Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The age difference

There are a lot of differences between my life in New York City and my life in Pittsburgh. For instance, in my New York City life, I walk a lot more than in Pittsburgh, where I am forced to drive from location to location. In my New York City life, “dressing down” constitutes wearing jeans as opposed to black dress pants, whereas in Pittsburgh, the sloppy-looking T-shirt and sweatpants that I now wear to bed are my usual garb. In my New York City life, I am regarded as a single girl in her twenties who works in Hoboken, NJ and lives in Queens. In Pittsburgh, I am seen as a Woodland Hills graduate who majored in English and “some science thing” and who has “made it” to The Big Apple.

The most significant difference between my two lives, however, is the people. In New York City, all of my friends are professionals in some capacity; in Pittsburgh, the majority of my friends are still in school or are working “filler” post-graduation jobs. Moreover, while my New York City neighbors and coworkers come from all over the country and the world, very few of the people I know in Pittsburgh have ever left, nor do they ever intend to leave. People in New York City are ready to jump on the next “best opportunity,” to move, to start again. People in Pittsburgh are getting prepared to settle, to establish themselves, and to create stable lives.

Finally, there is the age difference. Every one of my New York City friends and coworkers—with the exception of one girl, who works at the desk beside me—is at the very least five years older than me. My Wiley running buddy is in his 40s, with a 3-year-old daughter, and I play volleyball with men in their 70s. Alternatively, I do not have a single Pittsburgh friend who is more than one year my senior. I never considered the implications of this age gap until I went home to Pittsburgh for Christmas and spent time with my peers en masse.

Over the last seven months, I would say I have grown accustomed to what are considered “social outings” here in New York City. Going to a bar is a social event, whether it is a late-night pub crawl or a happy hour after work. Seeing a play or a musical constitutes an outing, as does going to the ballet or the symphony. And, of course, going out to eat is probably the most common get-together of all: there are breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners, coffees, tastings, and “just going out for ice cream.”

Obviously, in Pittsburgh, these things would all be considered social outings, as well. Therefore, the New Yorker idea of an “outing” is not special by any means. However, I had a sudden revelation while attending a fellow’ high school alumni’s Hanukah party one evening. There I was, sitting out on her back porch in the cool December air at 11pm, drinking Pepsi out of a plastic bottle as everyone around me drank their glass-bottled beer. We were all lounging in rusted lawn chairs under one dim lamp nailed to the wall, and everyone was huddled around the gritty circular ashtrays on the tiny table in center of the porch, smoking and tapping off their ashes. It was at this point, as I gazed around and noticed that I was the only one wearing something other than a hoodie and sneakers, that I began to have the vague notion that, were I back in New York City, I would never ever be doing anything remotely like this. My realization didn’t make the activity good or bad, it was just surprising. Even if there were a porch available, everyone in New York would have been more dressed up, like me, and the place would have been more decorated, and there would have been other alcohol on hand besides just beer. What I realized even more, though was that the situation wouldn’t have been different just because I was in New York City; it would have been different because the crowd I hang out with now is 30 instead of 23. By default, 30 is a classier crowd. Everyone tries to look nicer and can afford to look nicer and is simply intent on acting more “adult-like.” I have gradually begun to assimilate into this 30-year-old crowd, and it was shocking to realize that my 23-year-old peers, who are all still hanging out with one another, are so different.

At 1 a.m., everyone decided to leave and play Frisbee. That was when I knew I had become different. This felt weird to me. Frisbee? At night? It was just not something that occurred as a fun activity we should go and do. (Thirty-year-olds don’t play Frisbee unless they have a dog, a child, or a team to play with—as far as I am know—and they certainly don’t play it at 1 o’clock in the morning.)

As it turned out, playing Frisbee was fun, in spite of the fact that I had to run around the parking lot in black flats that flapped on and off my feet while the rest of the boys ran in laced-up tennis shoes; still, I did the best I could, and no one seemed to mind. Afterward, we went to a local hole-in-the-wall bar where the boys paid for my drink, and the fact that I was impressed made me realize how little I think of boys my own age.

No matter his age, I am always appreciative when a man has the courtesy to pay for my drink, meal, or ticket. As a rule, though, I am almost always more surprised and impressed when someone my own age makes this gesture than when someone older does it. Perhaps I think that older gentlemen have been raised differently or assume that they will have more money and therefore will be more generous with it. Whatever the reason, I felt very aware that I was probably making more money than most of these guys, and although the majority of them were still accepting money from their parents (either in the form of tuition or room/board), I still felt impressed that they were willing to pay for my drink.

It is strange to think, however, that my Pittsburgh friends are “catching up” to my New York friends. One or two have children, now, and a few are engaged to be married. Fortunately for me, I have a good many New York friends who are single and in their 30s. Granted, several of them have been divorced and/or have children, but at least the road is not paved solely with marriage and children. And maybe there’s even room for some late night Frisbee-playing, too.

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