growing nose, lying

I had a seriously late-mid-life moment the other day: I forgot my age. Just plain old forgot how old I am. A friend asked me how old I was and I cheerfully answered “Fifty-six.”  My husband was right there in the room and so he was able to correct me. “Fifty-eight,” he announced, hollering out the number in the manner of an auctioneer, “Fifty-eight years old, going on fifty-nine”

It wasn’t like I was trying to dissemble; a little thing like dissembling I could understand and forgive myself. (One of the lovely parts of growing older is how much easier it is to forgive myself. It has become quite an absorbing hobby.)

Lots of women, as well as some men, of my acquaintance regularly lie about their age and consider the sin wholly inconsequential, sort of like smudging the truth about how often you exercise or how much you weigh. You can say anything you want, they reason, because you shouldn’t have been asked the question in the first place.

Lying about one’s age is considered socially acceptable, as is declaring the fact that your age is nobody’s business. This is interesting, given that perfidy and telling people to “butt out” are usually regarded as graceless gestures when applied to other situations.

Imagine a scene: at lunch, a co-worker casually asks, “How long have you and your spouse been married?” and is gently and coyly rebuked with “Oh, a lady never reveals that sort of information.”

The co-worker, after a baffled pause, decides to eat at the OTHER table from now on.

It’s not as if asking somebody’s age is the same as, for example, asking how many sexual partners they’ve had (now THAT is an interesting question to toss out around a lunch table at work).

And yet lying about or concealing your age is practically mandatory.

When I was a teenager I wanted to be thought of as older. Older girls seemed sophisticated, hip, and independent. Now that I am ACTUALLY older, it’s younger women who seem sophisticated, hip, and independent. Go figure.

Don’t get me wrong– I would not be any other age for love or money, not even on a dare. I work with people in their late teens and early twenties. I respect and have great affection for my students but in NO way do I envy them. Yes, they are healthy creatures with boundless energy, a species who can stay up all night to write a paper and still go for a run in the morning. True, they have all their teeth, do not undergo gastric reflux–nor do they require Viagra or Vivelle.

But the young suffer from the incurable maladies of youth: the gripping fear of the unveiled future, the pernicious panic of inexperience, the constant crises of love wanted and love lost. I see long, shadowed hallways in their eyes when they come to explain why a book made them cry, or when they come to argue that I have been too critical of work they know is not their best. They argue and weep for irrepressible reasons. Yet the reasons are familiar to me because I have traveled through the place they are coming from. And I have no wish to revisit the landscape that produces such storms.

Do you remember Oscar Wilde’s wonderful injunction, “One should never trust a woman who tells her real age. A woman who would tell one that would tell one anything”? That’s going to become my motto. I’m going to have T-shirts emblazoned with Wilde’s maxim.

I’ll invest the words with a meaning, however, that Wilde probably did not intend.

One of my goals is to become somebody who will “tell one anything” without shame, hesitation, or befuddlement. I want to embrace being old enough to say “I’m a big girl now and too old to act cute, shut up, or be demure,” the way, as a child, I wanted to say “I’m old enough to play outside after sundown.” If growing up doesn’t guarantee increased access to places that had once been roped off, what good is it?

I may have forgotten my age for a moment and, in so doing, illustrated the very fact of my aging. So? I can live with that. After all, growing older still seems better than the alternative.

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