Tell Your Age? Who Needs to Know?

Copyright 2006 Barbara Morris, R.Ph.

When older people – men and women — meet for the first time, very early into the encounter they often volunteer their age.

Why do they do it? To show off, if they think they look good for their age? Or, do they want assurance they look as good as they think they do? Is it because older people often receive few compliments — about anything?

Many older people, especially women, not only suffer from touch deprivation – they also have to deal with being invisible. Society looks right by wrinkles and gray hair in search of more visually attractive beings. Are our values screwed up? You bet.

It’s difficult to know for sure why revelation of age seems important to older people. But one thing is certain — young people don’t do it. They don’t care what others think. Why should they – they are beautiful and they know it. They don’t need to do “reality checks” about their appearance or what others think of them.

When I speak before women’s groups about how to manage the aging process, I suggest they do not tell their age and I explain why they should not. Nevertheless, after my talk, more than a few come up to me and almost immediately reveal their age.

When we meet new people, we normally don’t reveal political or religious affiliation or any other personal information right away. Revelation of such information, if at all, comes much later in a relationship. Why do we feel compelled to tell our age at all? Who needs to know? I just don’t get it.

The reality is, others accept us more non-judgmentally when our age is not known.

From personal experience I know a huge difference exists between others knowing you are “about” a certain age and their knowing your exact age. Once your age is exposed, their attitude and the manner in which they relate to you changes. Most often, if you are older than you appear, judgment of your competence and abilities tales a negative turn. It may be obvious or subtle, but it’s undeniable.

Everyone holds an image of what people at different stages of aging should look, think, dress, and behave like. Whether we admit it or not, when we learn the age of another, we automatically apply our biases, perceptions and expectations to how that person should be, and we deal with him or her accordingly.

At any age, the number of years you have lived should not determine perception of your competence, ability or worth. However, knowledge of chronological age often influences whether doors of opportunity open for you.

As an older person, when you choose to reveal your age, you change the outcome of potential business and personal relationships. In business, women in particular, often suffer if perceived as “old.” The definition of “old” in some business situations may be age forty. If a woman looks younger and keeps her age to herself, she holds a winning hand.

Many women say they are proud of the number of years they have lived and make no effort to hide or conceal their age. I applaud their courage. But at the same time, I do not lose sight of the fact that our society, as open as it is to most anything, is still in the dark ages about accepting older people for who they are.

Our society is ageist. It’s not cool to be old – however you define “old”. But based on our own perception of “old” we all know it when we see or think we see it.

Without question, the most interesting and productive women I know do not reveal their age and it works to their advantage. They stay in charge of their aging process and welcome all the options and opportunities that accompany their decision to be ageless.

By refusing to cave in to antediluvian age related social mores, they achieve a level of liberation that allows them to stay young in every sense of the word for as long as they choose.