The Conditional Compliment : You look good for your age!
After 50 it is almost certain that at some time we will be told how good we look ‘for our age’. It is the age at which dubious offers start arriving in the post, such as off-season cruises and fashion catalogues featuring blouses with flounces and stretch pants, and even pre-paid funeral plans to give family members “peace of mind.” If we still have children of school age and could not even dream of taking an off-peak holiday, we are made to feel odd and out of kilter with the norm. If someone says we look good for our age at this point, we may be tempted to boast how old we actually are. Big mistake.
Affirming we look good considering our age is stamping our ‘social’ age on our subconscious. It is signing up to the world’s obsession with the passing of time, and aligning ourselves with society’s cues about how one should look, and behave, at a given age. It is being ageist, but towards ourselves. Sometimes when stating our age we leave a silence in the hope someone will say, “Wow, I’d never have guessed.” If the silence persists we feel cheated. Maybe I look even older than I really am, we might think.
Some people want to have it both ways. They want to look good but they also want what they see as the perks of being older. Some of these include being given the comfy chair, being told to take it easy with those bags or delegating household jobs to younger people. But if we want to stay ageless there are no half measures. Staying young means acting exactly as we would have when we were under 40. “I’ve got a bad back,” said the 65 year-old woman in the seniors’ group at the gym. “The coach said I should take it easy.” “Oh, what happened?” asked her friend. “I slept with the door open and my back caught a chill. That’s what happens when you reach old age.”
Well, at least it will have given her doctor a laugh.
When we start receiving these qualified compliments it is time to take a decision about how we will deal with them. If we want to buck the trend, we need to assume the persona of a young person fully. Staying ageless means giving up being able to intimidate rude people because of our age. It means foregoing pulling rank, and sometimes remaining silent when tempted to brag about experience. It sometimes means being elusive about how long you have been doing a job, or how vivid your memories are of Marc Bolan singing Metal Guru on Top of the Pops. Staying ageless means tricking one’s own subconscious and the collective unconscious by aligning ourselves with a younger us. “You mean buy one of the flats, not the whole block, love,” laughed the estate agent. The buyer’s chronological age? 52. The estate agent had assumed from her young voice on the phone she was much younger. She did not correct her, but sent an offer for the whole block two days later. Way to go.
Saying ‘back in my day’, ‘when I was your age’, or ‘30 years ago when I was in college’ may get you a raised eyebrow and lots of flattery, but at the expense of your subconscious mind which controls your physiology.
Is it so bad to give up compliments about how good we look for our age? After all there is always the possibility people are lying, which is even worse. Haven’t we all been confronted with someone who announces proudly, “Well, I’m 72!” and we reply on cue, “I’d never have guessed”, while secretly thinking how haggard they look and how we hope we never get to look like them?
If we really act as though we are young, we forego all those compliments about how good we look for our age, since people will assume we are much younger. If we want to turn back the clock, we dodge and duck age mania, we circumvent the relentless descent, and to achieve this we give up receiving praise for how well we have looked after ourselves “considering”. If we fish for compliments that we look good for our age, we are adopting that age. Internalising the comment You look good for 60 if we look and feel nothing like the accepted stereotype of 60 is as absurd as other conditional compliments such as “You look good for a bank employee”, or “You’re well-preserved for someone from Slough.” If we were to receive such a bizarre compliment we would feel an immediate clash with who we really are. Good for someone from Slough? But I’m not from Slough! Precisely, so nor am I 60, at least not what society believes 60 is.
We never fish for compliments, and if at all possible we keep silent about our chronological age, and simply carry on as normal.