28 'Til I Die

On reaching life’s sweet spot.

October 16, 2014

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for...

Screen cap from Smashing Pumpkins video for "1979" (at request of the author).

Twenty-eight is a versatile age. You can kind of do anything. Owning your own business at 28 is no big deal, but neither is living with your parents, or subsisting on 7-11 taquitos. At 28, you can do all three.

Twenty-eight is also a transitional age, at which you are supposed to be getting too old for the life you’ve been living. You can party until you’re dead, but you’ll be dead soon if you keep drinking like you did at 21. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be lucky. Or maybe, like me, all you did at 21 was be monogamous and bitch about your career prospects, which is partly why I reject the idea that 28 is when the fun stops.

Mostly, 28 is an insightful age, because you can see how young people are and how old people are. Old people usually know how to do things better, but their interests are, on average, less interesting to everyone else, including other old people. Young people sometimes don't know what they're doing, but they generally have way better ideas than old people do, and probably better ideas than old people had when they were young. I feel much less hostility from 23-year-old guys now than I did from some of the 35-year-old men I hung out with when I was 23. (And not that I’m hanging out with a lot of 23-year-old guys. The other thing about 28 is it’s the age at which you become a creep.)

Having spent most of my youth hanging out with older people, I am now gunning for a healthy mix of older and younger friends. But what you don’t realize until you turn 28 is that hanging out with younger people is a totally new dynamic that’s hard to get the hang of. Not because there’s a secret handshake, but because there’s no secret handshake and old people think there is. Old people get defensive around young people and then blather on about how old they are. I know this because I’ve started to do it (I’m doing it right now). Young people hate that, and I know this because only three years ago I was a young person and I hated that.

Being defensive about your age is bad for your friendships and it’s bad for you, because the more defensive you are, the less open you are, and the more irrelevant you become. To be irrelevant at 30 isn’t a sad inevitability but a choice you make, probably because you’d rather direct your energies toward things that are only relevant in your world. That’s totally fine. (I just said it was bad, but I was being defensive.) If you remind yourself that it’s a choice you made, though, you might feel less defensive about it.

Also, you are never too old to be relevant. “Being relevant” is just the effort you make to know what people who aren’t you are caring about. You will never be too old for most things, except drinking like a 21-year-old and dating someone who’s 23. In that way, 28 is a good age to be forever.

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for the Globe and Mail. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, The Believer, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine.