Why men are feeling under pressure to not act their age

What you need to know:

  • The trade-off is that milestones are constantly set higher.
  • There is a Top 40 under 40, a Forbes 30 under 30, believe you me a 20 under 20 too, and heck, if I get a (climate-facing, whatever that means) funder, I will even start my Top 10 under 10!

She’s not that kind of girl. That’s what I was thinking when some Daughter of Zion, who had recently abandoned the narrow path to join the damned on the road to hell, was living out the best of her 20s. She had dirtied our table with all manner of drinks, and I for once, was grateful for Beijing 1995.

She had money like a celebrity big-boy government official. Mbeca. Moolah. Kakitu. We had been friends since campus, she the overtly religious one, me the ambivalent Sunday Christian able only to mutter The Grace—or, perhaps more accurately, mutter about Grace, yule dame pointi wa choir.

“I just feel like I am missing out on the best of my years. I want to have my slay-slash-hoe era now so that I don’t do it when I am too old,” she says.

 I know the hand that quenches me, so I don’t object. “Hoe era (are we allowed to say that anymore?), hmm?” I nod, silently, both to her, and the waiter who just passed by, a universal sign language that screams: Yes, chafua meza. Cheers, I’ll drink to that.

While the devil on my shoulder whispered in my ear and wanted to know if I was on her hit list, I could relate. For the majority of my 20s, I never felt my age. It was a pendulum, oscillating between feeling too old to do certain things, and too naïve to be in certain rooms. I spent time trapped in this chasm, a sort of man-baby, not quite man, not entirely boy.

This is something I have observed too in my male friends. Not feeling your age. I was joking with someone’s daughter the other day when a potential client ended our call with: “Keep me posted.” I told her—someone’s daughter, not client—that back in the day keep me posted just meant keep me informed.

Now, everyone is kept posted, literally and metaphorically. I bring this to your attention because living in our real-time age of notifications and updates, we are feeding on a collective fear that we are missing out on something, whether it’s a fabulous party, an “Unbeatable Sales!”—like the whole world knows something and we haven’t been let in on the secret. Life, nowadays, feels like those ‘DM for prices’ people.

The trade-off is that milestones are constantly set higher. There is a Top 40 under 40, a Forbes 30 under 30, believe you me a 20 under 20 too, and heck, if I get a (climate-facing, whatever that means) funder, I will even start my Top 10 under 10!

The markers we used to achieve at certain ages—like reading, walking, moving out, marriage—now feel less like milestones and more like monuments. There is a gnarling sense of doom, delivered straight to your doorstep, and everyone is subscribed.

It's only when you step back from the centre—the noise, the (ring) lights, the cameras—and embrace the shadows that you start putting into perspective how far you have come. In oversimplified terms, it is understanding that it is okay to readjust your sails according to the wind; to set new milestones, to actually feel your age.

It is (part of) the reason there has been a spike in young boys going after mumamas; ditto young ladies with their Viagra mubabas.

At 15, I hadn’t had a clue why I liked girls with lisps or braces; at 20 I knew I had no business being in a long-term relationship; at 28 I couldn’t find myself willingly in a club with an MC and call that fun.

At 30, you can no longer be dating potential. The truth is, time is running out. But that’s just one truth. The other truth is; that you are in control. And an even more sinister truth is – you cannot live a 20s lifestyle on a 60-something-year-old body. The arthritis will call you out. Si it’s me who is telling you?

That’s another thing. Younger people think old people are fools, old people know younger people to be so. It’s my ancestors who said that what an old man sees while sitting, a young man won’t see atop Mt Kilimanjaro.

The thing here is simple, learn to live your age. Life by itself is a crapshoot: You roll the dice, and you see what happens. This is our great depression. Children can’t be children if adults are not adults, but children also can’t become adults. They need models, to look up to when young, to define themselves against as they grow older.

You play your part by being your age, I’ll play my part by being my age. For instance, at 30, when people ask, you should be able to say what you are rather than what you hope to be.

At 30, it’s time you also admit that your politics matter, you will never be needed for a national team, and you can’t wear Crocs in public. Among my peers there is a now-or-never mood: the show is still going on, but the curtain call is ringing. Hear! Hear!

What’s cute in your 20s can be weird at 30 and dangerous at 40. Do you have a pen, because I am about to sign you’re a reality cheque: This is the youngest you will ever be! I know they told you 30 is the new 20, but take it from me, it’s not.

You see, I have discovered that people don’t mind being trapped, as long as no one is free. The English said misery loves company. The Swahili got it much better, with their curt methalis: Kifo cha wengi, harusi.

“You know, I’m 26, but I feel 22. Covid years don’t count. Wacha nijibambe before niolewe!” said my rainmaker. Problematic as her statements sounded, I am not one to judge. I still collect toys of cars and action figures—a pilgrimage to a childhood lost—at my big age (sometimes I feel 17, as long as I don’t look in the mirror).

She presented her case with a half-hearted “don’t repeat this” tone, to which I nodded sensitively and murmured, “I would never,” while already scheduling it for today’s column.

As ever, compassion and empathy are the handiest of utensils. Because it didn’t matter to me what age she felt like—reality will soon deal her her cards—the only number I cared about was what position I was on her hit list.