Second Youth is the period that falls between about sixty and seventy-five or so, when most people nowadays are still fit and healthy, shedding the responsibilities of younger days, early-retired from boring or strenuous jobs, reverting to the carefree lifestyle – becoming amateur painters, indy writers, expats in warmer climes. The kids have grown up, the parents are dead or in care, the messy divorce is over; time to sell up from suburbia and take to the road, buy a boat and sail round the world (try not to get captured by Somali pirates), go online dating and find a new romance. Never mind the Gap Year; take a Gap Decade. It’s a good time for a career change, a life change, a change of heart. It’s time to wear purple, before you get old, time to let your hair down and blow away the cobwebs and LIVE.
Social norms are no longer rigid and with increased life expectancy age-conformity has disappeared. The boundaries between generations disintegrated in the latter part of the twentieth century – once, you were middle-aged at thirty-five, old at sixty, but all that has gone. Even Hollywood has succumbed to change: in the so-called Golden Age, perhaps only Dietrich and Bette Davis broke the rule that at forty a star was way over the hill. Now, both actors and actresses may find their careers peaking at sixty-plus, with Helen Mirren in comic-strip-killer mode, Jeff Bridges in remakes and retreads, Meryl Streep in everything, while Harrison Ford and Big Arnie return as slightly creaky action heroes. Schwarzenegger’s behaviour is typical of Second Youth: he’s had it with the politics and the serious stuff – let’s get back to having fun.
Formerly, you ‘dressed your age’: a woman in a leopard-print mini would be stuck with the mutton/lamb label. Nowadays, who cares? You dress the way you want for who you are, and if, when you’re older, you have a few more flaws to conceal, you also tend to worry about them a lot less. A teenager agonises over every spot, every ounce too much or too little; a tweenager (between middle age and old) just doesn’t bother about a post-menopause tum or the fact that what was once a six-pack now resembles a pick-and-mix-sack. And the older face, stamped by decades of expression, tells you a lot more about the person behind it. The young may be good-looking, but only older people are really attractive, with the genuine attraction that comes from friendliness and kindliness and a lifetime of smiles.
On Twitter, in features and blogs, I see the agonies of people reaching thirty and forty, the ticking of biological clocks, the weight-watching date-watching help-is-this-my-fate-watching of people born into a world where the only boundaries are the ones you create yourself. ‘Let go of your fear’, as Yoda would say – and he was over nine hundred. The sun is shining, the rain is raining, the air is there to be breathed. Life is for living, love is for giving, don’t save for your own funeral because you (probably) won’t be there. The tweenagers are coming. So watch out, because these are the guys who REALLY know how to party. They’ve had a lot of time to practise.