On Being an Old Person in a Young Person’s World

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I am 52 years old and I just started college a week ago. I am in school with 17 to 20 somethings. Every once in awhile I see another older student like myself but they are few and far between. And I am an older student in Connecticut, in New England. Connecticut is a lovely state. It is however, not a friendly place. I have lived in my small town for nearly 13 years and the same store owners and clerks I have seen for 13 years still act like they have never seen me before in their lives. And this is how everyone is treated unless you are their best friend’s mom. So in my town’s small businesses there are two people who acknowledge that they know me, okay three if you count the friendly children’s librarian at one of the public libraries in town (she is what I consider an anomaly).

That said, the young people at the community college I am attending are extremely polite and considerate. They hold doors for one another, make eye contact (this is a rarity here), and even occasionally smile. Because I am from the south and lived many years in Texas where you see “Drive Friendly” signs everywhere, I am friendly and outgoing. I think nothing of starting a conversation with a complete stranger in the checkout line at the grocery store. I get mixed responses to this behavior. I would say that 60% seem to feel fairly comfortable with my behavior and even end up smiling and chatting away. Thirty percent smile politely and acknowledge me but do not engage beyond the initial contact. And then there is the 10% that act like I walked up to them and slapped them in the faces. There is a pained look on their faces, or they lower their heads and turn away, putting as much distance between me and them. I always chuckle when I get this reaction.

I met two of these kinds of people at school on the first day but none since. The social dynamic of Connecticut boils down to this: strangers are not to be trusted. So as we go through each week in each class there will be a melting of the social icebergs.

My age creates an entirely different set of variables in this already complicated social environment. I am the age of most of these young adults’ parents. I am only guessing but I think they might see me and my presence in their classrooms as if their mom was sitting in. I have always enjoyed young people so I have no problem starting up a conversation but it is not always reciprocated. Not only do we have the stranger dynamic going but we have this huge generational gap at work here.

Am I uncomfortable? Not in the least. I am thrilled when I hear intelligent young adults share their thoughts in class. I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of thoughtfulness I witness. I am, however, trying to figure out this social dynamic in this new setting. I love to analyze groups of people. I love spotting different types of personalities, studying reactions and even body language. I am a people watcher but I look forward to eventually forming relationships. I am most excited about not being anyone’s mom here. I am just another person, my own person. I guess it isn’t so bad being an old person in a young person’s world.

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