published Friday, March 30th, 2012

Leber: Go ahead, ask my age

"A diplomat," poet Robert Frost once said, "is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age."

Age is, indeed, an age-old sticking point for some. There's that adage about never asking a woman's age or weight.

Frankly, I'm a lot more put off by people who ask me about my religion, my political affiliation or how much I pay in rent.

Yes, there is real age discrimination, in the workplace for example. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the simple vanity associated with not wanting to be XYZ years old.

Reporters frequently have to inquire about the ages of our sources, and we've all had experiences with people who prickle at that particular question.

Frankly, I've never cared about people knowing my age. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I've been fortunate thus far. I'm 31 as I'm writing this, will be one day into 32 as you're reading it, and could pass for early 20s. At a glance, that is. I've definitely noticed some changes up close.

"Age doesn't bother me," my friend Christine astutely noted, "but the aging process does."

Indeed. I don't relish hearing about metabolism and fertility decreasing while risk of cancer and heart disease increases. I don't like the lines by my eyes or the beginnings of gray in my hair. My joints are stiffer than they were five years ago. I also don't particularly care for the knowledge that I'm now considered "too old" for certain opportunities or the feeling I have sometimes that I am not where I "should" be.

OK, truth? I care more about age now than I did 10 years ago, but I'm not hiding it or lying about it.

I've been very honest about the fact that I expected to have achieved more, both personally and professionally, by this point in time. Do you think I like hearing about 20-something brides or being outshined by people just a year or two out of college? Of course not. However, the disappointments are as much a part of life as the achievements. Everything is a learning experience in its own right.

On my last birthday, I wrote down several goals I wanted to accomplish in the coming year. I achieved none of them. So what am I going to do -- pretend to be 31 all over again and give myself a do-over?

Sure, I could, but I won't.

Age is like the rings on a tree, or the chapters in a book. Each year is a part of the story. You can't change or erase what happened.

"I like getting older," a 70-year-old woman told me recently. "It doesn't mean wisdom; it just means survival."

Are there years I would like to forget or would like to pretend didn't exist? Of course. Would I feel a lot better if I were 24? Absolutely.

Personally, I'd rather be one of those women who ages gracefully and shows that a date of birth doesn't have to be a limitation. Otherwise, I'm just helping to perpetuate the problem. Or to paraphrase Melanie Griffith in a 1994 Revlon commercial, I'd rather defy my age than lie about it.

I actually haven't been great about that. I've been complaining about being "too old" since I was about 20, and I'm sure my 40-year-old self will look back on these days and want to kick me for it, the same way I want to kick my 20-year-old self now.

For the record, I plan on being one of those sassy old broads who tells dirty jokes and learns how to scuba dive at 80. I figure I'll be young enough then.

Oh, and if in 10 years I change my mind about this whole not lying about my age thing, you all can wish me a happy 35th birthday.

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/leber.holly.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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