Ageism

Posted on February 22, 2009

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I spend almost all of my time here in Copenhagen with uprooted students in their early to mid twenties.  Sometimes I forget how much this affects my experience here.

Last week I went to International Night at Studenterhuset (the student house) to check out the new crop of internationals, and it was a remarkably similar experience to my first time there in September.   Each time I sat conspicuously alone at a table with an enormous number of seats, knowing that someone would have to sit there, and each time I met no one.  I nursed a beer and let the ocean of accents and tipsy laughter wash over me for a few hours until the DJ drowned it out, slowly ticking off the minutes until I would allow myself to leave, having appropriately “given it a shot.”
The difference was that the second time I already had friends in the city so I wasn’t vulnerable to the feelings of isolation and difference that have always followed me closely.  I leaned against the wall and watched the throbbing mass of people exchanging silent communiques of the eyes, like tiny flickers of lightning, masked by inane* chatter about drinking to the point of nausea.  This is a longstanding party tradition for me.  Unless I’m in a particularly charismatic mood, I’ve always wound up watching people patterns and feeling like an alien.  But, this time, as I watched, I noticed the relative youth of the partiers (I’m about to be 23, they looked mostly 18-21) and felt a surging sense of relief.  I’m older than these kids.  I’m not supposed to have things in common with them anymore.  I never did, and this lead to a lot of evenings drinking too much too quietly and questioning my self worth, but no more.

The corollary to this observation came from spending time with a couple of guys in their thirties, each one having been married (one still is, although perhaps tenuously).  We drank and I asked questions because I always want to know, and it came to me that I’ve been blinded by the endless possibility of very young, educated people.  None of us is obligated to anyone.  We are so free that it often seems nothing is at stake here, and that is a dangerous notion, because everything in our short-long, nasty-lovely, brutish-elegant lives is always at stake.  Not dramatically, at each moment, but in the series of present-tenses that somehow becomes your life.   It’s important not to forget that, I think.

*I am not above stupid party conversation.  it’s inevitable, I’m only mentioning it as an observer here.

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