Just a Number

This might sound strange but I have a favourite mirror in the house. It’s more flattering than any other (and don’t get me started on changing room mirrors – what were they thinking? Fluorescent tube lighting?) The bathroom mirror is beside the window and since it’s a small, dark room there’s only a little bit of natural light, so when I catch sight of my reflection it’s as if there’s a generous filter and (if I don’t squint too hard) I can’t even see too many wrinkles. Needless to say, this is the mirror I gravitate towards to fix my hair or makeup – it just makes sense.

But now and again I get a surprise when I catch sight of myself in another mirror, or when big birthdays arrive, or even when interacting with someone younger. I know that answering the question ‘how old do you feel’ is going to remind me of sore joints and grey hair and time ever-fading away. I’ll probably give a sad (and large) number in response. But how about this question: how old am I in my head? Not how old do I feel, but how old do I really think I am? It’s a great question. Think quickly and find your own answer. 

If you’re over forty, odds are that you’ve chosen a number that’s at least twenty per cent younger than your actual age. This is incredibly common in the western world. It’s a mixture of trying to stay young and the pressures of modern youth-oriented culture, of course, but there’s more to it than that. Maybe a traumatic event has stalled us at a certain point in our minds. Or a moment in time that changed us forever. But there’s also a sense of optimism and hope involved in believing that you’re younger – life is ahead, you’ve lots left to give, all those inspiring things. Rather than admitting defeat and zooming in on grey hair and wrinkles, we can look inwards and find a fount of eternal youth that keeps us skipping along the path.

One word of caution though: social interactions can get weird. If you focus too much on that youthful number in your head, you’ll forget that you’re not the same age as your younger friends. So step carefully when taking part in things. For instance, I won’t be joining Adam and Sally on their wakeboarding trips, but I’ll be around on their return to sit by the fire and have a nice chat.

And for the record I’m thirty five.