There’s being old and then there’s looking old. One you eventually figure out for yourself. The other, people have to tell you about, because you just can’t see it, if you are a man.
Most men have a pretty low bar for feeling good about their appearance. Our expectations influence what the mirror reflects. Wrinkles that might concern a woman, a man sees as character lines or an attractive ruggedness. We don’t need compliments, because we’ve already paid them to ourselves.
This is why it can come as a surprise when someone else sees us as older than we are prepared for. Like when the pharmacist cheerfully offers the senior discount, but we don’t feel old enough yet. Or a young person offers to lift our carry-on into the overhead storage on a plane. These are unexpected, as we believe we look as young as we feel, rather than the age that we are. This was recently demonstrated dramatically enough to leave me reeling from the shock of its revelation.
My lovely wife and I volunteered to help at a dinner given by a local church. Arriving, we found the hall beautifully decorated and the seats at the tables were filled with older parishioners and seniors from the area. Asking where the kitchen was, I was instead invited to find a seat as they would be serving soon. “No, I’m here to help,” I said. We were immediately welcomed into the cheerful clatter of the busy place and put to work.
Later, I was back out in the hall to clear the empty plates before dessert was served. “Hey, sit down. There’s room for you right here,” and “Someone else should do that. Come and join us. The foods delicious,” met me at each table. Then the worst cut of all: one of the teenage servers gently took me by the arm saying, “Excuse me, sir, why don’t you put that stuff down? I’m here to serve you. Can I assist you in finding your seat?”
Assist me in finding a seat? How old do I look? After extricating myself from his kindly grip, I bee-lined it to the bathroom for a long and serious exploration of my face.
There were numerous visits to mirrors over the next several days — a quick, passing glance to catch myself off guard or a long, solitary study when no one was looking — all to assess the aging evidence. The thought kept coming back, “Just how old do I really look?”
Not that there hadn’t been hints: greying hair, lizard eyelids, sagging neck, getting shorter. And I haven’t been carded when buying alcohol this century, even when standing beside a big sign declaring they carded everyone. No one asks about the senior discount anymore; they just give it. In crowded venues, someone always offers me a seat. Everyone “sirs” me. Whenever I speak at a senior center, someone invites me to join. You’d think I’d catch a clue.
Scott Funk lives, works, and writes (and gardens) in Vermont. His Boomer Funk columns are available at VermontFunk.com, as are his blogs and archived Aging in Place columns.