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Wiley Wandering

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Is It Really Just A Number?

I just had a birthday. Before you think how young I am, let me invite you to wander with Wiley a bit. It never fails how people want to know your age, and the worst thing you can do is choose not to tell someone how old/young you are. Some people get really upset with you behind a refusal to reveal your age. I remember having a lengthy conversation with a woman where she revealed her age to me in the general flow of the conversation. Later, she asked me my age, and when I chose not to tell her, she got really, really upset with me. She told me it was unfair that she had told me her age and I wouldn’t tell her mine. I mentioned to her that I hadn’t asked her age, she offered it, and that I didn’t. I asked her if she offered me the pin number to her ATM card, would I have to give her mine just because she gave me hers. She said it wasn’t a big deal, so why was I making it one. She didn’t see how she was making it quite a big deal as well, arguably a much bigger deal than me, because I really could have cared less how old she was. I can’t begin to describe how upset she was, and trying to discuss it with her logically only infuriated her more.

I am not a game player (at least not anymore than anyone else in the general population) and wasn’t enjoying her anxiety, so I explained it to her. I told her that at 19 years of age I had dated two older women (at different times for those of you who would think lesser of me for lack of dating monogamy) who both were thoroughly enjoying their time with a younger man. Neither one of them had bothered to ask me my age in the early stages of the relationship though they both somewhat knew I was younger, so the relationships developed. Then one day the 24-year young woman (why do we normally refer to someone as 24 years old?) asked me my age, and I unthinkingly told her. Why did I do that? From that point on, she stereotyped me, relegating me to this type of action, this type of thought, reading into my accomplishments or lack thereof, etc. Later, the other woman, who was considerably older than me (let’s just leave it at that) decided she wanted to know my age. You would think I should have learned from the other relationship, but no, not me! Unflinchingly I told her, and once again, the entire relationship changed. Now, I am not silly or naïve enough to think the relationship with the much older woman was anything more than me being a boy-toy or eye candy for her, but still the change in our level of engagement was disturbing. So, at nineteen I made a decision that I would not contribute to anyone else’s preconceived notion of my worth by disclosing relatively irrelevant data like age that would help them prejudge me anymore than they would already be apt to do anyway. Of course I am speaking about adult interactions, because age discussions are important to dating if you are looking anywhere in the direction of someone just entering adulthood. I also realize that not disclosing my age over the years has contributed to another level of scrutiny, but hey, what can you say. I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t, so I decided to control how I would be damned.

I can’t be the only one who has ever been prejudged because of their age. But is it possible that I am the only one who thinks knowing someone’s age is overrated and that we should be judging people by their maturity, energy, actions, etc.? What are your thoughts?

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Comments

G'day to you, J.W.!

When it comes to age, anything is legal. I know I have full blown panic attacks when I have to give my actual birthdate for legal purposes: passport or medical reasons, et al.
I stopped at 39. Jack Benny did it right ... a man of much wit and great wisdom.
What is middle age - old age? I remember getting an AARP membership application when I considered myself - maybe - just hitting middle age.
Restaurants are the worst offenders. "Senior Citizen" discounts were 55, then, it was 60, then 62 ... now it's hiked to 65 .... Just when I think I'm eligible, the baseline is raised. I can't win.
Therefore ... I now celebrate anniversaries of my 39th. Even my 42 year old son and 38 year old daughter don't know for sure. I've lied for so many years, even I don't remember!

Best regards to you!

Lynda

Well, this blog is so provocative on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin...Maybe with a belated "Happy Birthday, JW"

Your description of your conversation with the woman who revealed her age while you withheld yours evokes multiple reactions. One, I dare say, is compassion for her because, while your analogy to an ATM pin is clever, it is somewhat different to reveal loaded, personal information and have the person not reciprocate. It can leave a person somewhat vulnerable and anxious, as you noted. My hypothesis (?projection) is that she might have been letting you know her age in the "flow" of conversation because, if this were a potentially romantic interaction, she felt self-conscious about her age and needed to somehow put that to rest. Although alleviating her anxiety was not your responsibility, you probably heightened it by not allowing her to get the "age thing" out of the way. Still, you are right, you had no obligation to fill in that blank for her.

Your resistance to doing so fascinates me on a few levels. Primarily, it seems that, based on your experiences at 19, you anticipated some negative stereoyping based on your "youth". This strikes me as so odd- that a "younger man" in a relationship with an "older woman" would need to feel self-concious or self-protective- as if yours was the "lesser" status. The discrimiation usually goes the other way, no? In this society youth (once beyond childhood) is favored over age, particularly in areas of beauty, romance and sexuality. So, why a young man would anticipate some discrimination from an older woman is interesting to me.- And, the negative experiences you report having had at 19 make me very curious. I wonder how the women with whom you were involved processed the information about your age? What stereotypes or preconceived notions were they operating under when the relationships changed? How did the relationships change? Unless you had a frank discussion with them at the time, how do you know your assumptions were correct about how they now perceived you? Where do your own stereotypes of young men (and older women)fit into your inerpretation of what happened? And where do peoples' stereoypical expectations of others bump up against their own self-concepts. For example, if an older woman finds herself attracted to/involved with a much younger man- the particular issues that this presents for her may be based entirely on her sense of herself- her confidence as an older woman. If she backs off it may be about her devaluing herself in some way- and not the other.
As I reread this, I think that the missing ingredient in so much of the way we process interactions is frank communication with the other. Nothing new or profound there.

