Wednesday, February 25, 2009


What is it about asking someone's age that doesn't sit right with many no matter how young or how old they are? Is it one of those questions high up on the rude-o-meter along with asking someone's salary? We think it is. Depending on who's asking the question, of course. Say, if our mother asked us our ages, we wouldn't be upset as much as we would be concerned.

"It's personal," Yvette says. "What benefit is there in knowing someone's age?" Now more than ever the age question is a touchy one. A good friend of ours (we don't know how old he is) said, "Asking someone's age is discriminatory, no matter what the relationship is, business or personal. You learn a person's age and then what?" He also pointed out that in today's job market there is no benefit in telling your age.

There are only two times in our lives when we don't mind telling our age - when we're very young or very old. At one hundred, many literally broadcast it. Willard Scott's Smucker's birthday segment begins to look very attractive to a centenarian.

Women start preparing their answers to the age question when they're young, around 11. Who wants to be 11 when thirteen is just around the corner? Young guys add on a few years too. If a girl asks how old you are and all you can say is 12, come back later. You're not boyfriend material yet. No girl is going to brag to her friends, "He's really cute and twelve!"

Once we get up in our years, our twenties, the game changes. When an older man asks a younger woman how old she is, he's hoping to hear a number lower than she looks. He's not interested in someone who looks good for her age, he wants someone whose age makes him look good. When an older woman asks a man his age, she's trying to figure out if he can afford her or vice versa. All the more reason to not ask anyone their age. It's a mess of boxes that we put people in and keep them there for as long as it serves us.

We should always come clean about age is when asked by a doctor, an emergency worker or an officer in a court of law. This is not the time to be coy.

When someone has passed away, one of the first questions posed to the bereaved is, 'How old was she/he?' If the person was a senior citizen people don't seem to mind saying ,"Oh, well he lived a long life." It's as if upon knowing the person's age they've decided that a person's death isn't all that bad, if the person is younger, their death is tragic and that's something to feel badly about. We have bristled when we've lost a family member and well intentioned people have asked how old were they. We bristle because we know that our loss will be minimized or maximized based on a number.

Beware of age questions on the sly and not so sly. 'How old is your daughter?' 'Oh, you love artists. Did you ever meet Picasso?' 'Remember Idlewild Airport?' 'Do you want children?'

'Age is only a number' may sound trite but it's true. And when someone thinks they have your number based on your age, rest assured, you now have theirs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, do I agree: asking someone's age is RUDE. Asking MY age is absolutely OUT! Apart from the fact that chronological age may not be the same as biological, mental or emotional. It's a minefield! Best avoided.