The comment wasn’t meant to be a dig, but it was impossible not to take it that way.
“Oh my God, you look great for your age!” a 20-something gushed to me recently.
Just to clarify: I’m thirty-friggin’-one, people.
Let me back up a minute. About once a month, I host media networking parties, and it’s my job to welcome first-time attendees. Which is exactly what I was doing in striking up a conversation with this woman. She had just moved from a city where I interned the summer before my senior year of college. She asked when I graduated, and I could see the pieces clicking satisfyingly into place in her mind: I was – gasp! – in my early thirties!
This revelation must have been stunning for her two 20-something sidekicks, too, because they both chimed in with comments like “Girl, you don’t look 31 at all!” and “Good for you!”
In a nanosecond, I went from feeling like the hip, in-the-know hostess to an American Idol reject. I mean, I know our society is obsessed with youth and all, and I know I look younger than my years. But for the love of Botox – I’m thirty-friggin’-one! When did being 31 start provoking those sort of “for your age” qualifiers – the ones that reverse a compliment into a snarky little dig?
Even more alarming: What did this trio of teenyboppers think a normally aging 31-year-old should look like – a wrinkle-infested, cane-wielding, muu-muu-wearing spinster who couldn’t possibly be out in public on her own?
To be fair, I’ve been a little more sensitive about the age issue lately. I look in the mirror and fixate on the lines that have etched themselves in my forehead. I see the roundness of my cheeks, which are a large part of the reason I often still get carded, and imagine that before long they’ll have drooped into jowls so long I’ll be able to wrap them around my neck like a scarf.
And, while I recently was grooming my bikini line, I almost fainted when I thought I saw a single gray curly. It wasn’t, thank heavens — just a much lighter one among a patch of dark. But it was a serious wake-up call that one day both the drapes and the carpet are going to lose their shiny luster, along with the rest of the façade as gravity takes its inevitable toll and Father Time, damn that bastard, marches forward.
I’m sure some 40- or 50-something woman will be reading this and roll her eyes, much in the same way I want to snap in half those twiggy little women when they pinch a quarter-ounce of skin and shriek that they’re fat. But it’s at those weak moments when I’m nitpicking my reflection, or confronting flippant remarks from girls a decade younger, that forking over hundreds of dollars to have the bacteria that causes botulism injected into my face sounds like a fine idea.
The thing is, those moments aside, I’ve never felt more confident, more at home in my skin, more me than I have in the last year or two. Of course 31 isn’t old, but it’s a crying shame that our youth-crazed culture has made enough of an impression on at least three 20-somethings that they had to throw in the “for your age” qualifier as they assessed my appearance.
And despite all the talk of “40 being the new 30” and the population aging in record numbers, there’s still plenty of collective trepidation about getting older. At the dentist’s last week, I glanced through AARP magazine, and I couldn’t help notice the contradiction in an organization that trumps getting older gracefully putting a story about looking younger on its cover.
So what do we women do amidst all this age angst? We make plastic surgeons multi-millionaires. We delight in the fact that Demi Moore is married to a smoking-hot husband 15 years her junior.
We also resort to less classy moves, like making the distinction between ourselves and our older friends, even if it’s just in our minds. Just as I did the other day with a friend who’s three years my senior when we were commiserating over her ex’s new flame.
I asked how old the trollop was. “Our age,” my friend said, and I felt the urge to respond, “Don’t you mean your age? Because I’m only thirty-friggin’-one!”
A catty thought, indeed. But at least I held my tongue. Because, unlike those twenty-somethings, I respect my elders.
Blane Bachelor is an internationally published writer, syndicated columnist and author of On Being a Bachelor: Thoughts on Dating, Mating and Relating, a book based on her popular and long-running newspaper column. Bachelor has written hundreds of articles and columns about dating, relationships, travel and pop culture for outlets including Marie Claire, Women’s Health, People.com, Tango.com, Modern Bride, Zink!, the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today. Her dating advice column, “Ask a Bachelor,” appears in newspapers nationwide. And yes, Bachelor is her real last name. Visit her website at www.askabachelor.com.