What Age Is the Best Age?
Much to the amusement of our younger colleagues, apparently this column is a thing now, which led fellow Esquire Old Guy Luke O'Neil and me into a conversation about the notion of age. What is age, really? Or more specifically: What's the best one? When are you in your prime? And exactly how far past it am I, a man in his forties who is afraid of teenagers? This week, Luke and I met in the bingo parlor to answer, once and for all: What is the best age?
Luke (age 40):
We can say right off the bat that the only way to accurately and confidently answer this question is to have experienced every age possible. This isn't a [whatever website we're mad at now] listicle where you contrive the "Top 10 Ages You Have to Be Right Now" without doing any research. That said, it's possible that being 50 and having a healthy career, a nice family life, a home, and all sorts of other American Dream things is waiting for me down the line (lol). And maybe it's nice to be retired, have grandkids, and fuck off down to Florida to play shuffleboard and bitch about Mexicans. But I feel pretty confident most older folks—yes, even older than us—would revisit one of the ages in our buffet of relative youth if they had the chance. Mostly due to, you know, the literal decaying of the body.
For ground rule purposes, how does these look for options:
1. Late Teens
2. Early Twenties
3. Late Twenties - Early Thirties
4. Late Thirties - Early Forties
5. Mummified Corpse Yelling at Fox News
I'd include childhood in there, but children don't have souls and thus don't qualify as people.
Dave (age 46):
I agree to your terms, though as a 46-year-old I hope there is a category between 4 and 5. I guess my options are a) find out, or b) die, so here's hoping I have an answer for you on that soon.
As I look at these ages, I find that they all have pros and cons. My late teens were thrilling. I experienced the extremes of every emotion at that age, and therefore would probably not go back. My early twenties were full of discovery, but I had no money. My late twenties were when I got my career game together, but I still took myself too seriously.
In the last 10 years, I have become more calm and centered, and I am much nicer to myself overall. But there is no getting around the fact that I am in middle age. I have to go to the gym in order to not die, I have an alarming number of specialists in my phone book, and I have one of those things you get at the drugstore where you put your pills in compartments that correspond to the days of the week. But all of this notwithstanding, I think I'm happiest...right now?
How about you? And how convinced are you of my answer? I'm at around 60 percent.
Oh god, don't talk to me about having to go to the gym. If I skipped one day I'd gain 400 pounds. And I think an important caveat we should both mention here is that neither of us has children, which completely tips this scale on its ass.
That said, I agree with the overall arc you laid out. I was fortunate to have a pretty idyllic teens without much drama or tragedy to speak of, and an early and late twenties filled with feats of physical prowess, from the athletic to the more hedonistic. That's one of the chief arguments for your twenties, right? You can party and fuck like a satyr and survive without much in the way of consequences. But as you say, the locations for your partying and fucking are severely limited. That's where the early thirties and beyond come in. If you're more established in your career, these years open a new world of opportunity to do said partying and fucking in a variety of locations.
"That's one of the chief arguments for your twenties, right? You can party and fuck like a satyr and survive without much in the way of consequences." —Luke
Right. I can travel a bit now, and even when my bank account is on the lower side, I can rest in the knowledge that my eating and drinking schedules are no longer dictated by my local bar's chicken wing and Bud pitcher specials.
There should be a bar graph illustrating the inverse proportions at work. Older means more opportunities for going places and having nice things, but your stamina and adventurousness are on the decline. Does that sound right? There are drawbacks on either end. I could theoretically take a trip to some exotic locale this summer to chew peyote in a beautiful hotel on a gorgeous mountainside, but then again, that sounds like a whole thing. We're looking for the sweet spot where you can maximize your:
For me, that's got to be around ages 34 to 35. (Just kidding about being able to take exotic vacations, by the way, unless they're paid for by the good folks at Hearst Corp.)
When we got into this debate on Slack, one of our co-workers said something that took me by surprise. Because this guy is in his twenties, he thinks the early twenties are the best time of life, which is understandable. Those of us who are in our thirties/forties argued for the value of being a bit older, because that's when you begin to get your shit together. He said, "Yeah, but what's so great about having your shit together?"
I don't want to out him, so let's call him Ben B. He was playing with a fidget spinner and eating a damn avocado toast when he wrote that.
Yeah, he said it in emojis. Now, this is a lesson he'll have to learn in his own time, but I think I might feel the same way about stamina. I don't have the energy to stay out until 4 a.m. anymore, but I don't miss it. I can't do a long weekend of intense partying in Las Vegas anymore, but that's okay, because I wouldn't. I can't even make it to the end of Seth Meyers. Quality sleep and good nutrition are more important to me now, and that's because I've lived long enough to know how crucial they are. My forties are about feeling decent as often as I can, whereas my early adulthood was about feeling euphoric and then miserable, on a never-ending rollercoaster. You can keep that. I'll take my life now.
I don't mean that kind of stamina. I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than party into the wee hours in Vegas or anywhere. I run a monthly party here in Boston, and I don't even stay until the end of it. Finish at 2-ish, get home, go to bed by 3:30? Never mind calling an Uber home—I'd have to get a Medivac flight to my bed.
Oh, you mean sex stamina. I hear you. I suppose my overall sex drive is a little bit diminished, but by the same token, I am not led through my life by my dick, as I was in my twenties, and the world is a better place for it.
There is one form of euphoria I do miss: I miss the way I used to just go hog-wild over music. I used to hear a song I liked, and I'd buy it (on cassingle, probably), and I'd listen to it over and over again. I would have a hormonal reaction to it, a crush, and I find that I'm unable to conjure that feeling anymore. Maybe it's just that music is terrible now.
My sex stamina is fine, thank you very much! I know what you mean about music. We touched on this last time, but I don't go to 500 shows a year anymore, and that's…fine. And when I do see a band, I'm happy most times to go and just get a taste of a few songs, think, "OK, I got it," and then go spend $150 on broccoli and pork buns.
Not being led around by your dick anymore is something I pray for. If there is one hope I have for getting older it's that I can finally retire my dick. Seeing old ass dudes who are still horny out of their minds (like the president) makes me sad. Not for them, but for me. Must we really shoulder this burden of horniness our entire lives?
"I can rest in the knowledge that my eating and drinking schedules are no longer dictated by my local bar's chicken wing and bud pitcher specials." —Dave
Other than all that, though, I find that life continues to get better. This is a thing my parents used to tell me when they were in their forties, and I didn't believe them, and nobody younger than me will believe me. But I think it's true. I think 46 might be the best age. I feel like I'm at the height of my powers. The best I can do is to try to be good to myself—exercise, green vegetables, therapy, good friends, and constant artistic inspiration—so that a year from now I can say 47 is the best age. It can be! Right?
I think there's something to be said for whatever year you're living through seeming like the best, if, all things considered, you aren't dealing with anything too heavy. I'm not going to cry about being 40—I already did that—but I do think the general age vicinity I'm in is good. It's fine. I wouldn't mind shaving a few years off, maybe dialing it back to the 34-to-37 range. That, to me, was when things start clicking. You're old enough to have a clue, but still young enough to do something about it.
Yeah, just for the endless physical energy, I might take it back to my mid-thirties as well. But in 2017, we know so much more than we did even 10 years ago about how to stay healthy and vital into our middle age and beyond. I feel 35, and I expect I will for a while. I am not my parents' 46, which is probably a thing they said too, but it's true. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put my knee braces on, do some careful-but-thorough stretching, and go for a long, slow jog.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.