In the last two weeks, I’ve had freakishly frequent comments from strangers about my age. Or, more specifically, about what age they perceive me to be.
I haven’t shrunken six inches nor gotten a new haircut, and I don’t dress like I listen to Miley Cyrus. So what gives?
Last Saturday my mother-in-love took me and my sister-in-loves for some manis/pedis. As I sat down in the chair at Gene Juarez, a 60-year-old Russian woman stared back at me. She had bleached hair, false eyelashes, and long acrylic nails. That wasn’t charming, but her accent was: when she spoke, it sounded like, “I vant to luke at yore nals.”
Her first question for me: “Woo did you come here vith?”
“Oh, my mother-in-law, sitting right over there,” I said, pointing. “She’s taking all her daughters out.”
“NO!” she gasped. “No, no, no, dis is not posseebul. You? Mahhreed? I thought you vere in high school.”
What do I say to that? Am I insulted? Flattered?
What people don’t realize is that when you’re in your twenties, you’re in a no-fly zone. The air is still. You’re not striving to be younger, you’re not striving to be older. You just are where you are.
And I’m fully aware of the advantages of this position. I know teens would kill to be in their twenties and those at middle-age would give up their 401Ks to revisit 25.
But there is another side to this position: uncertainty. I am not established. At 26 I’m still trying to work in a professional career, attempting to be taken seriously. I’m not searching for compliments on my wrinkle-free face.
In fact, the only reason I started wearing makeup was to be perceived as older, so those around me in cubicle-land wouldn’t treat me like their adolescent daughter.
Yesterday, as I was checking out of Trader Joes, the 70-year-old checker gave me my receipt, and then said, “Now, I didn’t check your ID for the wine you bought, but I just looked at you and realized I definitely should have. But I see you’re wearing a wedding ring, so how young could you possibly be? Basically what I’m saying is I have to know how old you are.”
Sigh. This again. The line of people behind me stared at attention.
“I’m 26,” I admitted.
“Well, miss, may I say you are doing 26 quite well,” he offered, as some sort of concession.
What does that even mean? How can one not be looking well at 26? If I were 46 and all this was happening, I’d be dancing my way across the parking lot with my groceries.
Which is why this bothers me, to some degree. What people are basically trying to say is that I look like a teenager. The worst example yet:
Last summer while on vacation with my family in Europe, Erin (older sister), Sam (younger sister) and Mike decided to go out to a club, which happened to be “18 and over.” We didn’t bring our IDs because we didn’t think it was an issue.
As we’re all approaching the entrance, two bouncers look us up and down. They wave Mike in. Wave Erin in. Wave Sam in.
They hold up their palms at me. “Nope. Sorry this is 18 and over,” one says to me.
I look behind him at my three stunned companions standing in the doorway.
“Are you serious?” I reply. “I’m 25! I’m MARRIED to that man. It’s illegal in the states to be married unless you’re 18.”
“Unless you can show me ID, you can’t enter,” he says.
Sam is almost beside herself with joyful giggles that she, who is four years younger than me, is standing inside the club while I am outside getting harassed for looking 17.
He finally looks at me with pity. He says, “Quick — what year were you born?!”
“1984!” I shout with an embarrassing amount of hope in my eyes.
“Fine,” he says, and waves me through.
I know, I know. You’re going to bank this story and bring it up to me when I’m 45 and in the waiting room of the plastic surgery office. Just promise me when you do, you’ll follow it up with “and you could STILL pass for 17.” I won’t believe you, but post-op I’ll probably buy you a drink.