First published by The Times on 13 November 2018
I spent my twenties wishing I were older so people at work would take me seriously. Now I find myself in my thirties desperate for the young people to let me into their gang.
My actual age is 35 (and a half), but I identify, in terms of office social life, as 25. I have friends of all ages in the real world, but get me in a professional environment and there’s nobody I want to be friends with as much as the juniors. Not yet encumbered by boring old marriages and children, their conversations are genuinely juicy. Who is shagging whom? Who went on a wild night out and came into work without having slept? And whose boss, adored by all the senior staff, is vile to them when no one’s looking?
Unfortunately, in recent years, I’ve noticed that the twentysomethings have started speaking to me with a certain . . . politeness. A cold wave of horror hit me when I identified what they were doing. They were respecting me. As an elder.
It’s in those early years of work life, in my experience, that all the fun happens. In my twenties there would be at least one night out with colleagues a week, and it would always end in a horrifying mess. We wouldn’t go home until we’d danced, someone had thrown up and a secret had been revealed. Packets of cigarettes would be burnt through, followed by packets of crisps, torn open on a sticky table.
Now I have to accept that it’s no longer appropriate for me to join nights out with the junior staff, who should be able to speak uninhibited about me or whoever else they like. Instead I’ve become a ringleader for the oldies. I am the person coercing colleagues to find childcare so that we can all go to the pub on Friday. I am the one buying two packets of cheese-and-onion and another bottle of pinot. There’s less dancing, less emotional diarrhoea and less scandal, but at least, to my colleagues over 40, I’m still young.