CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

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Advice from A (Sort of) Old Man

I was driving on the Garden State Parkway the other day when the unthinkable happened.

Without realizing it, I had left my left turn signal on, even though it had been some time since I had made a turn. A shudder went down my spine. As a 20 year old, had I not left careful instructions that if I were ever to drive with an errant turn signal, or wear knee-hi black socks with sandals and shorts, or begin eyeing the handicapped seat on buses, that I should be put out of my misery immediately?

And so it was there on the Garden State Parkway, somewhere between exit 152 and senility, that I came to a horrifying realization: I had gone from turning into my parents to suddenly becoming (dramatic music) my grandparents!

I don't literally mean my Grandma Gussie, a short, doughy woman from The Old Country who smelled of potato pancakes and Jewish guilt, and would exclaim, "Eh-reek, dahlink!, Come give your Grandma Gussie a big kiss!"

No, I mean I have become an elderly middle-aged man who squints at restaurant menus because they make the print so damn small, and who has started saying things like, "No onions for me, thank you, they aggravate my acid reflux," and "I don't understand why kids today cover their entire bodies with tattoos."

By kids, I mean teens and twentysomethings less than half my age. If anyone had called me a kid when I was the mature (in my mind) age of 22, I would have rolled my eyes and repeated my pledge to be put out of my misery if I ever drove with my left turn signal on. Now the orthotic shoe is on the other foot.

That's why, as a psychoanalyst of a certain age, I really enjoy seeing young people in my practice. Their perspective is so refreshing and, well, youthful. I just need to remember to steer clear of such cultural references as the Beatles (the music group, kids, not the relative of the bedbug) or Ed Sullivan (the person, not the Manhattan theater where Letterman tapes).

I love the contagious energy of a young person as words tumble out of their mouth at a breakneck pace. Everything seems so immediate, as they pepper their conversation with the frequent placeholder "like," and their voice rises urgently to a question mark at multiple points throughout a sentence. "Oh my God!" they exclaim. It goes without saying that they are spelling this "OMG." "I was at work the other day? And, like, my friend Michelle? She, like, texted me to see if I wanted to go out with her to (insert name of bar I have never heard of) after work? And I was like, dude, I want to get soooh wasted."

When did women become "dudes?" While I love the idea of gender bending (I teach a class in gender and sexuality at CPPNJ), I have to admit this unisex-dude thing unnerves me a bit . The other day, a patient told me that he got annoyed with his mother's pestering, adding, "I was like, Dude, chill out." I wasn't sure whether this young man actually called his mother dude -- a truly disturbing thought -- or whether the word "like" was meant to convey that this is what he imagined saying to her in some strange universe where parents really are your best friends.

For many 20-somethings, things seem so dramatic and pressing. One young woman, several weeks shy of her 26th birthday, moaned, "I'm practically 30 and I'm still not in a relationship! My life is slipping away. If I don't do something fast, I'll end up old and alone."

By "old," she means my age.

I tell her to relax. She has plenty of time to grow up and make mistakes and find herself. That's what adolescence -- and the murky post-adolescent period of the 20s -- is all about. One day, you too will be driving down the Garden State Parkway with your left turn signal on for no reason, complaining that the exit signs are too confusing and kids drive too fast these days.

In the meantime, relax and enjoy the ride.