You Will Be Young for a Very Long Time
The first time I thought I was too old to start something, I was in high school.
I was learning Spanish and really taking to it. The thought of traveling to another country and being able to communicate in a foreign language was incredibly exciting. So when I got the opportunity to live with a host family in Spain one summer, I asked my parents for permission to go.
There was only one problem: My aunt had read an article on how the language pathways in the brain shrivel up and die after age two, and she presented this to me just as I was contemplating my summer opportunity. I would never be fluent in another language. I had missed my chance. Two-year-old me had slacked off and now 16-year-old me was going to pay for it by never speaking intelligible Spanish.
I didn’t go to Spain. What was the point? My 16-year-old brain, with its geriatric pathways and decrepit connectors (I’m not a scientist), would only embarrass me in front of the native speakers.
I wonder what could have been had I gone anyway. Maybe I never would’ve been able to carry on a lively conversation with fluent command of the language. But now, 20 years later, I could’ve been close.
I’ve since lived in a foreign country where people were eager to try out their English on me. (I did not speak their language, nor did I try.) Many of them were true novices, but I don’t remember them embarrassing themselves; I remember their enthusiasm and sincerity. They understood something I didn’t: The pursuit of something has value on its own, regardless of whether you ever master it.
I didn’t realize this at 16. And I’ve still never been to Spain.
I was 25 when I freaked out about getting old for the first time.
My boyfriend and I had been dating for two years when we decided to break up amicably. We were both planning to move away within the year, and it seemed natural to start consciously uncoupling. Our social circles were hopelessly intertwined, so we still saw quite a bit of each other. When he started dating a 19-year-old college student, I was fully aware.
Nineteen-year-olds go to…