One last question- what kind of scrutiny do you encounter - or believe you encounter- when you choose to keep your age to yourself? I would imagine that people would have different hypotheses about your choice to do that, e.g. that you are someone who thinks carefully about what you want people to know about you vs. reflexly answering questions -Or, that you might want to maintain some power in the relationship or interaction by withholding, Or that you have issues with your age- Or...that simply,
as you state in your blog, you feel people should assess others along criteria that are far more significant than age (and certainly more valid than assumptions we all make about age) which are, as you list them, maturity, energy, action etc. My vote would be heavily toward the latter interpretation- but I would need to know more about you to rule out the others. For example- how old are you?
Kidding.

"But is it possible that I am the only one who thinks knowing someone’s age is overrated and that we should be judging people by their maturity, energy, actions, etc.?"

No, it is not possible.

Mr Wiley,
A couple (just a couple) of years ago, I was in the emergency room. It was about 4:00 am and I had been there for several hours. So you know I was not looking my best. Any way, an assistant came in to see how I was doing and he asked me my age. I debated briefly as to whether I would lie (like I have for the past 20 years) or tell him the truth. I went for the truth. "50", I said. He said "50, you must be lying". So, after I felt great from his compliment, I was not sure if I should continue to tell the truth to get compliments on how good I look (for my age) or should I continue to lie because of how good I look (for my age). I decided to let anyone who really cares about my age to ask my mother. She is so proud to have 7 children, she loves to tell how old we all are. And you would never guess her age.

Everyone is entitled to choices when it comes to disclosing personal information about themselves to others, including age. I respect those who choose to keep their age private, for whatever reason. I don't think I would ever refuse to tell someone my age. I just feel if someone allows themselves to negitively judge me based on my age, before they know the real me, then I would rather invest precious moments of my life forming a healthy relationship with someone who is open-minded and fair. I do agree with your principle that one should not be judged by age and maybe your "no tell" policy will provoke the thoughts of those who should re-evaluate their way of thinking.

EDR

I must admit, I agree on some level with the woman who was upset with you not telling her your age. While it is certainly your right to disclose or not disclose personal information, it seems silly, to me, to keep such trivial information private.

While you may be judged based on your age, you could hardly deny that people of different ages act differently and are going to be different. A person who was alive during world war 2 has a different outlook on things than a person who was born in 1977. Or, in less extreme terms, a college student who is 17 is (generally, though not always) less mature than a college student who is 22. Now, that is a generalization, sure--but so long as people keep an open mind they might say, "You're very mature for a 17 y/o" or of course, "You're not very mature for a 22 y/o"

At your age (whatever it may be) it should not be a problem to discuss your age--I cannot imagine it will be for me. I prefer living my life as an open book--if another wishes to look down upon me because I am age X, or because I have hobby Y--I let them and move on with my life.

I think the reason some people may be upset when you refuse to tell them your age, it's because it feels like you do not trust them. And everybody wants to be trusted.

Hi JW ... I guess I didn't see this when you posted it ..... but in a way, thats cool, 'cause I saw it today ..... and then received something in my email from my younger ;-) .... sister today .... that made me think of your posting. For me.... I guess age is a bit of a gift ... and althought I don't like all that it does to me..... for the most part... becoming "old" has been a rather wonderful journey for me. So .... I will share with you what I received.... which, for all intents and purposes .... in many ways, says what I feel about being "old".

The other day a young person asked me
how I felt about being old. I was taken aback, for I do not think of myself as old. Upon seeing my reaction, she was immediately
embarrassed, but I explained that it was an interesting question, and I would ponder it, and let her know.

Getting older, I decided, is a gift.
I am now, probably for the first time in
my life, the person I have always wanted to be.

Oh, not my body! I Sometime despair over my body, the wrinkles, the baggy eyes,
and the sagging butt. And often I am taken aback by that older person that lives in my mirror (who looks like my father did when he was 50!!!!), but I don't agonize over those things for long.

I would never trade my amazing friends,
my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I've aged, I've become more kind to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend.

I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn't need, but looks so avante garde on my
patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant.

I have seen dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great
freedom that comes with aging.

Whose business is it if I choose
to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon on the weekends?

I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60&70's, and if I, at the
same time, wish to weep over a lost love ... I will.

I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set.

They, too, will get old.

I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.

Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody's beloved
pet gets hit by a car?

But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my
youthful laughs be forever etched into slight wrinkles on my face.

So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn
silver.

As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think.
I don't question myself as much anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong.... several times a day!!

So, to answer your question, I, my sweet youthful one, Ilike being older. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still
here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about
what will be.

And I shall eat dessert every single day.
(If I feel like it).

And BTW ... Happy Belated Birthday, JW!

*** CC, I loved the sentiment that accompanied your posting. You almost make me want to forego my thoughts about age and the subtleties of ageism. Almost! Oh, and you definitely appear to be only getting better... *** -- J.W.

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