A wonderful friend of mine named Sarah recently celebrated her birthday, attaining the ripe old age of 35. Her devoted husband, Joe, organized an eclectic group of friends to help her over the hump. At around 10 p.m., Sarah’s birthday party departed the restaurant where we were eating and began its joyful migration to the Wildcat Lounge for its apogee. That’s the time of the evening when I am normally headed for the corral, but I pressed on.
At the door, I realized what a cross-cultural time I was in for. Everyone in our group was carded. When I stepped up to the bouncer, he barely glanced at me and just waved me in. I am, I suddenly remembered, 59 — way past the carding stage. Many of my fellow celebrants are in their twenties, several more in their thirties, one in his early forties. And then there’s me, the only one who knows what a truly radical social statement it is to drop to a beer-soaked dance floor and do the alligator while “Louie, Louie” blasts from the loudspeakers.
Inside, things didn’t lighten up for me. In the dry-ice haze even I could see that I was in a very select group; there were a couple of fellows present in my general age range but frankly, they looked like dirty old men. The retro vibe in the place, complete with bikini-clad go-go dancers in cages, did add some comforting familiarity to the scene. Drinks were ordered and I put in my request for a glass of wine. Everyone else ordered some “party down” libation like vodka and Red Bull. (The new Irish coffee?) Our party then took to the floor in a cluster dance. Gender and age were irrelevant. It’s fun to forget about such definitional constraints; I was getting into it.
Sarah is a former New York dancer who had once earned her keep as a caged go-go dancer. Because it was her birthday — and she did what she wanted to — she leapt into the cage. “Hard-bodied, high-breasted amateurs weep!” Sarah seemed to say with her actions. “Let an experienced go-go gal show you how it’s done!” Before I realized it, I was ecstatically swinging on the cage below her, flailing about in a fashion that if I had stopped to think about it, would have surely given me pause.
The next morning I woke up and while I didn’t have a conventional hangover, I did have one of those old-fashioned shame hangovers. You know — the kind where you start wondering if you made a fool of yourself. Were all the “youngsters” in the place now sniggering over their Sunday brunches about the old man shaking his booty, partying like it was 1969?
What they may not realize is this: I was just exercising one of New York Times Magazine’s “Best Ideas for 2006” — psychological neoteny. That’s right, you heard me, psychological neoteny. For those of you who are not up on the latest trends in health, let me enlighten you. What may look like over-aged immaturity to you could well be the maintaining of youthful attitudes and behavior into later adulthood. And, according to British psychologist Dr. Bruce Charlton, this flexibility is a very valuable asset in our ever-changing modern era.
There’s a good chance my fellow revelers weren’t even thinking about me the next day and I would not have to resort to ridiculous explications of my behavior. Maybe, just maybe, some of them even found something inspirational about my appearance at the Kitty.
Perhaps they can take some solace in knowing that the party doesn’t have to be over at 35.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.