This year, my best friends and I turned forty years old. In the times of Jane Austen, this would have meant we were old ladies. In the twenty-first century, we are still considered young, but we are supposed to behave like responsible adults. I am unashamed to confess that we all got philosophical: Had we led a productive life? Had we achieved something? I realise I have managed to become a twenty-first century version of my favourite Austen heroine, Mary Bennett (yes, the sister from Pride and Prejudice who is always reading or playing music). I still suffer from allergy to marriage and I could be all day long reading, watching movies, or writing fiction about female warriors (I love action films). Unlike poor Mary Bennett, I am fortunate to live in a time when preferring books to socialising (meaning: looking for a prospective husband) is not a problem anymore. I have also completed a PhD and I have fulfilled my long time dream of working in academia.
My biggest obstacle on my way to maturity has always been keeping my bad temper under control. I smile when I remember my early twenties self. I was an angry young woman, who loved combing her hair in little braids (even in my graduation photo), about to leave home to live in a foreign country. My relationship with my father was not good. The generation gap becomes explosive when you both have the same temperament. I still remember my horrible threat before I left:
“And now I will go out there and become a decent woman, and stand on my own two feet, just to spite you.”
I did fulfil my threat but, of course, this did not spite my father. On the contrary, he keeps telling everybody how proud he is of me. On the other hand, if the biggest threat you can come up with is to become honest and hard-working, maybe your father did a good job raising you up after all. I am pleased that I do not see things in black and white anymore, but I am able to find a middle ground. I can defend my ideas in a reasonable and calm manner, instead of charging like a Sicilian horse (my mum’s expression).
Or so I believed.
I started my forties breaking up a friendship in anger. One day at the supermarket, I bumped into an old friend from university. We had studied cinema together and I still remembered our endless discussions about films at the canteen. I just wanted to tell him about how well I was doing, maybe agree to meet later to catch up, but he was not interested. He was only interested in discussing about politics, concretely a question concerning the politics of my own country. I have always thought that anything related to politics is a complex matter. It should only be discussed in a relaxed environment, sitting down, preferably with a coffee, and when one has time to spare. It should not be discussed standing in a supermarket aisle, holding a basket full of groceries. Problems started when he discovered that my opinion about that question was the contrary to what he had expected. His shock was expressed as a personal attack, including quite insulting remarks. I was becoming progressively angry. Why did he ask for my opinion, if he only accepted his own? Given that the question concerned my own country, maybe I had a more comprehensive perception than he had. More importantly, I am not a puppet to be told what I should think. The last straw was when he laughed at me, accusing me of “losing my temper.” I said goodbye. I still do not know if he realised I meant “farewell”.
I was really sad of having lost a friend to such a stupid discussion. The thing that bothered me the most was how childish I had found him, how little had he evolved in almost twenty years. However, was I any better? Did I still react like a Sicilian horse? During my last holidays at home, I told my father what had happened. The first thing he asked was if the friendship was worth it. I remembered my “friend’s” occasional arrogance, his custom of making fun of me when I was serious, the night he stood me up at the cinema because he met some VIPs… I had to recognize that I was better off without him. Regarding the political discussion, my father said:
“I wish that people listened to what others had to say and tried to understand their experiences, rather than jumping to their throats”.
I was looking in admiration at my father, thinking he was very wise. Then, I realised. This was the proof I had definitely matured. When you talk like an equal to you father, and you think he is right.