No, it isn't too late

Not me coming to terms with the fade of my first blush of youth, as the kids say

No, it isn't too late
Sherman-Wolin, Judith via the Internet Archive

The Question

I feel so strong, but my body dysmorphia is worse. I’m not happy with my body but I am happy with my results. We can’t have it all! —a friend

What does this person mean when they say they only have a few years left before they won’t get stronger? —HB

Is it too late for me to do strength training? —Many of you, who are all up and down the age spectrum

The Answer

I felt like my body went almost entirely unchanged, age-wise, from the time I became an adult until the start of the pandemic, which was very poorly timed to the twilight of… I hate to say my “young” years, but the last years that plausibly felt “not middle age.” Even now, I’d argue for 32, 33, maybe even 34 year old still being in basically the same age group as someone who is 27-28 (27-28 year olds who feel differently: just wait). At 36, there is no case to be made for me anymore. As much as I don’t feel that different from any 27-28 year old, which I’m sure horrifies the 27-28 year olds, I accept that I’m the one who is wrong, and accept that they are right to be horrified.

In terms of body awareness, the pandemic felt like going into a coma and waking up three years later. Being in soft clothes that went unperceived by the outside world felt as close to being a brain in a jar as I’d ever gotten. It was inevitable that some changes would have taken place. But now it feels like they had been compounding, unnoticed, since March 2020, only to suddenly present themselves, unbidden, all at once. I look back at photos from the not-even-that-distant past that I know I felt mildly put off by, due to my malformed brain, and know I was stupid for ever disliking them. I feel like I’m being slapped around by a bizarro version of that Simpsons climate-change meme, looking in the mirror and lamenting that this will be, so to speak, the coldest summer of my whole life, when, per the trajectory of photo evidence, it will likely be the hottest summer of the rest of my life.

When I was in my early to mid-20s, several of my co-workers were in their early to mid-30s. We often went out drinking together when we saw each other (we all worked remotely). I remember those coworkers talking about the phenomenon of the “two-day hangover,” which plagued them most of the time they drank, and they attributed it to their advanced age. I was fascinated by the idea of hangovers transforming with time. But I also rolled my eyes; sounds like a problem for people who don’t take their recreational drinking seriously.

Fast forward a great many years; I went to bar trivia the other night and had three beers, and then one additional drink at another landmark bar across the street. Sure enough, I was dragging for, you guessed it, two days.

I heard once that organs shrink when you age, and that this was the explanation for the protracted hangovers. It turns out this is not quite true, though the extremely bracing Mount Sinai hospital webpage on “aging in organs” helpfully explains that “all vital organs begin to lose function as you age… Drugs are removed from the body by the kidneys and liver at a slower rate.” And yet, “no one knows how and why people change as they get older… no single process can explain all the changes of aging.”

Recently at lunch I was talking to two friends about the relative amount of time in our lives in the past compared to the future. “Time goes faster as you get older, for sure,” one said.

“But we have so much time! We were 20 fifteen years ago. Fifteen years is so long,” said the other.

“It is long, but does it feel long?” I said.

“No, said the other friend sadly, “It feels like it was yesterday!”

I thought. “So if later time goes faster than earlier time, and fifteen years ago feels like not that long ago at all, doesn’t that mean we are going to feel like all of a sudden we are 50, very soon?” My friend looked at me, crestfallen. I could see her mentally crossing me off her “fun lunch friends” list.