Monday, October 11, 2010

Age is More than just a Number

I've never believed that age is just a number.  Now, I primarily work with an older adult market, and I do agree that as age increases the lines blur more and more.  I have clients that are preparing for the end of their life, I have clients that still have children at home, I have clients retiring, I have clients starting new careers and going back to school.  But I digress...

What I commonly see are issues with myself and my friends and our younger friends.  When you're in high school, the lines are much more defined and age makes a huge (and sometimes legal) difference.  But once you're out, the lines blur and the only real difference between you and everyone else is whether or not you can legally buy booze.

But the differences don't end there, and for at least the next few years, there are many life stages that must be passed through before one goes from being a legal adult to an actual adult.

Reasons why age does matter:

1.  So you're a legal adult.  That's awesome.  You ready to install a water softener?  You have the money to pay for the maintenance on your car? Do you even know how to change a tire?  Ya, you're probably still relying on your parents for a lot of things.  You're not independent yet.  Even if you live on your own, if you're still financially dependent on your parents, you're not an adult.  I don't care how old you are.  Being an adult means being financially independent and self reliant.

2.   There are a lot of emotional changes taking place through this period.  It's hard to go straight from being a child to being an adult without the transitional period there.  It can lead to rocky relationships because you want to be accepted as an adult but you're emotionally still underdeveloped.  Your emotional needs and relationship goals are constantly changing.  Just because you know what you want in the long run doesn't mean that's what you need right now.  Don't be afraid to act your age or you'll grow up too fast and wake up one day realizing you really are an adult and that you never had any fun like I did.

3.   Having your own place and own money doesn't mean you're an adult. There is a lot of real life learning that has to take place, what to do when the drains are backing up, how to care for your lawn, how to drain your water softener, how often to change your furnace filter, etc. that only come from experience and advice.  Don't be afraid to ask for advice or to accept it when it's given - you don't know everything about everything and it's worth your time and attention to learn from others that have been in the game longer.

4.  Accept that you and your friends might be at different life stages.  It used to be that you graduated high school, maybe went to college, got married, and had kids.  It was easy to define everyone's life stage.  Now, we're staying single longer, moving out later, leaving and coming back to college, etc.   So, even though you may be close friends, there can be a world of difference between an 24 year old and a 28 year old.  That's not a bad thing, but it is something to be taken into consideration.  Not everyone can stay out all night.  Sometimes saying that you have to stay home and do laundry and clean the bathroom means that you really need to do that - it's not going to clean itself and that is the time you had budgeted to take care of household chores. Likewise, needing to study is serious business and should be respected.  Just because you're done with college doesn't mean others don't still have a long way to go.

5.  Inter-relational dynamics.  This is where it can really become an issue.  Whether it is a relationship or simply a friendship, when one partner is significantly further along in their life stage, it is very difficult to see someone on a less developed stage as an equal.  This can skew the relationship from being symmetrical into being complimentary - instead of being partners one becomes the teacher/parent figure and the other becomes the learner/child.  Once this has been established it can be a very difficult dynamic to overcome.

6. More dynamics - When unbalanced partners enter a relationship aside from casual friendship, they enter into a superior/inferior dynamic.  This means that one partner inevitably holds the power in the relationship because they bring more resources into the relationship.  This could be having their own place, having more money, having handyman/mechanical/automotive skills, having more friends, or being the person the other relies on for emotional, financial, or sexual support.  This means that the inferior partner will have a more vested interest in the relationship because they are having more needs met by their partner than they are meeting for their partner.  This can lead to excessive bargaining in order to preserve the relationship, and may eventually lead to resentment.

7.  Goals - As mentioned earlier, just because you both want a house and a family some day doesn't mean you both need it right now.  If one of you is looking at remodeling a bathroom and financing options for a new car and the other is looking at finding a job where they don't have to deal with hot grease burns and trying to find a way to keep their mom off of their Facebook, you might not have the same short term goals.  Now, maybe one partner is willing and happy to wait for the other to finish their degree and get established in a career before talking about marriage, but it is very likely that one partner will either believe that the other is holding them back or trying to drag them along before they're ready.

812. Don't be afraid to act your age.  I've said it before and I can't say it enough.  You can't expect to be treated like an adult when you still react like a child.  Likewise, if you do act like an adult, people will assume you are one and treat you accordingly whether you're prepared or not.  You don't want to wake up one day with a spouse and house and child and realize you never had any fun or that you never took the risks you wish you had before you took on your adult responsibilities.  Likewise, if all your friends are working hard, buying houses, getting married, and breeding - maybe it's a sign that you either have to get with the times or be left behind.  You can still have fun and enjoy life without wasting it.  Don't latch onto other people to benefit from their hard work without being willing to work hard to earn those things for yourself.

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