Friday, May 3, 2013

A Pre-Birthday Burning Question (and Answer): How Old Do I Really Look Now?

A few years ago, I took an online test designed to determine how old you are on the inside. After answering a series of health-related questions (Do you smoke? What do you eat? How often do you drink/exercise/have sex? Do certain chronic illnesses, like diabetes and hypertension, run in your family?), you were given your medical age.

Naturally, as with your cosmetic age, the further below your chronological age, the better. I turned out to be a robust 34, which was slightly disappointing (damn that genetic hypertension and diabetes, the latter of which I've thankfully avoided thus far), because I was on the cusp of 40 at the time, and I was used to being told I looked at least a decade younger. But it certainly beat the results of my friend, who was four years younger than me chronologically and a year older than me medically.

I probably should have gone out and celebrated adding about five years to my life. And it wasn't as if I'd been told that I looked 34. Let's face it: Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us are slaves to our vanity. When it comes to age and guessing games, it's what's on the outside that counts most, and who doesn't love being told they look a lot younger than they are?

Up to now, I've been pretty lucky. People usually count backwards when they guess my age. Two years ago, I met a 19 year old in an Auckland club who placed me around 26. Normally, I give credit to Kiehl's Facial Fuel, but that night it was all about booze and great lighting.With enough whiskey and the right dimmer, it's so much easier to pass for twentysomething. When I met up with the 19 year old the next afternoon to see The Hangover Part II, I wasn't about to ask him how old I looked now!

I hope his guess-timate still would have been more flattering than the one I got last night in my living room, where I had neither the benefit of whiskey nor good lighting. I was sitting across from a 25-year-old university student, thinking he looked more like 30, which was actually a good thing (though I'm sure he would have disagreed had I told him what I was really thinking when he asked). When you're over 40, the numerical difference between 25 and 30 is negligible, but 30 is so much hotter.

Switching mental subjects, I started talking about my plans for my birthday next week (May 7), which, of course, brought us right back to the age thing.

"Cuantos años vas a cumplir?"

"44." I couldn't tell a lie.

He looked as surprised as I was hoping he would. I was also hoping that whatever came next would start with a 2, but apparently, that 10-peso bill I'd been given by the cashier at the panaderia yesterday morning, the one with words in Spanish scribbled on it that promised me good luck for the rest of the day, had gotten it all wrong.

"Pareces mas como 35 a 40."

What? That old? Nobody had ever told me I look 40 before. My first thought was that I should probably turn off another light. My second was that what he knew about my life -- that I had been a journalist for many years in New York City, and I've been living abroad forever -- must have informed the age-range he would have assigned to me. My third was that he'd actually remembered that I was already over 40 when he met me two years ago, so he was aiming for a little realism in what he perceived as flattery. My fourth: Well, if I had to guess my own age, I probably wouldn't go a year under 40. At least he'd gone five.

In the end, I decided to accentuate the positive. Looking nine to four years younger than my soon-to-be new age is a lot better than some of the dreadful alternatives (like not being around to welcome it). And for the first time since my next birthday started creeping up on me, I actually felt relieved to be turning one year older. To look four years younger than my age is certainly better than three.

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