...It’s bizarre, if you think about it. Certainly most of us don’t believe ourselves to be shorter or taller than we actually are. We don’t think of ourselves as having smaller ears or longer noses or curlier hair. Most of us also know where our bodies are in space, what physiologists call “proprioception.” Yet we seem to have an awfully rough go of locating ourselves in time.......adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age.... viewing yourself as younger is a form of optimism, rather than denialism. It says that you envision many generative years ahead of you, that you will not be written off, that your future is not one long, dreary corridor of locked doors.
...I’m 53 in real life but suspended at 36 in my head, and if I stop my brain from doing its usual Tilt-A-Whirl for long enough, I land on the same explanation: At 36, I knew the broad contours of my life, but hadn’t yet filled them in....I was not yet on the gray turnpike of middle age, in other words.... Adolescence and emerging adulthood are times dense with firsts (first kiss, first time having sex, first love, first foray into the world without your parents’ watchful gaze); they are also times when our brains, for a variety of neurodevelopmental reasons, are inclined to feel things more intensely, especially the devil’s buzz of a good, foolhardy risk....adults have an outsize number of memories from the ages of about 15 to 25. They called this phenomenon “the reminiscence bump.” (This is generally used to explain why we’re so responsive to the music of our adolescence—which in my case means my iPhone is loaded with a lot more Duran Duran songs than any dignified person should admit.)
Recently, I wrote to Margaret Atwood, asking her how old she is in her head. In the few interactions I’ve had with her, she seems quite sanguine about aging. Her reply:
At 53 you worry about being old compared to younger people. At 83 you enjoy the moment, and time travel here and there in the past 8 decades. You don’t fret about seeming old, because hey, you really are old! You and your friends make Old jokes. You have more fun than at 53, in some ways. Wait, you’ll see! :)