Aging Party Animal

seabaugh_face.jpgA 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 healthspan@mac.com and visit his
Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more
information on the topics covered in this column.

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