Bloganuary Day 9 Prompt: What do people incorrectly assume about you?
My age. I mean, look at this selfie I took today and see what you would guess. It could also be my demeanor that influences their impressions of me, because I’m shy and awkward around strangers; the words do not flow to me at parties. It took a long time to train myself out of hesitation devices and ending statements with a question tone to erase some more of my youthful affectations.
I have a few gray hairs but my skin is good, aside from eczema that makes my nose red in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, and eternally chapped lips. Still got my baby cheeks. I guess it’s my Scandinavian genes – I am part Norwegian and Swedish.
It’s the first question I get asked and I often confuse people. I’ve been assaulted rudely at parties by older people who demand to know my age before they even learn my name. Even kids have to know. I stammer and stumble when I talk sometimes, and I’m not orally proficient as a speaker, but then you hear me talk, and I betray my sensibilities and life experience that seem older than I look.
Well, drumroll please, I’m 40. I still get carded at grocery stores by clerks who think my ID is a fake. It’s actually somewhat entertaining how much it confounds and surprises people. Most people think I’m 30 or younger. Some assume I’m 20. But this is only if you don’t know me. You have to get to know me to take me seriously.
You would think this would be flattering and a blessing, but in truth, it’s annoying to be constantly infantilized when I just want to be respected. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage; when I was a reporter I was quiet and non-intimidating, and people would open up when they felt you truly listened to them without even asking them any pointed questions. And when I asked the blunt questions, they didn’t take offense.
When I was a court clerk I didn’t have to bark at people or yell or be authoritative to get people to be respectful and follow the rules of the courtroom. I just had to respect people back and show them kindness, and instantly defendants from all walks of life responded to it as if it was a gift someone had given them. You don’t have to be the biggest or oldest person in the room to get respect.
I have much less energy about it than when I was younger. It used to make me angry when I was young. Now that I’m no longer in my 20s, my 30s was spent training myself to not care what anybody thought. Now that I am beginning my 40s, I still don’t think of it as a compliment because people don’t usually say it in a very complimentary manner. They treat me like an oddity, an object, something that they have to puzzle out and try to understand, while I crouch before their piercing gaze and try to disappear, which only helps strengthen the illusion.
I am, however, learning to just shrug about it and move on. I don’t feel lucky that I look young for my age but I’m glad I don’t look older than my years. I don’t want to get mistaken for an AARP member or have a face pocked with wrinkles, but as I don’t care much about appearance, that wouldn’t bother me.
I’m learning to laugh about it instead of roll my eyes. Watch out for the quiet ones and people you dismiss based on their physical appearance. They’re stronger than you think.