Yes, I know that sounds like a very odd question, but it will become clear.
Think of a loaf of bread.
You are in a store, and you may look for a certain type of bread, and perhaps the brand and price.
You also may look for that small, flat plastic tag, which you use to keep the bag closed. It has a date (in the near future) printed on it. The “sell-by” expiration date.
You want the bread to be fresh, with a reasonable shelf-life remaining.
This new loaf has the full number of slices, with not only time remaining, but also many possibilities.
If you put some jam onto a slice, but then drop it on the floor, you can accept the small loss, because you still have many more slices left.
Many more second chances left.
You have many choices. Today, perhaps a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Tomorrow, grilled cheese with a slice of ham. The next day, toast with Vegemite. You can make or change a decision on a whim.
You have still have chances to try something new, different, unfamiliar.
You could look for recipes for new sandwiches that you have never tried before, and expand your choices and your experiences. You could widen your horizons.
This new loaf of bread is dynamic, filled with possibilities, ambiguity, and positive change.
But, eventually, inevitably, that day arrives. The “sell-by” expiration date.
If the bread is still in the store, someone will remove it from the shelf, and get rid of it. No more value to the store.
That is because the customers don’t want it, either, and will look for a fresh loaf instead.
If it is already in your kitchen, you may become suspicious of it, and no longer want to eat it.
This date is an estimate of the point when the bread becomes much less appealing. Stale. Then mold appears, breaking down the bread and making it potentially dangerous to eat.
The physical form is still recognisable, and may last on for some time.
But the story is basically over.
No more second chances.
No more choices.
No more new horizons, possibilities, ambiguity, or positive change.
All that will happen from this time onward is gradual decay.
No matter how many slices remain, they will be wasted.
Unfortunately, many people view human life this way. They treat themselves, and others, like that loaf of bread, with a “sell-by” expiration date.
To be sure, we all really do have a final, individual expiration date, when we actually die in the medical sense, becoming food for microbes, insects, and worms.
However, I am talking about a concept of an expiration date that occurs long before one’s medical death.
“Accept reality and your lot in life.”
“Grow up and act like an adult.”
“Start being mature, responsible, and stable.”
Another metaphor is the cooling-off condensation of matter. A child is like a gas, with changing shape and volume. An adolescent or young adult is like a liquid, still changing shape, but with a fixed volume. The “settled down”, socially-legitimate adult is expected to be like a solid, and locked into a final, unchanging situation.
It could also be viewed as a script for a film or play, in which the story concludes, but the actors just sit there doing nothing more for the next hour.
Or it is like a checklist, with each box being ticked, in order. And each box is ticked exactly once.
Or a brief list of items could be written, with each item fixed, and no chance of ever changing them. Once a standardised list is complete, you are finished, no matter how many more years your body still has ahead.
Geographic Location: “Become a sessile life form, like a plant, anchored to one spot”.
Education Level: “Accept that the window of opportunity somehow closed in your youth, and school’s out forever”.
Job: “Slave away at the same routine, for the same wage, at the same business, for the rest of your working life”.
Values: “Buy into consumerism, weighing yourself down with possessions, debt, and socioeconomic comparisons to others”.
Relationships: “Be like a prisoner, handcuffed to a guard. Stay in close contact with your family of origin, even if it is toxic. Have a spouse and children, regardless of whether you actually want them or not”.
Peers: “Come on. All the cool grown-ups are doing it. You don’t want to be immature, irresponsible, unstable, different and uncool”.
If you’re like me, some people see the grey hair starting, or other symptoms of age, and they want that to be like the small plastic tag on the loaf of bread. Expired. They want this for you, because they believe it about themselves.
Some people may have a general, vague age in mind. Some others may be specific, such as, “When you’re thirty years old, then you might be taken seriously as an adult, because you will have surrendered to this view, and ‘settled down’ into your final, fixed state”.
If you get past thirty, and still refuse to toe the line, they get their knickers in a twist.
It can be worse, to the point of being told that, my story was supposed to finish at eighteen – “You should have stayed in that small, impoverished rural town with your mother! Going anywhere new, or doing anything new, or making your own choices, is immature, irresponsible, unrealistic, and dangerous!“
As I wrote in my last post, most people are utterly terrified of change, ambiguity, responsibility, solitude, and non-conformity.
Move to a new city?
Go to university as a “mature” student?
Get a new job (perhaps with that new degree, or perhaps something else)?
Be an unemployed bum for awhile?
Go even more minimalist, with fewer possessions than ever before?
Stay single and childfree?
Decide that you don’t like something about your life, and actually get up and change it?
Do all of this when you are well past the age of thirty? Or forty?
The fear is not just the one that prevents an individual from doing these things. That fear is also projected onto other people. This leads to denigrating those things as somehow violating the “true” meaning of adulthood.
There is a pervasive view that there are simply “rules” of adult life stating that, your life story is supposed to come to a halt at a relatively young age. You finish the script, tick all the boxes, complete the list, reach your “sell-by” expiration date.
Then spend the next few (or several) decades decaying like a moldy, expired loaf of bread. An actor posing on the chaise lounge, doing nothing for the last half of the play.
This view is expressed, not only with interpersonal bullying, but also with employment discrimination and educational funding discrimination.
Just as I have experienced that pressure, I have also experienced the potential of embracing continued change, ambiguity, responsibility, solitude, and non-conformity.
Bum around a bit.
Appreciate personal freedom.
Get off the couch and change your situation.
I’ve done so at an age much older than many people find socially-acceptable, and done some of these things more than once.
The story is still in progress, and I expect it to continue for quite some time.
The tag with the “sell-by” expiration date is really a person’s own inertia and fear.
Take it or leave it. Believe it or don’t.
It isn’t some objective “rule”, or common sense, or legitimate adulthood.
It’s your own choice.