I always appreciate the kindness and generosity of spirit when someone sends a compliment my way or I get a good news from a medical check-up. But there is no faster way to turn my smile upside down than to pause and conclude the statement with “… for a guy your age.”
“You look great… for a guy your age.”
“Your test results are great… for a guy your age.”
“Your eyesight is good… for a guy your age.”
What does “for your age” mean exactly? “For your age bracket you are doing well, but when compared to the overall population, you suck?” Well that’s certainly a feel-good moment, isn’t it?
When exactly did I get old enough to earn the qualifier “for your age” and why do I hear a roar of horror movie sound effects whenever someone says it?
I know that I will probably never have the same constitution as I did when I was 20. Back then, I burned up calories faster than I could consume them. I could work out every day and rarely feel the burn the next day. When I wasn’t so kind to my body, I could get by on 4 hours sleep, I smoked, and my diet rarely included leafy greens. Yet somehow, I still functioned reasonably well.
Things are different now for this quinquagenarian. One salty meal and I puff up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and “feeling the burn” the next day is often the result of something as challenging as opening a jar with a tight lid. Significant adjustments were needed out of necessity.
The icing on the cake is that now, when I shop for sunscreen at my favourite skin care counter, each visit seems to conclude with, “Could I get you a free sample of eye cream?” to which I think to myself, “Do I look like I need eye cream?”
One time, when I was inadvertently channeling the spirit of Sophia Petrillo, those words actually escaped my mouth. The clerk suggested, “This cream helps refresh the eye area, just like you had a solid 8 hour sleep” to which I replied, “but I did have a solid 8 hour sleep!” I was on an argumentative roll that day.
In her eyes, I could see the gears turning in search of a suitable comeback. “Please, it’s a complimentary gift with purchase. You’ll love it!” she said as she handed me my bag of products with her arm stretched out in the direction of the doorway.
The sad part is they don’t even ask anymore. When I get home, I find eye cream samples lurking at the bottom of the bag just waiting to turn the dagger in my heart a few more times. But I digress…
I understand the validity of the qualifier “for your age” from a health perspective. The way my body behaves today is not the same as it used to (… corn and raw onions come to mind) and it probably never will be again. I can certainly help maintain youthfulness and vitality through exercise, healthy living and good eating habits, but reversing time completely is a tall order.
I accept each liver spot and wrinkle as a badge of honour for making it this far in life with still so much to look forward to. So what if my eyes look a little puffy even after 8 hours sleep? So what if grunting is part of my regular vocabulary in strenuous situations like tying shoes and opening heavy doors?
“For your age” seems appropriate in the health context, as it takes into consideration the many factors which contribute to the natural aging process.
But in casual conversation, that “for your age” statement just feels like it erases the kind and generous words preceding it. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but for the sake of everyone’s happiness, can we just stop at the adjective and leave out “for your age” or come up with some other fun ways to deliver compliments?
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s working! You look great!”
“What’s your secret for looking so spry/youthful?”
“Have you been on vacation?”
No further qualification or comparison is necessary.
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