My whole life, age has been a problem. Not because I wish for my youth or long for the days when I was smooth skinned and young looking. It’s the exact opposite. I have always looked young for my age. In high school, people thought I was in middle school. In college, they thought I was in high school, after graduation, they STILL thought I was in high school, and now people think I am a student or just graduated college.
“Oh, how lucky,” I hear many of you think. But no. You’re wrong. It is not at all lucky. Just think about it. You are a 28-year-old professional reporter and someone asks you, “why aren’t you in high school right now?” It negates your years of experience and hard work. Or the look of surprise when someone you have only dealt with on the phone sees you for the first time and their estimation of you drops. Suddenly, this person who treated you as an equal on the phone starts responding to your suggestions with a patronizing, “isn’t that a cute idea,” or “that’s a great little project.”
And then there is the five-minute conversation I have had again and again since my teens. “You’re how old?! No way. I don’t believe it. Oh my god! You look so much younger. Did you know you look so much younger?” Yes. Yes I know. (Of course that is better than the conversations where the other person refuses to believe you and thinks you are pulling a joke on them.)
I used to work my age into every conversation. Trying to get it out there early, so people would treat me age-appropriately as an experienced worker, not an intern. But blurting out your age is strange, especially in America where we tend not to ask. So my age interjections would always come off as awkward, and made me look more like the kid I was trying to distance myself from.
And as I get older, I feel like sometimes I am robbed out of aging experiences that my peers have. In general my friends are younger so I can’t gossip about “waking up with neck pain,” or any of the common problems of aging. Also, when I DO talk about aging my friends kind of discredit my experiences. Because I’m “not really” my age. Or, because I’m young looking and therefore my experience of aging is different than what they’ve heard. (Although honestly I think a lot of my high school and college classmates look younger than our age.)
The only person who every really “got me” was a woman in my hometown. When she found out my age instead of saying “wow, you look so young,” she looked at me with a wry voice and said “do you still hate it or have you started to play with it yet.”
“Still hate it,” I said. But she gave me a little hope that maybe, someday in the future, I wouldn’t totally hate it. And I think that time is slowly arriving. I’ve begun kinda fucking with my age. Dating is the obvious place to lie. I settled on 29 being a good general age for me. I once got away with 25, but then I had to lose too much of my actual history so 29 is a good sweet spot.
I also lie to the aunties on the street. They are the most troublesome, asking me a million questions and when they find out my age, and that I’m not married, they freak out and talk about every single guy they know (“My friend who owns a noodle shop has a nice boy.”) It’s very annoying, so I either lie about being married or my age.
With this more “fluid” age even my friends get confused. “How old are you again?” is a question I get from my good friends regularly. And they like to mess with me too. A few times I have told a new friend my age. “Bullshit!” they say. “Ask anyone,” I say. They then ask my friends how old I am and my friends say “29” and laugh uproariously at their joke, but meanwhile the new person believes them and not me!
And one of the worst parts is, I can’t see it. I can’t look in the mirror at myself and see any age. I see the wrinkles, I see the pimples, but I don’t see age. So I have no idea what people are talking about.
I know this whole post might come off as seeming a bit braggy, because people refuse to believe that looking young is a bad thing. We live in a youth obsessed culture, how could it be bad, right?! But it is. I have, without a doubt, missed professional opportunities and have had a harder time in general. When I hear the words “you look so young!” I don’t feel happy or proud. In fact, I seethe a little bit.
Here’s hoping that when I’m 50 I’ll be happy about it.