Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What's My Age Again?

I know, I know. At 15, Aaliyah said it best (if a tad ungrammatically) in the title of her 1994 debut album: Age ain't nothing but a number.

Normally, I'd be inclined to agree -- anything to ease the slight fear and loathing being brought on by my rapidly approaching mid 40s -- except ain't that so not the total truth. I'm reminded of this every time I see someone of a certain age (in general, 50ish and above) trying to look like it's 20 years ago. The reality of age being a lot more than just a number hits me whenever I'm face to face with someone half my age -- or less -- like that 18-year-old Swedish guy who wants to take me to bed.

Comforting as it might be, age is a lot more complicated than simple numerical values, which I'm reminded of every time I find myself in a hospital waiting room with some imagined ailment that never would have crossed my mind before I hit 35. If age were just a number, maybe I'd be better at computing mine. I was always so good at math.

Remember when you were younger -- as in, under 21 -- and your wildest dream was that everyone would think you were older? After they changed the legal drinking age in the U.S. from 19 to 21, I spent several years counting down to the day I'd reach that magic number (May 7, 1990). It's been backwards chronologically ever since.

Well, at least for the next 20 years. That's when my days of wishing I were older were over for good. From then on, I'd hang on to whatever age I was until the clock struck midnight on the West Coast signaling the segueing of May 6 into May 7. Though I was usually on Eastern time (except for the year I turned 35 in Paris and my years in Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Bangkok), those extra few hours meant everything to me.

Then something strange happened after I turned 40. By the latter part of 41, I found myself automatically rounding my age up a year. Whenever anyone asked me how old I am, I was always 42, although my birthday wasn't until months from then. Part of me figured it was just because I prefer even numbers. And if I'm going to misstate my own age, at least I'm not resorting to desperate age-defying antics like intentionally lying about it to fool people into thinking I'm younger (which I've never done, by the way)? That's what those near-daily workouts are for!

And if you're going to bother, why not lie bigger? I mean, aside from Mariah Carey (as a former People magazine colleague of mine once uncovered, she's been shaving one year off her age since she became famous, making her currently 43, not 42), who'd waste their time with anything less than two years, right?

Hopefully, that's not where this is heading. Once I was a nice and even 42, I didn't stop adding another year prematurely, and now that I'm odd again -- 43 -- I've taken it a step further. I'm unintentionally lying to myself, too, not just others. This morning as I was running around Lumpini Park, thinking about what's to come this week, I remembered that my sister is turning 50 on Friday.

50!

What a big number -- though it does seem somewhat less daunting now than it did a few years ago. Tom Cruise already turned it, and before the year is over, so will Demi Moore and Jodie Foster. And next year, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp get to find out what it feels like to hit the half-century mark. I shuddered a little inside. On the plus side (or the minus side, depending on whether, like me, you secretly think growing older can be as much of a good thing), I've got six years to prepare myself for going there, too. Hey, I thought to myself, maybe 44 isn't such a bad number, after all.

Wait, 44? What was I thinking? I won't be 44 until next May. I couldn't believe it. I was still rounding up, and there was no one else around. I tried to convince myself that I'm just trying to get even in my mind. I'm not a victim of SORAS ("soap opera rapid aging syndrome" -- a daytime-drama phenomenon where 10-year-old kids go upstairs to study and come down a few months later, fully grown and ready for sex). I'm not about to be recast with an older-looking model.

But just in case, if, several birthdays from now, you see 50 candles on my cake instead of 45 or 46, and I'm looking considerably more ancient, remember: It's just a number!

Hey, denial can be bliss, too.
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