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Friday, February 29, 2008

What is the criteria for being "settled down?"

2008 will see several milestone birthdays for several of my friends, including myself (50).

It is common for those approaching the milestone birthdays to evaluate their present life and where they are and, worse, where they think they should be at this stage in their life. The frequent keyword found in these self-evaluations is "settled." This can mean either settled down in a certain job, domestic situation (usually married with children), or reaping the rewards spent working in a wonderful job for a couple of decades.

My own life experience has taught me is that nothing is ever settled in life. Nothing. In my mind, that's a good thing. I don't confuse being settled with being organized or entrenched safely someplace. I don't ever want to be complacent in life; I want to be happy and satisfied for most of the time, but I want to have an eye out for how to make things better in anything that I am doing. That's done not out of the need for perfection but rather out of knowing there is joy to be found in the process itself of making adjustments, improvements or even moving on when something is not working.

All this begs a big question: who decides the criteria of where we should be at a certain age? And why is there a criteria at all? Every one of us are different people who live in a variety of circumstances, and the variables make it unlikely that can achieve everything on some mystical timetable. When we think on the milestone birthdays, how many of us say "Oh wow, I've really accomplished way too much before this birthday!" or "Things are so perfect right now, maybe I should hold back pushing for anything new or exciting."

Those conversations with yourself do not happen. The conversation that actually does take place is one with the inner demon is regarding a measuring stick of expectations usually dictated by other people in our societal make-up.

The issue regarding being or becoming a parent is definitely an age-related question. If you are a man, thereotically you are able to father a child into your sixties and seventies if you wanted; for women there are biological limitations in bearing her own child.

But back to what is the criteria for being "settled" in life.

I have been in pretty much the same domestic situation since 1990. I have shared an apartment or townhouse with the same friend for 16 years. That arrangement could change at any time. Both of us believe that romantic relationships do better if the couple live in separate places but the time could come where one or the other needs to move closer to a boyfriend.

I plan on going back to school and getting an MFA in Creative Writing. My friend, Kay, is changing her job situation entirely and she is in her mid-50s.

The viewpoint about who does what at what age has changed over the decades. I was watching one of my favorite shows Judge Judy who rendered an option during a case of who was the owner of a Playstation 3. The female Plaintiff said she bought it for herself, and Judy spat out "Nonsense! 45 year old women don't sit around and play video games!"

That's bullshit. I love videogames and have been playing them for about four years now and I'm not talking about the Super Mario series! The neighborhood I moved from last year had kids who played a pick-game of soccer in the field and many times I joined in. I held my own. And now as I near 50, I found a way to use my skills at camping, hiking and on the water: I am volunteering for the Delmarva Search and Rescue team.

When I hit 40, I quickly realized how much easier many things in life really are. I have had friends say their lives improved after 40. Many more friends changed jobs, changed their domestic situation and continued to move forward in life. No one was "settled."

Dirt settles. People don't.

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