This I believe – As long as I’m working, I can’t be older than 55, or maybe 57 at the most.
I believe that Americans want their children’s teachers, their dentists, their hairdressers, their mid level managers, their colleagues at work to be no more than in their late fifties.
Deep down, we know this. So we diet, color our hair, buy facial treatments, wear stylish clothing, and do everything possible not be appear dowdy, or heaven forbid, old. We call the “50’s” the “new 30’s”, implying that we’re youthful and energetic and healthy in our fifties. But it also is saying that we don’t want to be fifty, that we need to be identified with being thirty.
By keeping my age between 55 and 57 when I’m in a social conversation with a casual acquaintance, what does that mean? That I’m married to a much older man? (Yes, implied, and not really a bad thing.) How old are my children? (Well, never older than 37 or 38 or there will be more eyebrow lifting. That means the youngest can keep getting older, but the oldest may have to stay the same age until I retire and don’t have to do this game anymore.) When did I graduate from college? (Thank goodness it took a few years, as I got married and had a child before finishing.) Grandkids? (This one is tricky. I have a friend who goes through this and was doing quite well until she said that her grandson was graduating from high school this year. Gotcha!)
These questions come up because people don’t want to be rude and outright ask your age.
For many it’s a visceral reaction. There’s a stereotype of what a 60 or 65 year old person looks like, and it’s not me, nor is it many of the boomers. Intellectually, they will deny a prejudice. But you see it in their eyes when they learn your age. And it’s not respect that is reflected, but a kind of horror.
Whether you agree with me or not, when you are meeting people for an evening, or a group is together for a tour, or some other kind of casual social experience, you can watch the person try to guess your age. It relieves boredom, or it helps us determine the future relationship that we will have with that person.
I go through this age game with casual encounters. My close friends know my age, or know it close enough. At work, outside of my supervisor and the HR department, no one else should have to know my age. After all, I enjoy my work and plan to be an active member of our workforce until I’m seventy, maybe more. With all the baby boomers in their sixties by then, we should have lost the stigma of being sixty and working. Of course, I’ll have to reconsider age seventy….