Facing the Late Thirties

At the recent Thirties Workshop (July 1995) led by Jenny Sazama, I presented some beginning thinking about people in their late thirties, ages thirty-six to thirty-nine.

  1. We are adults. We can claim pride and goodness in being adults.


  2. Adults are oppressed as adults. Age oppression is a persistent tool of the class system for all ages, including adults.

    What does age oppression look like for adults in our late thirties? (These thoughts are derived from a white middle/owning-class perspective.)

    a. The common mythology presented to us is that life ends at forty. At my workplace, fortieth birthdays are celebrated with black streamers and black balloons and jokes about death. We are told that it is all downhill from here.

    b. For many people in their late thirties, the accumulation of undischarged physical hurts leads to the beginning signs of physical deterioration. As young people and young adults, we tended to take our physical health for granted and we were able to enjoy play time. As adults, economic oppression (and parents' oppression) pressures us to forego play time. (The distinction is quite remarkable-young people have permission to play and be close but are not viewed as valuable, whereas adults work to demonstrate their value but can't play, and their closeness is narrowly channeled.) Aches and pains tend to persist that used to disappear quickly. Observable body changes are commented upon negatively, such as weight gain, graying hair, and baldness. Some of us channel concerns about our health into rigorous exercise programs, but we do so as something to work at rather than having fun doing it.

    c. Young adult oppression focuses young adults on the question: What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? People in their late thirties focus on: Is this what I really want to do with the rest of my life? Did I make the right decisions? Is it too late to change? These concerns get labeled as "midlife crisis." I interpret that crisis to be our idealism, hopes, and vision battling against the oppressive forces of society that we have internalized into cynicism, hopelessness, discouragement, and accommodation. It is the battle for re-emergence, the battle between what we want and the feelings that we can't change.

    d. In our late thirties we experience a false sense of separation from young adults, a feeling that we are not young anymore because we no longer know about and appreciate the same music, TV shows, clothes, or trends.

    e. We are told that key decisions must be made and that they must be made now. It feels like we have no real choice (only accommodation or reactive rebellion). These decisions often focus on relationships and children.

    f. The pressure to conform increases, and people in our late thirties tend to be less spontaneous, less tolerant of differences, less experimental, and to feel less permission for individuality or creativity. This was illustrated in the movie Hook where a man in his late thirties forgets that he had once been Peter Pan, and the young people in Never Never Land have to re-teach him how to be Peter Pan again.

    g. Financial issues loom over our heads and weigh us down. Concerns often focus on security, retirement, and financial responsibility.

    h. There is an urgency that infects people in our late thirties. I think we see it in Co-Counselors as desperate efforts to hasten our re-emergence.

    i. Finally, for adults in our late thirties, our world tends to get smaller and smaller. We don't make new friends as easily and have difficulty maintaining contact with our old friends. The isolation that creeps over us is symbolized for many middle-class folks by the move from city apartments to suburban homes. Also, career options tend to dry up for people in our late thirties, and many of us are encouraged to specialize into narrow fields of work.


  3. What is the path forward for re-emergence against the age oppression faced by adults in our late thirties?

    a. Claim pride in being an adult. "I'm an adult in my late thirties." "I'm an adult entering middle age." "It is great and good to be an adult."

    b. Notice what we love about being in our late thirties. Notice our strengths. We have accumulated experience. We have practical knowledge; as one Co-Counselor put it: "I know what stores to shop at." We know what we think and we know our preferences. The weight of our experience serves, for many of us, to contradict our installed lack of self-confidence. We are in a position to be excellent allies to young adults and people in their early to mid-thirties.

    c. We can re-invent what it means to be in our late thirties. The late thirties will be different for us than they have been for those who came before us. We are free to choose and to make our own decisions. And there are national trends (people living longer, having children later) which are consistent with our making fresh decisions about our lives.

    d. Choose to live in the present-remember to relax, that we have all the time there is.

    e. Actively decide to discharge on the oppression of being an adult. The best direction I have found so far (that we have found to be useful for all other oppressions, also) is: "I'm not the adult, you are, and I'm going to treat you the way adults are treated. I'm going to . . . ."

    f. Decide to go for what we want as adults in our late thirties.

    g. Bring our age peers with us. This requires building and maintaining relationships with our age peers in spite of the restimulation of internalized late-thirties oppression which makes it hard for us to be with others in their late thirties.

    h. Change the world to eliminate age oppression and all other forms of oppression.


Mike Markovits
Stamford, Connecticut, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00