I like to let my mind wander when I drive. On my weekly commute yesterday, I got to thinking about social constructs. Mainly because of the discussion I had with one of my friends that same day. Her boyfriend was born in Bangladesh 32 years ago, but his passport says he’s only 31. The embassy must have made a mistake with his date of birth and now, in America, where he’s lived for about 10 years, he’s officially a year younger than he actually is. The crazy part is that he has now internalized his new age, and refers to himself as being 31, not 32. My first reaction was a mix of ‘Wow, how lucky, he gains an extra year!’ and ‘It’s disturbing that such a big error would be made on such an important document.’ Then, I found it pretty weird that he would ignore his real age and act like he is only 31. I thought that, if it were me, I would be very aware of the reality and never mix up the two.
And then, on my drive, it dawned on me: what if age was yet another social construct? It’s all about perception, after all. For instance, I’m a person for whom it’s very important to keep track of time. Anniversaries, dates and duration are a big deal to me, and you *may* have noticed that I talk about my age quite a lot. When I’m older, I’ll probably never lie about my age, because I personally find it unsettling. I need to be aware of time passing, and be firmly grounded in a timeline. But, come to think of it, my behavior and comfort zone are completely determined by the society I live in. Every date is documented, people know exactly when they have sent and received every email, and everyone’s birthday is on Facebook. So what if I started telling people that I’m 32, all of a sudden? What would it change for me, besides their perception of me?
I also realized that I’ve always been very judgmental of people who lie about their age, because it unsettles me personally. Take the plot of the show Younger, for instance. (I know, I know, any excuse to start talking about TV, right?) Liza (pictured above) is a 40-year-old mom from NJ and pretends to be 26 in order to land an assistant job in publishing. The premise fascinates me, because of the implied social experiment, but I find myself judging the main character pretty hard. For me, she is a liar first and foremost, and people deserve the truth. But the interesting thing is: why? Why does this particular truth matter? If she were lying about anything else that we consider a pure fact, like her height, her weight or blood type, it wouldn’t matter at all. But because age is such a heavily loaded question, because it allows us to put people in categories according to where they are in life, we find it crucial. So sure, the main character is lying to everyone in her life, but the point is, she didn’t have to try really hard to make that lie stick. She introduces herself as a 26-year-old and BOOM, everyone believes her, just like that. Because people will believe what you tell them, most of the time.
So really, is age all that important? We could argue that it’s just a number, that it’s all about how you feel on the inside. It sounds cliché but it might just be true. Liza lies about her age but she is sincere with the people in her life, about everything else. So why should it be a big deal? Maybe I would be less afraid of the passing of time if I let go for a minute and stopped counting the days, weeks and months.
That’s what I reflected upon, on my drive yesterday.
Then, I looked in my rear view mirror for a second.
I saw my frown lines.
And then, I concluded that age exists, after all.