The hard realities of looking older than you are

I remember the year after I graduated from high school, how I would visit friends that still attended there from time to time. If I had a day off from work, I would dash over and join them for lunch. This actually went on for a couple of years, and I remember thinking it was pretty cool how I could be nearing 19 or so and still fitting in with a bunch of high school students.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I was living in Burnaby, B.C. and one day, I thought I’d do something for my health and pick up some vitamins at the mall. The sales lady agreed that would be a great idea, assuming I was in my ‘late 20s’. I was barely 20.

Gone were the days of fooling anybody about my age, apparently. High school kids would now think I was the dreaded substitute teacher, or even worse, maybe one of the parents. Groan.

Much of this, I believed, had to do with my rapidly receding hairline.

What to do? By this point, I was again living in Red Deer and thought I would check out one of those places that sell hairpieces – the expensive kind they glue onto your head and you have to have readjusted every few weeks. I remember feeling an unnerving mix of embarrassment and excitement as I saw my head covered in brown, wavy locks like I had when I was in high school.

The years melted away. But the thought of having something glued to my scalp didn’t sit well, so I promptly abandoned the idea. Baldness was my destiny, and I would simply accept it and move forward.

But I had to accept also that I looked older for my age. I went to SAIT in Calgary to study journalism when I was 26, and I recall one of the younger students – she was probably around 18 – saying how she admired me coming back to school ‘at my age’. At my age? What did she think, that I was in my mid-50s? Cue the insecurities – already raging at this point in my life.

Fast-forward to about three years ago.

I was about 43 and shopping at a bookstore in Lacombe. The clerk asked me if I was eligible for the ‘seniors’ discount’. I could hardly believe my ears. There is no experience quite like being hit with the hard truth about what others perceive about you – when it’s not to your liking.

It’s happened more times since then. A waitress here in the City has assumed twice that I am a senior. The second time I told her I wasn’t, but she said she would give me the senior’s discount anyhow. Maybe she thinks I’m in denial?

And then just last Sunday, another waiter didn’t even bother to ask. He just gave me the senior’s discount on the bill.

That’s when I decided to adopt a new attitude toward this – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. It was nice getting the brunch for a few dollars less, after all.

The bottom line is, the passage of time is of course unstoppable. Life courses by at what seems like a faster pace then it used to. And I’m okay with that. Really, we all have to be. At 46, I have found I must accept certain things about my life – when you are in your 20s and even in your 30s, you feel like there is all kinds of time left to do all kinds of things.

But now, I find life seems to offer fewer choices – not poorer choices necessarily, but different choices.

And the irony is, interestingly enough, I wouldn’t go back to my younger days even if I could.

Age brings with it some special gifts, like perspective, a dash of wisdom, a stronger sense of confidence, an increased sense of being ‘okay’ with who you are and less of a craving to be accepted by everybody. That used to plague me as a younger man. I wanted everyone to approve of me, to like me. Even people that honestly, I didn’t even really like. But now, that peculiar ‘need’ has been left behind.

So society, bring on the offers of seniors’ discounts – I have made peace with the fact I look older than I am. It sure makes those pricey Sunday brunches more affordable. I will eat my pancakes in peace – older, but a bit wiser, a little less self-conscious and hopefully with an eye to how I can help impact others in a positive way. Life needs to become more about others than it is about me – and perhaps that’s the most liberating lesson we can learn as the years pass.

editor@reddeerexpress.com

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