"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What People Really Mean When They Say You Look Much Younger Than You Are

People tell me this a lot.  That I look young.  It often occurs after we have been talking for a few minutes already… in the pharmacy check-out line, at a coffee shop, on an airplane.  Then I say something about how I taught for thirteen years or graduated from UT in 1999 or saw Back to the Future in the theater, and they lean back a little, do some math in their head, and say, “Wow.  You do not look that old.”  And I say thank you.  Then there is sometimes a bit of awkwardness as the person realizes they were just treating me like a child a couple of minutes ago. 

I'm very thankful to have been born in time for Back to the Future.

The Beholder May Need Contacts

Although it is certainly nice to be told that I look young, I don’t actually believe that LOOKS have a whole lot to do with it.  People age you based on a lot of things and the way you look is just one of them.  Marital status, children, clothing, and manner of speaking have just as much impact on the number their brain generates as the smoothness of your skin.  I am married but have no children.  People assume that married people all want to have kids, so they adjust my age down, thinking I haven’t had them YET.  I have been married less than three years.  Again, people still think most couples get married in their twenties, so they adjust again.  And, lastly, I am silly.  I make jokes and say dumb things and giggle.  People adjust down a third time for my immaturity.  So, by the time I tell them that I graduated high school in 1995, they have already decided that a silly newlywed with no children like me can’t possibly be over 25 or 26, and boom-- they are shocked.  This is an entertaining moment.  Sometimes, if you look really closely, you can actually see yourself aging in their eyes.  It’s kinda like when that guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade drank from the wrong Holy Grail, but slower and with less skull-crumbling.

"He chose... poorly."

You also have to be careful about how you react to compliments about your youthful looks because people don’t always mean what they say.  I’ve done some research and you can gauge the sincerity of a person’s comment about your age by how often they repeat it.

 “Wow, you do not look that old!”

If they say it once… They are being polite.  Say thank you.

If they say it twice… They really mean it.  This is a true compliment.  Say thank you and smile.  Blush a little if you want.

If they say it three times… 
They think your actual age is REALLY OLD and are boggled by the fact that someone of your (advanced) age could possibly still be alive.  This happens to people in their late thirties who are talking to people in their early twenties.  People in their early twenties cannot ever imagine being a person in their late thirties.  They are baffled and slightly disgusted by you. Say thank you and then make some snide remark about how you left your walker at home and should probably be getting to bed soon since it’s 6PM and all.  (Don’t expect them to laugh.  They think you are serious.)

If they say it four times… 
They are trying to tell you that you are not dressed appropriately for your age.  Say thank you.  But then go to the restroom and evaluate your outfit.  Sometimes they are right.

If they say it five times… 
They are fishing for something.  It could be your phone number.  It could be a compliment about how young THEY look.  It could be an opening to talk about the emu farm they just started that could use a little extra money to really get going.  It could be proof of your age in the form of your driver’s license or birth certificate.  It could be your pretty little nose, which would make an excellent addition to the collection they keep in the drawer of their night stand.  Say thank you, excuse yourself to the restroom, and then make a run for it.

Me, Halloween 1998, age 22, wearing a costume made for an 8-year-old

It’s Not Just About the Face Cream

In conclusion, the secret to staying young is marrying later in life, choosing not to have children, dressing inappropriately, and talking like an idiot.  Oh, and being really short helps too.  Some people look down and just think you haven’t finished “growing up” yet.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. People always say I look young because umm, I just do.