My husband and I were getting ready to go out to eat last weekend, and he asked what I thought of the shirt he had just put on. I told him that it looked nice, but it might be just a little too casual for the restaurant we were going to. We were celebrating our anniversary, so we were going to a new restaurant that had a reputation for being a bit formal. When we were driving home after our dinner, he mentioned that he thought he could have worn the original shirt after all, since not everyone else eating there had been dressed up, and that “it was mostly the older people who were wearing suits and dresses.” I answered, perhaps a bit too honestly, “Yes, but to all those young diners, we are the older people!”
I remember talking to a friend at her 50th birthday party, and she described how she had thrown a 50th birthday party for her father years ago, when she was still in her twenties. She invited all of her parents’ friends to her house, and she remembered thinking how weird it was to see “all those old people partying.” Now that she was celebrating her own 50th birthday, did that mean her kids thought she was an “old” person, partying with her “old” friends? Sadly, I had to admit that they probably did. I’m sure that would have been my son’s reaction, given how often he rolls his eyes and mutters “old people” whenever I ask him a particularly naive question about my computer. (If he keeps that up, I’m going to have remind him that I may be up there in age, but I’m certainly not too old to change my will. And unless he loses the attitude, it won’t be in his favor.)
The simple fact is that age is a very relative term. I remember when I thought thirty was impossibly old, until I actually turned thirty, at which point I decided that you had to be at least forty to be well and truly old. And now that I’m in my late fifties, I’m finding that I keep pushing back the upper age limit of what I consider to be my middle years, because the only thing that follows middle age is old age. And I’m just not ready for old age yet, no matter what I see when I look in the mirror.
Maybe the answer is to stop letting people younger than me decide whether or not I am old. Recently, I was at a ballgame and went to the concession stand to get an ice cream cone. An elderly man took my order and had begun filling the cone from the soft-serve ice cream machine when he looked back at me over his shoulder, winked, and added four extra inches of ice cream to the cone before handing it to me with a flourish. I would probably have been much more flattered if he had been under the age of eighty (he wasn’t) and still had at least half of his teeth (he didn’t.) But realizing that it was just possible that he saw me as young and pretty, I smiled and thanked him gratefully before heading back to my seat with my enormous ice cream cone.
Yes, age is definitely a relative term. And I’m sure the day is coming, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, when I will define “old” as someone who is at least 95, and not a day younger.