H ere's the truth: I've been lying about my age for 40 years. And not in the way you think.
For one thing, I've been telling people I'm 50 years old for over a year now. I will turn 50 in three months. But I am so accustomed now to saying I'm 50 that come April, I'll tell people I'm 51.
It's a tough habit to break.
Strange as it sounds, it's much simpler to lie about your age in a way that makes you look older instead of trying to appear younger. Everyone has an aunt or an old girlfriend or knows someone who refuses to reveal her date of birth and insists she's 38 or 48 for years on end. That's a tough lie to keep up. But who will question someone who insists she's older than she really is?
There has been an excuse for lying in almost every decade of my life. When I was a girl, my sister who was a year-and-a-half older seemed younger because she had Down syndrome. Though I didn't often have to, I wanted to be prepared to protect her, just in case some smart kid decided to make fun of the way she talked or looked. So I often lied, saying that I was her big sister.
In my teenage years, I lied for the obvious reasons that most teenagers lie about their age. I wanted to be older, sexier, freer, more independent, closer to the magic eighteen.
Then, in my 20s, my friend David called on Jan. 1, 1979, freaking out that he was "a quarter-century old." He put the magnitude of being 25 into the perspective of a century and rattled off all the historic changes that had occurred in a quarter century. I decided then and there to skip 25 and swiftly became 26.
The year we were turning 30, David's father, a wise man in his mid-50s told us that age was all a matter of mind-set anyway. He said that no matter how old you are, deep inside you is your authentic self, stuck at the age when you really came into being. For him that was 28. At 54, he said, when he closed his eyes and didn't look at the evidence, he still felt like a 28-year-old man.
I closed my eyes and thought, yes, 28, the perfect age. Almost a real adult, but still youthful. And since I had already been claiming 30 for more than a year, I skipped to 32, figuring that if I were going to feel 28 forever inside, then it didn't really matter what the date on my birth certificate said.
This method really paid off at 40. While my husband, my friends, practically my whole generation of boomers were freaking out over the big 4-0, claiming they couldn't possibly be that old, I was comfortable with my proclaimed age of 41. The big 4-0 was a bad dream that never happened. I attended birthday parties disguised as wakes for Peter Pans and Wendys who never wanted to grow old. "I'm 41; what's the big deal?" I smugly mused.
Now comes the big 5-0 and I fear my method is losing its effectiveness. For over a year, I've claimed I'm 50 and it has felt good, solid, authoritative. In conversations that revolve around some inexplicable mystery of our time, I'll lean back and say, "For god's sake, I'm 50 years old and I still don't understand it." The word, the mere thought of the age has weight and gravity.
But I close my eyes now and, unlike David's father, I don't feel twenty-eight. I can barely remember thirty-eight. And the 50th birthday approaching is like a big bulldozer with a flashing light on top -- Caution! Your life is way more than half over! If you want to change your life, you'd better change it now!
So although on the outside I will be 51 come April (you have to keep up the lie once you're entrenched or people will think you're lying about your age ... oh, forget it, it's too complicated to explain), inside I will have to face the reality of 50. It's a birthday I won't be able to smugly skip over as I did at 40, enjoying the misery of others while I wallowed in the self-satisfaction of stealthily entering the fifth decade without a wince, through the back door.
I'll celebrate the half-century mark by calling David and asking him how it feels. And if he says he still feels 28 inside, I'll tell a little white lie and say, yeah, me too.