possibly a few. You can no longer be classified as “young and hungry”, you no longer have “nothing to lose”, it’s not “all upside” from here. The stakes are higher, but you don’t feel like you enough gravitas or direction or legacy to really consider yourself a true grownup yet either. You’re somewhere between being an up and comer and a been there done that. It’s a murky plane to exist on, and, like the high school period, it kinda messes with your head when trying to figure out who you are and where you want to be.

You Worry About Your Skin

Somewhere between your bat-mitzvah and your Sweet 16 or Quinciniera or Confirmation, your soft, rosy cheeks start to play tricks on you. You develop something called a T-zone that is oily and dry at the same time, and you’re prone to breakouts that lead to embarrassment in public situations. You worry about your skin, you don’t like your reflection, and you’re constantly scouring the pages of Seventeen magazine for the new spot treatment or cream or maximum strength prescription drug that will miraculously make it all go away.

Then you round the corner on 35. Your skin has had its post-Accutane Renaissance by now, and there’s nothing like a lingering pregnancy glow to keep it looking dewey and fresh and luminous. But the pregnancy years are now behind you (while the pregnancy weight clings defiantly to your bones), and you are once again peering at your reflection just inches from every reflective surface to see if the world can notice the eminent lines creeping across the canvas of your face. The crevices on your forehead that don’t go away even when you’re not worried. The arcs that connect your nose and mouth long after you’ve stopped smiling. Yup, the wrinkles are encroaching on your youth and you’re scouring the Internet for the new night cream, or animal based serum, or maximum strength injection that will miraculously make it all go away.

Your Body Is Changing & You’re Not Reacting Rationally

Regardless of whether you are pear- or hourglass- or some other curvaceous household item-shaped, your body enters and leaves your teens in two very different iterations of itself. You can deny it or try to hide it all you want, but you can’t escape the inevitability of these changes. There are growing pains. You’re moody and desperate to rebel against the institution of puberty itself, so you probably find yourself drinking too much at parties or snapping at your parents or your friends unnecessarily.

Once you’ve finally embraced your body for what it is, and develop a healthy enough lifestyle to maintain a form of it you’re mildly content with, it starts to change again. Even some of the fittest men begin the develop the aptly named Dad Bod. Women, regardless of how many spin classes they pour their life savings into, still complain that their weight distributes in new, unpleasant places, and gravity begins to exert its force upon us. There are again growing pains, and just plain old everything pains. You find yourself moody, and desperate to hang on to the curves the way you had just gotten comfortable seeing them, so you find yourself drinking too much at dinner parties or snapping at your spouse or your kids unnecessarily.

Everything Matters….A Lot

In high school, you’re working toward something. The more effort you put in, the more doors will be opened for you. Your grades matter, your leadership matters, what you do in your free time matters. These are the years that will make or break your college career, and you feel crushed under the weight of that pressure. And when it comes to college itself- choose wisely.

Fast forward to your second adolescence. Once you’ve navigated the business world a bit, gotten the hang of a few different roles at a handful of employers, things start to matter yet again. You’ve been unwittingly charting a course on a career path, and either you’ve chosen the right turns or you’re fast approaching a dead end because once you cross the 40 mark, you’re not likely to be labeled high potential talent any longer.  These years in your late 30’s can make or break your professional career, and you feel crushed under the weight of that pressure. You must perform, and seek out your opportunities wisely.

And then layer on parenthood! You’re raising future citizens of our planet. You’re intent on not screwing up in the same ways your parents did (and thank goodness you somehow turned out ok in spite of it). So far you’ve been able to steer clear of spankings and name calling, but every intonation, encouragement, critique, and discipline is shaping the youths you brought forth into this world, and they’ll be sure to remind you of all your shortcomings in just a few short years. Whatever you do- don’t ever say “good job” or “you’re a bad boy”.

Sometimes You Want To Run Away

I don’t know about you, but there were plenty of times growing up I threatened to just go and not come back. I’ve never been a fighter, just a flighter. I’d plan an elaborate getaway. I’d pack my things and start walking, or have a boyfriend come and pick me up. It was all I could do to daydream about escaping the irrepressible changes, the unmanageable stress and confines of my adolescent years. It was never a good plan, and I never made it far, but I couldn’t face my oppressors.

I’m finding those impulses shocking their way back to the surface again. I love my house, I am obsessed with my kids, I married my soul mate, I have a pretty cool job. But I admittedly spend way too much time these days taking it all for granted and thinking about how we can move away, escape, start all over somewhere else. I often feel trapped, and while I’ll never be anything close to a marathoner, I sometimes want to start running and not look back. It’s not a good answer, it’s not dealing with reality, but it’s the only one I can come up with when I can’t breathe.

To be clear, my teenage years didn’t outright suck. On the contrary, the fun (if perhaps mischievous) times fully outnumbered the discomfort, and while peppered with uncertainty and waves of anxiety, I do remember my adventures quite fondly. My writing was never better than it was during that upheaval.

And here I am again, in my, admittedly, late 30’s, writing my heart out (when I find the time and the inspiration). Coming from a place of unease, with some of the best memories behind me, and an unknowable future. In many ways I’m finding myself struggling with the devils of my adolescence once again, but with a full twenty years of additional wisdom, I’m hoping I can channel it for an even more successful outcome this time around.

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4 thoughts on “Adult Onset Adolescence: How Your 30s is Like Being A Teen Again

  1. Hadn’t thought of it like that before but you are so right. Your late 30s are kind of like your teenage years. Don’t want to be a party pooper but when you get to your late 50s it happens again as the body that you might have held on to has gone for good, the hormones which were kicking in at adolescence have exited totally causing all sorts of other issues and if you have older relatives that need looking after, you are more tied than ever. Basically, “enjoy every sandwich” (to quote Warren Zevon) and just accept what life throws at you – We who have warm homes and healthy children have so much to be grateful for but yes, I too feel like running away sometimes. It’s normal and if you open up to close friends (as opposed to sometimes faux friends on Facebook whose lives look perfect, but trust be, aren’t) I bet they feel just the same. Take care Bea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really great. I can’t believe how much truth is packed in here! I was just scrutinizing the lines from my nose to mouth today, literally today, like wtf I haven’t even been smiling recently. And running away, no matter how much I love my children, is always on the table.

    Liked by 1 person

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