I’m 31 today. Not 29 for the third time. Not “a woman of a certain age.” And I’m certainly not “the new 20.” I’m 31 and I’m totally okay with that. I was not in a very good place when I was 20. You couldn’t pay me to be 17 or 13 or even 8 again. 30, and so far 31, have been very good to me. I’m finally learning to measure my years not by my accomplishments but by the quality of relationships in my life. I’m very blessed to have a loving family and the best friends – and I hope you don’t mind that I’m counting all of you in here – a girl could ask for.
I was not always this Yoda about my chronology. There was a time I lied about my age.
My 27th year, my birthday fell just days after moving to a new town. All new TV stations to memorize, three new phone numbers to rattle off, a baby due any minute and hundreds of new people to meet; you will forgive me for forgetting my birthday. Life was in upheaval that day and so when a new acquaintance asked my age, I said what came naturally: 26. That in and of itself would not have been a problem if once I had realized my mistake, I had corrected it.
It turned out that the girl I told I was 26 was in charge our neighborhood playgroup and as she relayed that information – along with my due date, my kids names and ages, and my shoe size (8 1/2 in case anyone needs gift suggestions) – to all my new mommy friends. Embarrassed, I just went along with it. Then, for consistency’s sake, whenever anyone else asked my age, I told them 26. I did this for an entire year. You can imagine the web of lies that created.
Frankly, I’m amazed it lasted as long as it did. The moment of truth – literally – finally came on my birthday the next year. I was turning 28 but all my friends thought I was 27, just like I’d been telling them for the past, oh, twelve months. Surprise! They showed up at my house on my birthday to kidnap me for a wild night of dessert we didn’t have to cook and girl talk that revolved around anything except due dates, kids and shoe sizes. “Happy 27th Birthday!” they all cried. And then my husband busted out laughing. I think he might have actually fallen on the floor.
“Charlotte’s 28!” he guffawed.
My friends, confused, looked at me. Who was wrong – me or my husband? Me. Sigh.
I ‘fessed up. Thankfully all my friends remained my friends afterward although to this day when I tell someone how old I am, Gym Buddy Allison always laughs and asks me, “Are you sure?“
The year of lying about my age was not without precedent. I have a history of wanting to be someone I am not. When I was younger and wanting to get in to the clubs or date certain boys, I’d lie and say I was older. Being a basically good kid, that was rare. More often I’d say I was younger. As an overachieving child, one of the most frequent comments I’d get was, “Wow, you’ve sure done a lot for your age!” or “It’s amazing to see someone so young already have accomplished so much.” I loved praise. I ate it up. I’d do anything to get it again.
The problem with all child prodigies however is that we grow up. What was remarkable at 12 is normal at 20 and old hat by 30. For a while, in my 20’s, I lied about my age simply to buy myself more time to fulfill everyone’s expectations of me. I was afraid to grow older and not be able to keep pace with the impossible standard I’d already set for myself. Never in my life did I get any grade less than an A. A bachelor’s degree at 19, a Master’s degree at 21, an Associate Professorship upon graduation – what was next? (Spoiler alert: an ulcer.) If I didn’t get a Nobel Prize by 45 would my expiration date be up and I’d self destruct? And so, despite everything I had “accomplished,” my 20s were a turmoil of insecurity, despair and self-flagellation (enter stage right: eating disorder). Nothing I did was ever good enough.
It took me until I was 30 to realize that nothing anyone does is ever enough. Not me, not you, not even Dakota Fanning. That’s the problem with measuring your worth by your accomplishments. And, overage boyfriends aside, that was the problem with lying about my age. Until I decided I that I could be worthwhile just because I’m me, I could never be comfortable with my age.
I’m not totally there yet – I still wish I were thinner, smarter, funnier and a better dancer – but when the waiter at the restaurant last night incorrectly guessed my age to be younger (tip, much?) I quickly corrected him. I’m 31. And yes Allison, I’m sure.
So, have you ever lied about your age? Why? Anyone else get caught in the lie? What has helped you to be proud of who you are now?