You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Sorry, Millennials. You Will Never Stop Caring About What People Think of You.

Brad Barket/Getty

In my neighborhood in Toronto, there’s an intimidatingly minimalist boutique that caters to a definitively grown-up, sophisticated demographic; I pass it maybe once a week or so, en route to other, less daunting destinations (the Japanese grocery store; the pricey but worth it croissants). Its most distinctive feature is a sign in its window asking, “What do you convey?” It seems somehow gauche, although all it’s doing is unapologetically stating what the other shops around it merely suggest: Even those of the dressing-for-the-office life stage care what others think about them.

Of late, lifestyle writers have taken age as their subject, announcing that the tradeoff of getting older is the DGAF (Don't Give A F*ck) attitude that comes with it. This genre—generally told in that register that hovers between first-person just-telling-my-story and this-is-our-generational-truth—is either newly a thing, or has been one for a while, but I’m now at the age where I don’t just flip (ahem, click, click!) past these articles.

In a recent Jezebel post, Tracy Moore put “general caring” at the top of the list of things she’s “too old for,” and offers an explanation along the same lines:

Back up to that ‘general caring’ point—on the one hand, when you get older you actually seem to care more about certain things, including the people you already care about, being a better person, sorting your shit out. But overall you can be so much more selective about what you care about and it seems, at least in my experience, incredibly easy to say no to things you don’t really want to do.

And at the web publication The Pool, as part of a weeklong women-and-aging series, writer Sali Hughes talks about growing up. Somehow, I knew before even clicking that a post along these lines would include a bit about how the great thing about getting older is indifference to trivial concerns. And sure enough, near the end, there it was:

If my own personal timeline has delivered anything of major importance to my life, it’s the gift of ‘fuck it’. I find it saddening that bucket-listers focus on swimming with dolphins and bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon, while presumably content to continue spending their lives obsessing over what other people think of them. 

Hughes notes that she used to waste time on such matters, but no more. She’s not alone.

In the New York Times, Pamela Druckerman writes about the upside of being in one’s 40: “If you worry less about what people think of you, you can pick up an astonishing amount of information about them.” 

While the DGAF cliché is an improvement over the reassurances that you will own X—or cannot go out of the house wearing Y—by a certain age, it’s frustrating along many of the same lines. Thanks to all these anti-checklist articles, DGAF has become its own milestone. And that's unfortunate, because, regardless of age, it’s not so easy to stop caring what people think of you.

As much as I sometimes wish DGAF came with age, it strikes me as more aspirational than accurate. If this were simply about what adulthood should mean, I’d be all for it. But it’s offered up as a description, a promise—a low-stakes “it gets better,” where the generic but painful-in-the-moment angst of being a hormonal, perspective-lacking adolescent gets swapped, over time, for a serene indifference to the trivial. So let’s abandon the pervasive myth that getting older means entering a blissful state of not caring what others think of you.

Let me be clear: It’s not, and thank goodness, that middle school lasts forever. Caring, like so much else, does recede with age. But it pops up again, at the most inconvenient and unanticipated times. You can be going about your business, not caring in the least, and then all of a sudden, a stray thought will make an unwelcome appearance: I’m down three Twitter followers, I wonder who…? Or: Should I buy these sneakers, and what would it say about me if I did? (Followed, inevitably, by the memory of having had similar internal monologues approximately 20 years prior.) 

Getting older may mean getting better at hiding petty concerns (and at knowing which of those concerns will come across as ridiculous if actually aired). But pointless, neurotic insecurities—Why wasn’t I invited? Is she prettier than me?—persist, periodically reemerging throughout one’s life. They don't magically vanish with life experience or adult responsibilities. Perspective is, to some extent, a performance.

But let’s return to the “prettier” concern. For women especially, there’s the optimistic notion that getting older means caring less about one’s physical appearance. Dominique Browning’s Style section ode to being 60 models a great attitude in this regard, albeit, I suspect, an uncommon one: “I’m happy to have a body that is healthy, that gets me where I want to go, that maybe sags and complains, but hangs in there.”

I love this as an idea. I just don’t often see it in reality. Leaving anecdotal evidence out of it, I offer the following: Statistics on cosmetic surgery and non-surgical cosmetic procedures would indicate that caring peaks in the 35-50 range, with the 54-61 set GAF-ing somewhat less, but still more than young adults. While this doubtless also has something to do with the age at which cosmetic enhancements become affordable, the extent to which female patients (still) outnumber male ones would suggest the phenomenon isn’t simply about having the cash to go through with a procedure. On a less invasive level, there’s the delightful fact that the age of alleged indifference coincides so neatly with the one at which a woman may start needing to wear makeup to look professional.

And then, in a category all of its own, there’s weight, which women may go on thinking about for their entire lives. It’s true that the really intense emotions around such terms as “calories” or “thighs” can often subside the further one gets from the middle-school cafeteria. But a lot of this concern just goes underground, with youthful bluntness making way for stealth dieting and subtle but cutting remarks about how healthy someone looks. Eating disorders—by no means frivolous—are only imagined to be diseases of the young. Even Browning’s ostensibly “too old for this” dismissal of such concerns is ultimately diet advice: “Weight gain? Simply move to the looser end of the wardrobe, and stop hanging with Ben and Jerry. No big deal.”

The time has come, I think, for a new approach. Let us accept that to GAF is human. And in accepting this, we may just find we have one thing fewer to care about.