Younger me? No, you’re the wack me, it’s funny but so true/ I’d rather be 80-year-old me than 20-year-old you/ ‘Til I’m hitting old age/ Still can fill a whole page with a 10-year-old’s rage
The other night I was invited to a birthday get-together for the new colleague that I have been mentoring this semester. She was turning XX, and I was happy that other people from our department—who didn’t know her as well as me—had showed up to help her celebrate. At the table, there were 10 people, mostly ladies in their 20s and 30s.
We were eating and drinking at a tiki-themed place named Trader Vics in the Hilton Hotel. My mentee wanted to try the place because supposedly there would be Salsa music. She is a big fan of Latin music and dancing. I enjoy listening to Latin music, but when it comes to dancing to Latin music, my feeling is meh.
Don’t get me wrong, I would totally love to Samba, Rumba, or Cha-Cha-Cha proficiently with a partner. However, I didn’t acquire the kinesthetic knowledge during my formative years to handle the steps and movements of partner dancing. (I was too busy practicing the Kid N’ Play Kick Step with my brother!) And, at my age, I don’t know if I have time or energy to invest in a new interest, where at best, after years of practice, I might progress to advanced beginner.
I guess that is one of the hazards of reaching one’s midlife: refusing to try new things because you’re not good at them or because you will never be great at them. I sat quietly at the end of the table, sipped my cocktail, and observed the conversations taking place at the table.
Several years back, I realized that my hearing in crowded indoor bars was no bueno. Usually at these places, there is loud music and people trying continually to make conversation over the music, resulting in a vicious cycle of din where I can barely discern what the person seated next to me is saying. These situations serve as a sociological experiment, testing to see how long I can endure the sonic overload before becoming crabby and wanting to leave. ¡Ay, caramba! ¡Que ruidoso!
However, that night, I was handling the clamor just fine—content that my mentee was having a good time and enjoying the cavalcade of beautiful, dressed-up people entering the establishment. Again, one of the things that I love about Doha is the mixture of nationalities inhabiting the city— exotic young people parading into the restaurant in order to gain entrance to the adjoining night club.
In order to prepare for my Thursday night out, I donned a pink t-shirt from Zaras with a pair of slim fit Levi jeans. Even though the outside temperature was in the low 90s, I chose to wear a light North Face bomber jacket with my attire. My outfit was probably akin to Bill Murray’s in Lost in Translation as he was preparing to go out and enjoy the Tokyo nightlife with Scarlet Johansen.
Additionally, earlier in the afternoon, I went to the mall and got a shave. I can’t do much with the top of my head (thanks to the male pattern baldness that I inherited), but I try to make sure that my beard is properly lined up every two weeks: a pogonotrophic indulgence that I adopted when I moved to Qatar.
Lastly, after a busy week of teaching, in order to reset my stamina for the night’s engagement, I had to take a short nap. If there is a chance that I will need to functional and pleasant after 12am, a midday siesta is a must.
In the tiki-themed bar with Salsa music playing, sitting at a table with my colleagues in their 20s and 30s, I didn’t know how I might have appeared to a casual observer. I was enjoying myself, yet at my age, bars and nightclubs after 9pm are not my natural environment. When I was in my 20s and 30s, they were my weekend haven. But now in my 40s, a succinct dinner party and then retiring home to watch a couple episodes of a Netflix series is really my preferred jam.
It was about 11pm before my colleagues started getting up to pay their respective portions of the bill. This was also about the time that a Tunisian co-worker and his friends showed up. They were ready to get the party started while the rest of us were trying to get out of the party. During this transition period, I struck a conversation with the friend and his wife.
He was an Algerian Frenchmen who lived for a while in the US. His wife didn’t say much because she wasn’t as comfortable with English as him. I acknowledged that using your third language in a noisy bar was a stressful undertaking; I don’t even like using my first language to talk in noisy bars! Our conversation topic drifted, and we started talking about the informal English that people use in bars, which is quite different than the standard English one would learn in class.
“How do you keep up with slang?” he asked.
“I have two boys,” I responded, “so I try to keep up with the words and expressions that they use.”
Surprised. “Oh, how old are your boys?”
“19 and 17.”
Pause. “Were you 12 when you had them?” he quipped.
“No,” I chuckled. “I’m 42.”
He and his wife were confused but complimentary. “You don’t look like you are in your 40s.”
Perhaps not, but sometimes I feel like I inhabit the body of 40-year-old.
After my colleagues and I squared up the bill, a couple of us ordered an Uber and headed back to my apartment for a night cap.
The famous director John Waters was once asked if he was ever lonely because he was an elderly single man who never had any children. He responded that, no, he wasn’t. He always made a point of making new friends with people younger than himself. I always thought that this was sage advice and always placed a premium on the friendships that I made with people younger than me.
Also, as expat in Doha, if I want to have any kind of social life, I have to be open to people of all nationalities and ages. In terms of life experiences, my peers are other forty-somethings. However, they are busy with their children, which I am not.
Not being married and not having children with me in Doha, I can pass for a thirty-something. However, unlike many actual thirty-somethings, I don’t feel pressured by society to settle down and start a family. I joked with my thirty-something friends back in the US that they all are now boring to me because they all got married and started having kids. Talk to me in two decades when your children go off to college and you’re fun again.
Twenty-somethings have more in common with my boys than me, and I find their energy and priorities exhausting sometimes. What? You want to stay up until 2am and sleep in til noon? Your student loan debt and credit card balance are what? You’ll be broke until you’re my age!
Some of my friends here are fifty- and sixty-somethings, and I enjoy their company and wisdom. However, to them, I might be as exhausting as the twenty-somethings are to me. What? You want to stay up until 12am? Your retirement savings are what? You’ll have nothing to live on when you’re my age!
In a city with such a transient population of foreigners, there really are no clear norms for how one is supposed to act their age. You see elderly western men walking around the mall with their Southeast Asian wives who are 20-30 years their junior, middle-eastern girls out at the clubs with their mothers and aunts, English teachers who have been living and working abroad for the past decade or so without any adult investments (like a house, car, or IRA) back in their home country. Here, acting your age is how you want to act and what your age will permit—and what others will tolerate.
For me, I am happy spending a night or two out with my younger colleagues, smiling and nodding along during a conversation that I can’t hear, like my grandmother used to do during my visits when she started to lose her hearing. I don’t have to go out, but spending time with people younger than me and being accepted by them is a luxury that many of peers my age don’t have. It is partly rejuvenating but also affirming of the age that I feel in my heart.
(BTW I didn’t sip a Mezcal Mule during my night out, but the drinks that I ordered didn’t have the alliterative sounds that my post’s title required. Also, I don’t typically sip my drinks, I usually swig them. Sorry for my ruse.)