Our Major Transitions

By | 28/09/2015

This piece is about some of the major transitions we go through life, but not the largest two, birth and death, about which I’ve extensively written about in previous works.

I have been thinking about the difficulties a child goes through when they realize they’re becoming teenagers, when they notice the first signs of puberty, which they both yearn for and fear. Yes, because changing, leaving childhood behind, along with its lack of responsibilities, is scary, as they do not know exactly what to expect, how to behave, and what are the pros and cons of their new circumstances. These days, though, the arrival of adolescence is perceived as intriguing, especially to girls who have been preparing themselves to exert their sensuality since they were seven or eight years old, and are already learning to enjoy the attention. Boys, on the other hand, are in less of a rush and perhaps more afraid of this unavoidable development. In any case, children of both genders often clearly state they don’t like growing up, and they’d rather be children forever.

Adolescence and the first years of adult life are enjoyable to some, and a very grim experience to others. Popular kids, the ones who are better at getting sexual and/or romantic partners, and enjoy typical teen pursuits – partying, drinking, chattering and goofing off and school – really like this time of their lives and wish it would never end. Actually, several young people try to extend their adolescence for as long as they can; they are the so-called “adultescents.” Shier, more reserved, less social, more bookish kids enjoy their teens years far less, but are better prepared to move forward, so maturity comes to them more naturally.

Adulthood is, undoubtedly, more draining and filled with responsibilities. At this point, people are getting established professionally, trying to achieve financial stability, having children and sometimes even supporting and caring for elderly parents. This phase, that lasts from three to four decades, brings, of course, several transitions: the prospect of marriage is a source of tension and fear; pregnancy causes worries, from jealousy to health concerns. Many people also have to go through the difficult transition of divorce and eventual remarriages, not to mention the heartrending issues involving the divorced couple’s children. Adults also have to witness their parents getting older, possibly falling ill and passing away; their load of responsibilities only grows. So, actually, adulthood is incredibly hard; children who don’t want to grow up and teens who don’t want to mature also have a point!

Despite all that, we live in a time in which the good parts of adulthood, such as their sexual and romantic lives, finances, travel and professional advancement, are highly valued, so many people try to delay as much as possible the next stage, that is, old age. The pervasiveness of plastic surgery clearly shows how uncomfortable people are with their loss of youthfulness, decrease in libido, graying hair and baldness. In this context, retirement feels like a hard blow to a person’s vanity, as it means they will be less relevant in society, their phones will ring less and they will feel disposable.

In reality, though, when people maintain their health, the third and last part of their lives can be very similar to their adolescence, as their responsibilities decrease. Their children are grown and they already know if they succeeded or failed in life (which is a great advantage over their younger years.) Of course, the hard side of this phase is the closeness to death, which is an overwhelming and frightening concept to most. So many people try to remain as active as if they were still young, to make the end line seem far away still. Even scaling back at work, when not fully understood, can be perceived as idleness, which creates boredom, a specific type of depression in which people stop seeing any meaning in life.

In truth, old age, when people remain healthy, can be a lovely, lighter and pleasurable phase – if only they are able to adapt to their new condition, which is not easy at all. The ability to change decreases with age, as many elderly people “crystalize” their beliefs and attitudes. Every transition in life requires the capability to adapt; old age cannot be properly enjoyed by people who do not understand that the decline of their physical mobility does not have to be followed by an equally stiff psyche!

Tradução: Amanda Morris