How old are you?

“Can I see your ID, please?”

I look back at my escort, picking up his beer without a question, then back to the woman before me, dressed in colonial garb and, apparently, expecting me to whip my ID out of some cleverly-concealed pocket in my bridesmaid’s bouquet.

“Um, I don’t have it with me right now,” I say, gesturing to the stairs at the end of the aisle that I finished walking up not more than 30 seconds ago.

She doesn’t miss a beat. “OK, just come back when you do.”

“OK…”

I turn to walk away, but she stops me: “Take the drink; just come back when you have your ID.”

Back in the staging area of my friend’s wedding, I fume as the rest of the bridal party has a nice little laugh at my expense. I’m still young, I know, but yet the two bridesmaids who actually are underage made it through without a second thought.

“Hey, it’s a good thing,” one of the groomsmen tells me; “It’ll be a compliment when you’re older!”

Yes, but I’m not older yet–and, from the looks of things, I might never look to be.

I’ll like it when I’m older, I’ll like it when I’m older. This little maxim has never been quite satisfying–some promised future appreciation can’t help a lifetime of being offered the kids’ menu when you’re 14, having a drivers license picture in which, everyone agrees, you look 12, though you were 16 when it was taken, and being mistaken, even after graduating college, as a high schooler. As a kid, you measure age in halves and quarters and months; as an adult, you want to be past being questioned on such subtleties.

And it happens all the time.

I pull out my drivers license and a friend catches sight of it–“Oh my gosh, how old were you? 7?” 16. I describe what I do, and someone asks if I went to school for that; I say yes, and they say “Wait, how old are you?” 23. No, not 19. Yes, I know I look younger. Sigh.

I’m 23. And 23 is not old, I know. Not even remotely so. And most places claim they card anyone who looks younger than 35; so, in theory, I should be more worried if I don’t get carded.

But 23 is still a heckuva lot older than 19. As a 19-year-old, I was living away from home for the first time, still figuring out what this whole ‘college’ thing was and trying to stay afloat. As a 23-year-old, I have worked (and paid) my way through college, spent a year on my own living and working abroad, and begun to discover what it is to live as an independent adult. The span of those four years mean so much more than whether or not I can legally drink in America: they represent a huge part of who I am, what I know, and what my character is like.The maturity gap between what I look to have experienced and what I have experienced is immense, and that’s what bothers me.

At dinner tonight,a friend tried to encourage me, noting that, as soon as I start talking, you can tell I’m not 19. And that’s something, I suppose, but let’s face it–those all-powerful first impressions are formed long before anyone says a word. This is especially pertinent given the fact that I am currently single. Because let’s be honest: if the guys who think you’re their age are actually way younger than you, and the guys who are actually your age think you’re way younger than them, you’ve got a problem. Especially when you consider that women mature faster than men to begin with, and that in your early 20s, age matters more in this sort of thing than it will in a few years. Again, sigh.

I’ve put a fair amount of caveats into this post; yet I know that, for those of you reading it who are older than me, this all probably still sounds immensely childish. I know that–in your heads, if not in the comments–there will be many of you echoing the old It’s a good thing, and you’ll love it when you’re older! bit. And I’m sure you’re right. But I’m not older yet, and I’m sick and tired of not having even the years I do have counted for me, along with all the lessons, memories, and personality-shifting moments they brought with them. My age is part of who I am, and I long for it, like the rest of me, to be known.

So please spare me a few moments of self-pity for years of being thought less of–after all, I’m only 23, so I’m still allowed to complain, right? No? OK then, just pretend I’m 19. Everyone else does.

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10 thoughts on “How old are you?

  1. In Canada (my province at least) the drinking age is 19. Although they ID “the under 35 group” I have witnessed a 75 year old being ID’d. I think everyone can relate to this story 🙂

  2. I feel you, Bekah. I have the same problem all the time. Appearance tricks sometimes help: I just got a new haircut and am buying more shirts with collars…(when I’m working, this helps convince my clients that I’m not 17 :)).

    But we’re gonna be the 70-year-olds attracting all the looks in the swimming pool someday, right? 😛

  3. I get what you are saying completely. I am always being mistaken for way younger than I am, although I think I do look like my age. It is inconvenient. Hang in there!

  4. I won’t tell you you’ll like it when you’re older (maybe, maybe not). My advice is start now to take care of your skin, including your neck and upper chest. Trust me–you WILL be glad you did one day.

  5. Here in the UK they card anyone under 21, four years ago I was asked for ID in my supermarket, buying wine at Christmas, I didn’t have any on me, but when I told him I was 35 and he could put it back if he wanted, his face dropped, he let me off. I ran home with bottles clanking, I couldn’t wait to tell my partner I had been ID at 35, made my year that one!

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