The Myth of Maturity

Food for Thought

Alex asked me if I felt like 20-something inside. I suppose it’s a natural question when a 31-year-old hangs out with a 56-year-old. I said, firstly, pretty much everyone feels like a 30-year-old inside for the rest of their lives; it’s as mature as you will ever get as a human, which is why 60-year-olds are still listening to the same bands they listened to when they were in their 20s and wouldn’t miss any band reunions. And, every morning, when they look at themselves in a mirror, they are surprised by how old they look. If they have children, they act more maturely by reenacting their parents, even though their parents, too, were only acting. Maturity is a myth we propagate in our culture. Everyone is immature, only pretending to be mature. The better actors and liars they are, the more mature they appear.

My immaturity, I’m pretty sure, is compounded by my autism, although it is challenging to make an objective assessment. As we age, our cognitive capacity to learn new things diminishes. Normal people, therefore, become more reliant on younger people for new skills. They accumulate social capital as well as financial capital to survive. They move up to leadership roles. This shift towards managing others is seen as a marker of maturity.

In contrast, autistic people maintain a lifelong fascination with objects or abstract ideas over interpersonal dynamics. They don’t move up the social ladder partly because they are not equipped to manage people but also because managing people is boring. They eschew traditional adult roles in favor of continuous exploration and creation. As time progresses, any cognitive slowing brings them in line with the mental agility typically attributed to the average person in their twenties.

However, I harbor no illusions of eternal youth. Maybe I have only another decade of being able to play with 30-somethings. Even as my spirit remains naive, insecure, and immature, my body won’t allow me to catch up with younger people in their ordinary activities. Yet it is thanks to the finiteness of life that we can cherish any moment.