Isn't it a little bit sad to spend your thirties trying to be a hip young thing? Forget middle youth, it's time to get a life, says Maureen Freely
When I was 18, we called middle-aged hipsters the Toupe Generation. We studied their habits closely as a sort of aversion therapy. We vowed to each other that when we were over 30, we would have the good sense to know that our clubbing days were over. We were not going to make fools of ourselves doing new dances badly. Nor would we wander around pubs saying, 'Hey man, do you know where I can score some dope?' And last but not least, we would stop ruining rock festivals with our disintegrating presences. We would have the good sense to go home, look in the mirror, and accept we were past it.

What we were meant to do after we had faced facts was never clear. It was always going to be hard to move on to the next stage. Being surrounded by culture that worships youthfulness doesn't make it easier. There are more and more lines of work in which you are dead meat unless you cultivate a youthful image. So, no wonder there are hordes of 30-plusses rushing to join gyms and falling over backwards to go clubbing every Saturday. Or at least one weekend in three, if they can find the right sitter, if they have any energy left after that terrible week at work...

It was a matter of time before they had their own name, marketing niche and magazine. But is the editor of Red doing her Middle Youth readers any favours by encouraging them not to be "grown-ups"? By telling them it's vital to make time for Glastonbury, buy all their clothes at Nicole Farhi and DKNY and be seen at the Ministry of Sound, all she's doing is fanning their worst fears about life after youth.

And that's a shame. Because if you're not wearing yourself out trying to maintain your old habits, one of the nice things about growing older is not always letting other people do your thinking for you. As my friend Bill puts it, "It's only now I'm in my forties that I can he happy with myself, even if I'm in a room full of people who are looking down their noses." My friend Liza says, "My life is so full now and it used to be so trivial. I'd hate to go back to the days when I was on the pull every night." My friend Serena likes the emotional stability. She has "so much more of a feel now about how life works".

It's when my university students tell me about the details of their "good times" that I remember the up side of being older. Or rather, I remember the downside of being 20 and overdrawn, with a volatile love life and a terrible, almost unsayable fear that you might come to nothing.

The middle youth concept is all about postponing the day of reckoning. The problem is, if you coast through your thirties telling yourself not to worry, that this isn't really life yet but just the dress rehearsal, you lose out on your chance to define life in your own terms. The worst thing about being reminded how fast time is passing, and how little you have left, is thinking about all the things you thought you might do one day and may never get round to doing.

Tim, another friend, says it is "the open-endedness" of his earlier life he misses the most. For Liza it is the same. "When I was young I assumed there would be time for everything," she says. "Now, when I see a photo of someone skiing, my first thought is, it may just be possible that I'll never learn how. My second thought is, how bloody unfit I am." Her third thought is, she still has time to do more of the things she wants. That's the good side of being middle-aged, Serena insists. "I have a sense of urgency, that if I want to do something worthwhile in my life, I have to get on with it now. It used to be getting the respect of others in her profession. Now it's "doing something useful".

For Bill, it's "giving up on the hope that I'll make my mark as a chemist and doing more photography, even though I'll never make a penny from it". His idea of success has changed. So has mine. I thought my life would be worth nothing if I didn't become an independently wealthy prize- winning author. Now, after looking around me and seeing so many friends who have burned out, I think I have won if I am still doing work I find interesting.

"You have to adjust your idea of yourself when you get older," as my friend Euan says. "You have to ask yourself why you're doing things, and decide if it's worth carrying on. It's that way with surfing. There was that moment when I looked at the bronze gods around me and knew that I was no longer one of them. And that hurt, because I had enjoyed being a bronze god. And I almost gave it up. But then I changed my mind. I go surfing for a different reason now. I do it because I enjoy it."

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