When I was having my teeth cleaned recently, the dental hygienist looked at my records and said, "Oh, I must have the wrong chart. According to this, you're 52."
I batted my lowered eyes, and with all the false modesty I could muster, I replied in an appropriately diffident tone, "Nope, that'd be me."
"Wow, you look younger."
The chair then gently lowered me into position for my cleaning as my ego -- in an equal and opposite reaction -- rose and rose and rose.
But as the latex-clad, instrument-wielding hands reached into the nether regions of my gaping mouth to do battle with a particularly recalcitrant bit of tartar lurking on a back molar, I started to wonder: Why exactly is telling someone that they look younger than their years considered a compliment? If it's better to look younger, then the implication is that it must be better to be younger. And with that premise I most vigorously disagree.
Logically speaking, none of us looks younger than we are. I suppose the syllogism would read something like:
I look the way I do.
I am 52 years old.
∴I look 52 years old.
Since becoming an adult, I've had a mental picture of a 40-year block of time, between the ages of 20 and 60, inside of which age is more or less fluid. Within that span one isn't young or old, just younger or older. In my mind we travel leisurely along the spectrum, so exact yearly increments don't matter as much. When I was 45 I chatted on some hookup website or other with someone who was 44. When we finally agreed to meet for coffee, he confessed that he was actually 46. I wondered who he imagined would find 44 acceptable but 46 a deal breaker.
This leads me to another subjective observation: Most of the hotter men who catch my eye (on a purely physical level) are older. I don't know if it just takes that much longer to get into shape these days, or if younger men simply aren't as interested, but among the average guys on the street, the fellows who I think are really hunky are way past their 20s.
Take, for instance, well, me. I'm in better shape now than when I was younger. (I've written up my diet plan, if you're interested.) I worked in adult films while in my mid-40s. When I look at photos from back then, I can see that during my porn career, for a lot of the time I spent in front of the camera, I was -- you should pardon the expression -- soft. In some shots I verge precariously close to "dumpy." But now? I have actual abs! Granted, the skin covering them is not as taut as it once was, but as long as I arch my back a little when I'm shirtless, I'm fine.
(On a related note, I only did porn for two years, but people always assume that it was much longer than that, because I was "so old" when I began.)
So when we tell someone they look younger, might we really be saying that they've kept themselves in good shape? I'll happily take that compliment, because if we claim to value a breadth of knowledge and experience when choosing friends and lovers, the simple fact is that years of learning only come with years of living. And along with that living comes great life stories to tell. Wonderful stories! In that regard, the vessel containing the knowledge should be of secondary concern.
There is one exception to my years-are-meaningless rule: I tend to date people close to my own age, for one particular reason: Pop culture is for me a kind of personality GPS when determining compatibility with romantic partners. My normal conversation is peppered with obscure references. It's my lingua franca: "She was nuts! Y'know, like Beulah-Bondi-in-The-Snake-Pit nuts." I've found that outside four or five years of my own age, the lines get blurry. I once dated a (remarkably intelligent) much younger guy. Consider the following exchange while watching the movie New York, New York:
Me: Wow, Liza really looks like Judy in this scene.
Him: Wait, you mean Judy Garland was Liza Minnelli's mother?
Andy Warhol reportedly started dying his hair silver when he turned 30 so that people would think he was older and tell him that he looked good for his age. I kind of dig that; it turns the whole "you look younger" notion on its ear. But beyond that I see no reason for wanting to look any age but one's own, especially if that shaves off the impression of not only years but knowledge and experience as well.
So, yes, I've progressed to a +2.25 strength on my Dollar Store reading glasses. Yes, my knees creak a bit when I climb out of bed in the morning. Yes, when I get my hair cut, the barber now asks if I want not only the sides and back trimmed but also the hair on my ears. And, yes indeed, I look 52.
But, man, have I got stories.