Has this ever happened to you?
You’re in a restaurant. In your line of vision is another table with, let’s say, three couples. You unconsciously absorb the physical details of the six well-dressed people who are about to eat their appetizers. You notice the gray hair on the partially bald men, the obviously chemically-treated hair of the women, the flashlights on the I-phones to help illuminate the menu when reading glasses aren’t enough. And yes, those are hearing aids snugly tucked behind at least three pairs of ears.
And your conclusion? Boy, there’s sure a lot of old people in this place!
Sticking with reality for the moment, as painful as that might be, the fly on the wall tells you that the woman on the left is celebrating her birthday tonight. And guess what? She is, in fact, a whole year younger than you are. Wow, she should take better care of herself!
The question is, how accurately do we see ourselves? In public places I frequently find myself scrutinizing people I consider “older,” trying to determine their ages. Funny how I consistently conclude that they must be at least ten years older than I am.
With each passing year, reconciling my chronological age with the “me” that exists inside my head, is becoming more and more challenging. The person that lives behind my face cannot possibly be related to that D.O.B. I just wrote down on the doctor’s intake form!
While I can’t exactly pinpoint at precisely which decade my self-view became arrested, I can assure you that my alter ego is, in fact, still paying full price for a movie ticket.
And that lovely 21-year-old woman calling for “Grandma” can’t possibly mean me.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, I don’t avoid mirrors. That would be difficult, if not impossible. I prefer to confront my reflection rather than poke myself in the eye with a mascara wand.
But I have discovered a few enhancement tricks that I’m happy to share. Be sure to place your mirror away from the possibility of naked sunlight streaming through the window. And never, never make the mistake of looking into a magnified make-up mirror while wearing a pair of reading glasses!
And what about photographs? I will admit that lately I’ve grown more camera-shy. The person living inside my head is not always happy to be mistaken for the woman in the picture. And selfies are definitely a no-no. My arms aren’t long enough.
I know that men can have a similar reaction. My husband, for example, is frequently alarmed by his captured image, and can be heard to mutter “Who’s that old man?”
And then there’s my 91-year-old uncle who stated the other day that his peers “look so old,” implying with that comment that he didn’t see himself that way. He might be correct. I don’t know his friends.
So, do I really want to know how the rest of the world views me, or continue to exist in the bubble labeled “you’re as young as you feel?” And except for the forty-five minutes in the morning that it takes me to recover from night-time stiffness, fortunately, I feel pretty good.
But the illusion is not fool-proof. In spite of my personal inner life, the world continually presents a series of reality checks.
The cashier behind the ticket window never asks me for proof of age when I say “one senior, please.” (Well, what can you expect? She’s probably only eighteen and everyone over thirty looks old to her!)
Young men have occasionally offered me a seat on a crowded bus. I don’t require it, but I accept. Pride is one thing, comfort quite another.
The bagger in the super market offers to help me load my cart full of groceries into my car. I flex my muscles and tell him I’ll be fine, thank you. Clearly, he has no clue that he is actually addressing a much younger woman than may appear in his mirror
In spite of considering myself to be a confident woman with real, more serious values, I have a sneaky feeling that this duel between perception and reality will go on. And I will continue to derive pleasure and satisfaction to hear from someone who has just learned my age “Oh, I’m shocked. You certainly don’t look it!” Not like those other guys. You know, the ones in the restaurant.
It could very well be that this phenomenon is just a normal part of the aging process. (Not that I’m aging, of course.)
And perhaps this quote says it all: “Inside every older person there’s a younger person wondering what happened!”