Yesterday I celebrated my 29th birthday. My golden birthday, no less, on the 29th! Being somewhat of a numbers nerd, I have been very excited about this lucky birthday for awhile now.
So it happened that, when people asked, “so how old are you this year?” and I replied excitedly, “29!” They responded with a knowing, “oh, yes, ’29.’ Well, if it makes you feel any better, [insert well-intentioned consolation comment about my appearance and occasionally my personality here].”
Wait, what!? I am ACTUALLY turning 29! Why does no one believe me?
Because, it appears, 29 is the age given by every woman ever* who doesn’t want to reveal her true (undoubtedly older than 29) age. Until, that is, it becomes a bit too much of a stretch, and she graduates to 39. And, presumably 49, and so on and so forth (or does it stop at 49 forever?)
This aversion to being content with one’s age is something that has bothered me for a long time. Since I was the apparently-enviable age of about 9, I remember adults commenting on how great it was to be a kid, how they wished they could be young again, and so on and so forth. Simultaneously, my friends were talking about how great it would be to be 10. Double digits! Then, how great it would be to finally be a teenager. Hooray, puberty and awkwardness! Then, how great it would be to be 16, and drive a car. Hooray, car insurance and gas money and the responsibility not to kill everyone in your immediate vicinity! Then, 18, a real adult. Porn and cigarettes? And 19, a REAL real (legally) drinking adult (Oh, Canada!).
Then, at some point after 20, it came into vogue to start talking about the good ol’ days. Wait, already? We’re already old enough to be ashamed of our age? When did this happen? One would almost think “mid-life crisis” should occur at 20-25 instead of 40-45, because that’s what we as a society apparently treat as the climax between the excitement to be older and the longing to be younger (in fact, some of my friends invoked a “quarter-life crisis” as an excuse for making certain crazy decisions). Why can’t we just be happy with who we are in all the different stages of life?
Maybe you’re sitting here reading this, at the ripe old age of *ahem* ’29,’ and thinking “you’ll understand when you’re older.” Maybe you won’t believe me when I say it, and will write it off as the naivety of youth, but I intend to be happy with 30 when I get there, and with 40 and 60 and 80 too, if I’m blessed to live that long. I will not lie about my age, because I don’t want to contribute to cheating future 29-year-olds out of the joy of attaining that age. Age is a number, after all, and numbers are essentially meaningless unless we imbue them with meaning, so why not make it a source of pride rather than a source of shame?
*By “every woman ever” I should qualify that I am referring primarily to women within the Western culture in which I was raised. In Japan, for example, age is less a source of conversational taboo, but it is well known that Western women are uncomfortable with the topic. When students ask my age in class, they are often scolded by their Japanese teachers, because Western women get “angry” if you ask their age (or overestimate it). Sometimes I make them guess, especially the boys, just for kicks, to see the fear in their eyes, but I always reveal my real age to them in the end.
How old *are* you, or, how old do you say you are? Do you lie about your age? Is there an age you were, or are, most excited about? If you could redefine your current or soon-to-be age (like “The Happiness Year”), how would you describe it?