Timeless, Thank You

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One of my roommates is the champion of out-of-the-blue questions. Five seconds ago, she asked me:

“Rizzy? How old are you?”

I get this question a lot. In fact, I have been asked this question since I was about fourteen. It is never asked in the condescending tone of an adult asking a child her age out of habit (“And just how old are you, little girl?”), even though any guess the adult makes will probably be accurate. No, people ask me this question because they are genuinely confused: “Just how old are you anyway?”

I suppose I can understand the confusion. I’m tall and I have a deeper voice than most people expect from a teen or a twenty-year-old. In school plays I was passed over for the romantic heroine and given the role of mother, evil queen, or irritable spinster on account of just how low my voice was. I have never dressed my age, since the styles designed for teens and early 20-somethings have never really appealed to me. Since I was a little child, I was brought up in an environment of mostly adults, having neither siblings nor much interaction with children my age outside of school, where interaction was kept in close check. As a result, I have always acted older than I am. This isn’t really a point of pride, it’s just the way things are.

In junior high, people assumed I was in high school. Once in high school, I was mistaken for a college senior or a graduate student. I was asked to the junior-senior banquet as a sophomore because the poor boy thought I was a junior. Random people in stores mistook me for a salesclerk or the manager, often with hilarious results. Boys as much as five years older than me would innocently ask for my number, only to discover to their horror that I was no more than fifteen.

Now that I’m in college, the assumption that I’m older has become less flattering. At a rehearsal last semester I noticed a fellow cast member looking at me with a puzzled expression on her face.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Twenty,” I replied. I knew what was coming next.

“Oh,” she said, still looking puzzled. “I thought you were older.”

So did other members of the cast, it seems. I was almost immediately adopted by all of the graduate students on the cast because they thought I was one of them. The people on the cast who are my age ignore me for the most part, and I can only assume that it’s for the same reason: they think I’m older, and therefore unapproachable. I’m a junior, people. I twenty-year-old junior in college.

The most distressing misunderstanding I’ve encountered was while I was in Croatia. One of the student’s mothers asked (through her son, who was translating) how old I was. When I told her, she and the group of mothers she was with laughed loudly and chattered something in Croatian. I looked to the son for an explanation, he looked me in the eye and said:

“She thought you were thirty.”

I looked at myself long and hard in the mirror that night. I try very hard to fight the female tendency to be vain, but that night I confess to being genuinely worried. Worried, and confused. I have no wrinkles. No crow’s feet. No laugh lines. No grey hair. Sure, I’m not as skinny as most girls my age, but how does size determine how old one looks? Is it the low voice, I wondered? The bags under my eyes that I inherited from my father? The hair cut? Should I do more sit-ups?

Just what does twenty look like, anyway? Is there a standard? Judging by what I know of popular culture, the “standard” for being twenty isn’t anything I want to emulate. And I won’t. I can only be myself and become what God wants me to be.

But I am genuinely curious as to why people think I’m so much older than I am.

I can see myself in twenty years, still wearing tiered skirts in bright colors, walking into a restaurant and taking a seat, browsing through the menu until the twenty-something waitress bounces over to the table to take my order. When I ask her for the Greek salad, she’ll politely inform me that she can only get me a senior discount on the day’s special, and would I rather have that instead? I will tell her no thank you, I’m only forty, you whippersnapper, and I want the Greek salad, thank you very much. She’ll apologize profusely. I will go home and cuddle my cats for an hour and feel much better.

I don’t understand why I’m mistaken for a thirty-year-old. But I can choose to laugh at the situation and not despair over it. At least not yet.

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11 responses »

  1. “I will tell her no thank you, I’m only forty, you whippersnapper, and I want the Greek salad, thank you very much. She’ll apologize profusely. I will go home and cuddle my cats for an hour and feel much better.”

    Oh, Rizzy. lol. If it makes you feel better, honestly, I think 20 makes perfect sense when looking at you. It could be because I know your personality more but you do not seem old AT ALL and I can’t figure out why people think you look old. Maybe just tell them you’re an elf?

  2. I think it’s your confidence and stature that makes people think you’re older. One look at your sweet, little-girl hands, however, should make any thinking person re-evaluate your age! 🙂

  3. If it makes you feel any better I never thought you look like you were in your thirties. I think the “Evil Queen” persona just fits your personality better.

  4. It’s because you act more mature and act more confidently than some other girls your age. And the low voice does influence people’s perception. Don’t fret. People will probably think you’re thirty even when you’re sixty. 🙂 Don’t feel self-conscious–people started calling me “ma’am” when I was 11 while they still called my 16-year-old sister “honey.”

  5. While I do not think you look over twenty (though, I might be biased considering I knew beforehand that you are slightly younger than me, and therefore my results might be skewed. However, I think my point still stands.), I think people’s perception of you is because of the way you carry yourself. You have a very composed, self-confident way of walking, sitting, standing, smiling, etc–not that this is a bad thing in the slightest! It doesn’t look prideful, or anything, it just looks like you are very sure of what you are doing at that exact moment. I like that about you. However, I think once people get to know you, they’ll see the laughing, giggling, goofiing-off Miss Rambler that I like so much. There’s nothing wrong with people thinking you are older. However, it is quite a sad reflection on our culture when someone assumes a self-confident young woman is older than she is. I think other twenty-whatevers need to woman-up and act their age, not their IQ.
    Now that I have written an essay, I hope you have a wonderful week!

  6. People have in mind what they think you ought to look like, regardless of how you actually look. Last semester for me was: You don’t look like you’re expecting at all. I’ve heard that the next comment I have to look forward to is “Haven’t you had that baby yet?”

    Up till now I’ve always had people think I was younger than I am. Last spring I even had a student try to ask me out. I thought “you have no idea how old I am, young freshman… and didn’t you notice the wedding ring on my finger?!!” 😀

    I think almost everyone has a tendency to have an ideal in mind that very very few fit.
    You definitely don’t look thirty. Although, who knows… maybe the thirty year olds in Croatia look like our twenty-somethings?

  7. Haha, I have the exact opposite problem! Everyone thinks I’m 17ish. I truly SHOCK them when I say I’m 26. 😛 So many people have asked me if I’ve graduated from high school yet. (Why yes, 9 years ago!)

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