How Old Are You?

posted in: Day In The Life 12
“Reverie,” also known as “The Days of Sappho,” by John William Godward, c. 1903. Image: Wikipedia.


I was always “young for my age” in relation to school.

This is because I turned five years old just a few weeks before kindergarten was to start. My Uncle Dave — who, fun fact, is my mother’s fraternal twin — had come to visit our family in Iowa that summer and likes to tell a story about how nervous I was about starting kindergarten. I guess I was talking to him about it.

“Well, kindergarten is a big deal,” he said. “Do you know how to count to ten?”

My uncle says that I counted past ten all the way up to 30 before he cut me off.

“That’s good. Can you sing your ABCs?” he asked.

I promptly sang my ABCs for him and like, did a twirl. He rolled his eyes.

“You’ll be fine, kiddo.”

So throughout my grammar school and high school years, I was among the youngest in my class. Then, once high school was over, I went straight into college at the University of Iowa, which meant I was one of youngest in that class, too. And I grew to like it. There was something satisfying about being the youngest in the group, though now that I’m writing about it, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the reasons why I felt that satisfaction. Did I think being younger than everyone else gave me some advantage? What kind of advantage? And if I was winning something, who was losing? Weird.

Well, whatever it was, it’s definitely over. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this on the ol’ PG or not, but 90 percent of the people I engage with at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) are younger than I am. Sometimes by kind of a lot. Whether it’s my cohort in the MFA Writing department, the other students in my elective seminars, or the gang at the school paper, the average age of these folks is probably 27, tops. For sure tops.

Which means I’m roughly ten years older than the majority of the folks in my peer group. Most of the time I don’t think about it, but sometimes I do think about it and when I do, either of these thoughts come to mind, depending on the day I’m having:

  • We are all basically the exact same age.
  • I am literally a different species than these people.

I mean, we’re all using Snapchat now, sure, but I got my first cell phone in college and these people had them in fourth grade. It’s pretty weird. I just keep wondering what will happen if there’s a party and I start dancing. Will I make a fool of myself? You can really tell age differences with the dancing.

Maybe this has come up for me more lately because I met an interesting young man. I’ve been spending a little time with him.

This young man is not quite as young as this young man, who, by the way, moved back to Miami some months ago. I never said too terribly much about the end of all that but I can tell you that though I grew to care for him a great deal and will always care for him a great deal, things ran their course. (Someday I’ll tell you more about all that when you and I get a margarita. It’s a great story that you could only read part of for a number of reasons. Maybe I should start a second blog: PaperGirl AFTER DARK!)

Anyhow, this newly-met young man definitely had a cell phone in fourth grade, you know? There’s a difference between me and him in terms of life experience and perspectives and all, and it’s way too soon to tell if this will be a barrier or a boon. All I know is that I have been going on some really lousy dates lately and then pizow! Here’s this great person and I like to talk to him and stuff.

So we’ve been talking. And I’ve been wondering how old anyone ever really is, in the end.

12 Responses

  1. Nicole Hannah
    | Reply

    It’s all relative.

    You’re only as old as [the girl] you feel.

    My husband is a decade older than me and sometimes I am totally shocked to realize that, again.

    And have fun!

  2. Kate
    | Reply

    I started my Master’s at 42, I had a child in elementary school and one in middle school. Although my classmates had to be aware of the age difference, most were not bothered. I remember one of my classmates commenting on another, telling me that he was really old, he was in his thirties. When I asked how old she thought I was, she told me she figured I was 36. Not old, she sad. In her mind old was more than 10 years older than her current age, and she was 27.
    Obviously, age is a state of mind!

  3. Kerry
    | Reply

    Age isn’t a thing any more. I used to keep my husband (before we were an item) at arms length because he is almost 6 years younger than me. He was a persistent monkey and kept pestering me and in the end we got married. Age has never been an issue from his point of view though. He was always a mature lad while I’m quite idiotic and have childish tendencies – not tantrums – but more of the pranks. And he screams like a girl, so it’s fun for me! Although I’ve turned it down a tad since he had his heart attack – not my fault it happened at work and it seems like it’s been passed down via his mother, so it’s all her fault.
    But I digress a little – we have been married 32 years now, so it doesn’t matter – as long as you click, then it’s fine, and you talk and enjoy the company. Besides nobody really minds a man marrying younger, so why the “ooh nooo” when it’s the other way around? And just to make sure (yes I know never start a sentence with “And” but it’s sooo me!) your mind is at ease – my neighbour is married to a fella 8 years her junior. Not only that, my cousin married a lady 20 years older than him! Searching family history records I’ve discovered a trend in that my dad’s mum was older than his dad, while a few other ancestors were also older than their husbands. I’m just part of the norm in my family it seems!
    Enjoy it, don’t worry about it. I’m hoping and wishing you lots of happiness to come.

  4. AJ
    | Reply

    My mother always said that age is only a number. However, as you observed, I think It can also be a barrier or a boon depending on the circumstances. I just finished my master’s at age 50 and frequently had the same two thoughts as you. Mostly the former, in part because I easily relate to people of all ages. The latter would creep in when I realized that my peers did not perceive me in the same way, usually predicated by someone comparing me to their mother! I wonder if this has something to do with how our perception of age changes as candles accumulate on our birthday cake.

  5. Shirley lieb
    | Reply

    I am seventy but my brain is twenty. You can’t let numbers define you.

    Was at your talk in oak park yesterday. Fabulous

    I too am a south loop resident. And my kids are Hawkeye alums.

  6. Annie
    | Reply

    I was also 5 going into first grade, so I get all that! At 32, after a long relationship with someone who was a bit of an old poop, I asked the universe for someone young and alive – and the universe produced my now husband who is 8 years my junior. The sum of the whole was greater than the parts and it’s been really FUN! (Now I’m an older mother amidst way younger ones, and yes, sometimes we are the exact same age and sometimes we’re a whole different species. Keeps things interesting!)

  7. Kathlene
    | Reply

    Academic study as an adult student is a gift! Yes you’re different but, when I studied at ISU, I felt like I was doing what I should be doing And loved every minute of it! Enjoy your experience Mary. You have such a gift for writing and I love reading your blog!!!!

  8. Bonnie
    | Reply

    Two of the women in my small fifteen) quilting group are with men younger than they are, and it seems to be working quite well. Heck at our age,( late 60’s, early 70’s), we can barely remember our own ages much less do the math to figure out any irrelevant age differences! Live your life for yourself and don’t worry about things that really don’t matter.

  9. Susan K
    | Reply

    Sign me up for Paper Girl After Dark !! you are a Hoot!! did I give away my age??

  10. Christine Houghton
    | Reply

    When you are young, age may be a factor, but when you are over forty, age differences aren’t so far apart. I too started school at age of four and was always one of the youngest in all my classes. I also married someone seven and a half years younger than me. He was very mature for his age and liked old movies and music, perfect for me. So don’t discriminate, go with your heart.

  11. Elaine Judd
    | Reply

    I always have to chuckle a little when I run into someone I thought was “old” thirty-five years ago and discover they are only ten or fifteen years older than me. I am 60 but my brain thinks I am 33 (which was truly old when I was 20) so I am going with 33.

  12. Lorraine
    | Reply

    My husband is 9 years younger than me. When he originally asked me out I said “No, lets just be friends” due to the age differences even though I really liked him. We went on dating platonically giving each other dating advice but once we were both free of relationship ties six months later I thought I must be crazy to let this great guy slip through my fingers just beacuse of age. It was scairy to make that plunge and kiss him to let him know that I was ready, and thought to myself at the time “are you crazy” but I have never regretted it. Married 12 years now and going strong.

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