How old are you? You don’t want to tell me, do you? Why not? Because it’s personal? Have I asked too many questions? Whoops, that was another one. Well, yes, I understand your age is personal, but, like your height – which is just as personal – does it really matter?
Of course, you can’t hide your height. You can try to disguise it with heels and a tall hat, but you are still the same height and, most probably, the heels and hat draw even more attention to it. But really, there is no difference between age and height. They are both accidents of birth and something you have no control over. But while people are willing to admit their height, obvious though it is, you don’t get the same answers as with age. When someone asks how tall you are, you are not likely to answer, “I’m in my mid-six feet,” or, “I’m approaching five foot five.” I’m five foot eleven and a half, so I usually answer, “just under six feet,” or, “five eleven”. Both of which I consider accurate enough.
We spend our youth pretending we are older, and our extreme old age proudly telling everyone exactly how old we are, but in between when it comes to giving away your age, are you so precise with your reply as you are with your height? I thought not. You might reply, “I’m maturely aged”. To which, if I didn’t value my life, I might reply, “wines mature in 20 years. Don’t you mean vintage?”
Or you might say, “I’m in my mid-60s,” which means 67 to 69 & 364 days. Early sixties means sixty-four to sixty-nine & 364 days. Or “around sixty,” which is sixty-two to seventy-five.
You might also be one of those people, who should be exiled permanently to some island, who responds to the age question with, “guess!” And you immediately know that they are not going to back down. You get that horrible sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, which is very similar to that time you asked a woman when she was due, only for her to tell you she’s not pregnant. There is no going back. The person before you is so confident he or she looks younger than they really are that they will hound you until you reply. Possibly to the grave. And if you don’t give them the reply they want, they will kill you anyway.
So, I hear you ask, what’s the best thing to do when this happens? My advice is to run away as fast as you can and migrate to another country. However, sometimes this is not possible or practical. You may be cornered, or the person may be holding a gun or possess incriminating photos of you and you realise with a sharp feeling of dread that you are going to have to answer.
You size up the person. Are those lines an indication of age, or does he laugh or frown a lot? She looks a lot like Aunty Ethel, but she’s one hundred and five. Is he really bald, or does he shave his head? They will stand there and wait, so don’t rush it. You take everything into account and finally narrow the age down to between forty and seventy. If you say forty and they are more than fifty, they will know you are bullshitting. If you say seventy and they are sixty, they could get violent. They want you to say younger, but within the parameters they have set for themselves. Realistic parameters, they believe.
I often scour the newspapers and internet looking for men born in the same year as me and show them to my wife. “He’s the same age as me. Do I look that old?” She will look at them, then at me, for much longer than I think she needs to, before she replies, “no, you look your age, they look older.” Which is not quite the reply I’m looking for.
But the person is still in your face waiting for your guestimate. You say a silent farewell to your family and friends and take a punt by deciding the person is sixty-five. “Sixty,” you say and stop breathing. You see the cogs turn behind their eyes and if they don’t storm off, you know you have got it right. “Actually, I’m seventy,” they reply with a forced smile. It’s the one time people will make out they are older than they are to make themselves feel good. It’s an age thing.
But I’m fed up with all this game playing and deception. If I can admit my age, which is mid-ish to late-ish fifties, then I will insist that those around me do the same.
So, the next time someone tells me they are approaching 60, I will reply, “Ah yes, but from which direction?”