A few months ago, I decided to shop for a pair of shorts. Exciting, right? I had not bought shorts in years, and living in the harsh heat of Arizona, I figured that it would be nice to have more than one wearable pair. I figured that I would have a wide selection to choose from, again, because of living in America’s boiling armpit (literally and figuratively); what I didn’t expect was my search for short pants to become a journey of introspection.

The shorts that started the panic.

Facing a long rack of shorts of different colors — khaki, plaids and mellow colors —  and sizes at Banana Republic, a panicked thought hit me: I will have these shorts for several years. Whatever I picked would be measured against my age; 33-year-old me would be wearing the same shorts I picked as a 30 year old. People would wonder whether I am a mature adult or a man-child dressing younger than my years. It made me think twice — and thrice — about my decision, and I froze. It was too much responsibility for me.

After several more shopping trips over several weeks with similar results, I decided not to buy any shorts. “Shorts are for kids,” I told myself. But I also reflected on many other things in those weeks. The shorts were the tip of the iceberg of my deep dive into adulthood; the shopping trips forced the issue about my thoughts and feelings on growing older. And it made me wonder how others perceived me as an adult and as a man, how I compared myself to peers my age and where I was compared to where I had been. The shorts were a metaphor for my perspective on longevity.

My feared perception of shorts

It helped me to remember and realize certain things about myself. For the most part, I’ve been a practical person. I had a savings account since grade school thanks to the urging of my parents, and that money came in handy for my video game habit — splitting the cost on a new Super Nintendo and Mega Man III for the NES — and my first car. I bought a pair of brown leather sandals after college based on their classic style, knowing I would use them for years.  (I still own them.) My sense of style hewed more classic than in-the-now. I bought my second home in Arizona at the age of 25, thinking it would be a good investment and a home base for a feeling of security. (The investment part was off, but I’ve lived here for 5 years.)

Longevity has been a central part of my decisions without knowing it. But it was based on my own internal compass of expectations. I didn’t figure the perception of others into most of those decisions; after all, a group that largely has and continues to ostracize me was one I could hardly relate to. But I am often mistaken as a college or high school student, mostly when dressed at less than business casual. I wanted to age myself up to become the mature person on the outside that I felt that I contained — perhaps attract a more mature woman than what I seemed to find myself gravitating towards.

The opposite of how I wanted to be perceived

That led me deeper down the introspective rabbit hole. I looked at my interests, my friends, my clothes, my car: was my sense of maturity limited to those practical acts of self interest? Some people still think of video games as kids’ toys. Hatchback cars, though nearly as practical as a SUV or wagon for storage, weren’t seen as attractive to the opposite sex — as my mom mentioned before I bought my Volkswagen Golf (which I’ve owned for almost 8 years). And graphic t-shirts skew younger than a polo or long-sleeve, button-down shirt. Those perceptions from others, the same that I disliked, weighed on me, and I needed to get the monkey off of my back.

The answers, as it turned out, were in my reflections.  Sure, I made a conscious effort to age my clothing a little bit, trading out my Threadless t-shirts for a few polos and button-downs, but I’m not opposed to a new graphic tee in the future. The perceptions from others would be on them: whatever I divulged in — from clothing to video games and life essentials — have and will be based on whether I can see myself using them several years down the line. The knowledge that I am aware of and in control of perception of longevity is one bit of info that won’t hamper future decisions, let alone shopping trips.


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