One of the challenges of getting older is the inexorable shift in your reference age from youthful to doddering.
For the uninitiated, your reference age is the age you still think you are, even if that marker is decades out of date. When somebody claims 60 is the new 40—a statement that's never uttered by someone who actually is 40—it’s a reference age reference.
My reference age is an internal benchmark, which is not the same as the age I give when people ask me how old I am. I like to tell people I am 89, because I don't look so hot for 65, but I look great for a guy who is pushing 90. Internally, I hope, I will always feel younger than my actual age, even if I claim to be nearly 25 years older.
In my 30s, I thought of myself as 22, just out of college and a new adult, taking on the world with both gusto and fear. When I was in my 40s, my reference age was about 28. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I felt physically and emotionally as if I was still in my late 20s. By the time I turned 55, my reference age was around 42. I was mature, but not over-ripe.
Most of us have a reference age that’s at least a decade in the rearview mirror. If you’re 37 and have a reference age of 80, you are either a very old soul or simply very old.
Right now, I am trying to figure out my new reference age, and this one is monumental. When you’re in your 60s, it’s tough to claim something that starts with a four, but any reference age over 50 is an admission of decline. A guy who is 43 can claim to be middle-aged, but that assertion rings false after 60. Anyone who thinks 60 is middle aged has never met an actuarial table, or a mirror.
I’m thinking of bumping up my reference age to 46, which could still be middle age if I can obtain better genes and a much, much healthier diet. When I actually was 46ish, I bought my first Trans Am, which I described as my mid-life crisis car. (Mid-life crisis sounds so much better than manhood substitute.) Now, though, I’m going to need something even more special to maintain my self-image of being 20 years younger.
Are ponytails still hip???