Okay, Gen Z. Sit down, babes. It’s time to talk.
I have seen multiple reports that you are worried about whether you are “aging like milk.” (I guess this is a thing on TikTok, an app I am too old to care about.) Like, yes, I think it is extremely funny to tease you, but also, generally, I like you guys and am kind of worried about how neurotic you are making yourselves. It is — to borrow a phrase — time to stop, drop, and roll yourself back to sanity.
Do you know how many times since my 40th birthday I have uttered the magic words: “I am 40. I don’t have to care about this”?
I am not interested in the question of whether you are aging faster than millennials. I don’t think you’re scared of looking old. I think you’re scared of being old. Here’s a little secret: it fucking rules.
I know advertisers won’t tell you that. They want you buying fountain-of-youth serums and panicking like a dang 10-year-old. And you can do that, if you want, sure. It’s expensive and will keep you from spending money on other things. (The heart wants what it wants, I get it! But money is, for most of us, finite.)
Which is why I am trying to tell you that aging is great.
Listen, I know the Skibidi Toilet thing upset a bunch of you. Take a deep breath, my loves. You do not have to understand what the children are doing! Children have fundamentally different priorities than you, and you can simply be bemused by whatever they are up to. Maybe you can think a little bit about what you were doing at that age and chuckle to yourself. Me? I thought protesting the Iraq War would matter and that crop tops were a good idea.
Part of what you’re up to now is the discovery process
Do you know how many times since my 40th birthday I have uttered the magic words: “I am 40. I don’t have to care about this”? It is so freeing. Being cool and trendy, which can seem all-consuming in your teens and 20s, is exhausting. It steals your energy away from the things that actually matter, and one of the best parts of aging is that you know what actually matters. I always hated it when someone older than me told me I’d understand when I was older — I found it condescending — but sadly, that’s just how some things are. You’ll understand when you’re older.
I’m not saying that to make you feel bad. Part of what you’re up to now is the discovery process. You don’t know what matters yet, everything is kind of fresh and overwhelming, and also, you can still do stuff like pull all-nighters. (You’ll hit a wall with all-nighters around the age of 27.) Your hangovers haven’t gotten bad yet. You can drive all day and your back won’t hurt! Enjoy that stuff, kiddos. It’s gonna change.
One of the things I have observed about you is that you are internet-addled in a profoundly different way than I am. I grew up on the text-based internet; when I first got online, images were rare because they took so long to load. Streaming video wasn’t a widespread thing until I was in college. Social media in its current form didn’t exist until then, either. I say all this because it means I have almost certainly spent a lot less time staring at my own face than you have; I have also spent less time judging others on their appearance and being judged by my appearance. I’m a writer. I get to look like whatever I fucking want as long as the sentences are good.
Turn off the self-view on video conferencing apps. I promise it will help.
There was one other way that era of the internet shaped me: most people who were also online were older than me. (It was hard to get a decent internet connection in the ’90s unless you had access to a college campus, as I did.) Youth culture took place mostly offline — a lot of millennial shit is lost to the sands of time because the coolest of us had not yet logged on.
So here’s my first tip about surviving the aging process: Turn off the self-view on video conferencing apps. I promise it will help.
Here’s my second tip: make older friends. You’ll probably have to put your phone down for that — which will help with the havoc TikTok is wreaking on your psyche. Just go somewhere a lot: a coffee shop, a yoga studio, a climbing gym. Volunteer at a food kitchen or an animal shelter. It can be anything, really; pick a third place. If you go to a physical place often enough and just start talking to strangers, you will eventually make friends. The secret trick is just to treat people like they’re already your friend, and then, often, they will actually want to be your friend.
Older friends show you what your future looks like, but they also show you what aging looks like. You start to see stuff you can’t see on Instagram — like that your friend’s crow’s feet come from the way their eyes crinkle when they laugh. That those lines are often evidence of joy, of a life well-lived. After a while, you take the fondness you feel for others and start to apply it to your own gray hairs. Because you know what’s made out of aged milk? Cheese.
I don’t think I have to tell you that cheese is delicious.
If you are intimidated by making older friends in the real world, you can start by seeking us out online
You can find olds online, too, although we’re not necessarily congregating in the same places you are. Bluesky, for instance, is possibly the most 30- or 40-year-old place on the internet. So if you are intimidated by making older friends in the real world, you can start there. Because we’re all still online! It’s just that what we’re doing isn’t going to panic anyone’s parents, and so internet culture reporters ignore us. (Also, advertisers care about us less because our spending habits are less malleable.) Sure, children are the future, but adults are also the future because the future is unevenly distributed, hello.
And though there are a lot of memes about generational warfare or whatever, that’s not really how things work offline. TikTok is not at all representative! And if you guys are any guide, Gen Alpha’s bravado is cover for being insecure and terrified. So be nice to them — it’s bad form to pick on the children when what they really need is a little patience.
I can personally report, for instance, that it’s been tremendously funny to watch you all adopt the fashions of my late teens and early 20s and call it “indie sleaze” because I guess you don’t know what hipsters are? By the way, the reason we were all wearing American Apparel was that we were broke, and they did not prosecute shoplifters. There’s a whole book about it. Our eyeliner was like that because there were no readily available YouTube makeup tutorials, so we just bought some cheap Wet n Wild liner, used our lighters to heat up the pencil, and then smeared it around our eyes before it cooled down and set. (We had lighters because a lot more of us smoked.)
The other thing I’ll tell you, which you may already know, is that aging is a privilege. I’ve lost a lot of people I loved over the years. They never got the chance to worry about wrinkles. The luckiest among us are going to be old for a very long time.
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far and are still scared about looking old, I do have some final advice: that center part is absolutely aging you. Faces lengthen as we age, and gravity pulls your skin downward. (You can, if you like, choose to associate that with sophistication or elegance; I do, anyway.) A straight center part, particularly without layers, is going to make your face look longer. You might consider a side part or bangs. I think those are the only two things we millennials have got on you.