Personal Narratives: Nothin’ but a Number
Submission by Walter Hawkins
A few weeks ago, I suffered a birthday. At my age, I no longer care to celebrate birthdays. I merely endure them, as inconspicuously as possible, and hope no one else remembers. I am none too thrilled about getting older. I feel okay, but age does strange and disturbing things to the body. Plus, society in general tends to be a bit youth-obsessed, and gay men in particular can be extremely ageist. I’ve tried to keep myself in relatively decent shape; however, over the years, my skin has lost a considerable amount of elasticity, and I find that exercise doesn’t have quite the impact it once did. Mercifully, people rarely think that I look my age. Although, I’m not sure how my age is supposed to look. I consider it to be case-specific. I believe that genetics and self-improvement play a substantial role in determining how one does or does not display the influence of time. Personally, I often think I’m gross. And occasionally, I suffer, to varying degrees, from feelings of obsolescence. I’ve tried to rise above it, but it never fully dissipates. Being single doesn’t really help all that much.
Something happened recently that more or less put things into perspective and possibly made me realize how silly I am being about the whole aging experience. Several months ago, I registered on an online dating site. In creating my profile, I decided to list my age as being three years younger than I actually was. Let me just say that I am generally a very honest person. I am a huge proponent of full disclosure. But, for some reason (insecurity, a momentary bout of vanity, plain old stupidity, etc.), I fibbed. At the time, my online age seemed more palatable than my true age. In my mind, three years made a world of difference. A rounded number seemed more aesthetically pleasing. In hindsight, I realize this is completely absurd. It’s embarrassing to even admit it.
Initially, online dating was a less than pleasurable adventure, and a true exercise in futility. There were very few user profiles that caught my eye, and when those few were pursued further, the profiles and pictures never quite accurately portrayed what would be encountered during the face-to-face meetings. The whole experience was rapidly shaping up to be a huge disappointment. However, eventually, a few days before my birthday, I was contacted by, and subsequently met, a rather incredible younger man. Our first “date” exceeded my expectations, to say the very least. He was smart, funny, charming and absolutely adorable. We had a drink, then dinner. Everything went well, and we ended up seeing each other a couple of more times that week. On my birthday, we spent the day in Central Park, and it was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable birthdays I have ever had. I was in the process of changing jobs at the time, and I wasn’t working the following week, so we saw each other almost every day. The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to see him. In the short amount of time that we had known each other, we established quite a rapport.
One Saturday, we were at my apartment, and he happened to see my passport. He opened it up to look at my picture and, of course, noticed my birth date. When he asked me why my age online was different than my actual age, it took me a minute to remember what I had done when composing my profile. I explained to him that, at the time, I was feeling apprehensive and insecure about my age, and that I had completely forgotten (which I genuinely had) that I had even portrayed myself as being three years younger than I actually am. We continued on with our plans for the day, but things were different, and the mood deteriorated as the day proceeded. He was a little distant, and made several off-color comments about various things. Eventually, I asked him if he was okay and his response was, “Actually, no, I’m not.” He was bothered by the fact that I had been dishonest about my age. In other words, my being three years older than he originally thought I was didn’t bother him – it was the fact that I felt the need to shave three years off of my age and lead potential dates to think that I was younger than I really was that he found upsetting. He said it was a symptom of a larger issue, and that he felt his trust had been compromised. After a very uncomfortable evening, which included dinner with friends, he went home to his apartment. I have to admit, it was more than a little disheartening.
Attempting to analyze and rationalize what happened has been an eye-opening process, mainly because I always end up looking like a colossal hypocrite. I’m tempted to say that he completely overreacted to something that really isn’t that big a deal. But isn’t that exactly what I was doing when I lied about my age in the first place? I’d also like to be able to say that three years difference in my actual age and my online age is such an insignificant amount that it really shouldn’t matter anyway but, apparently, it was significant enough for it to matter to me when I created my online profile. And finally, with regards to my aforementioned disappointment upon meeting a potential date, only to discover that their profile and picture didn’t accurately portray the real thing…again, I wind up looking like a total douche. Granted, my deception was on a smaller scale, but it was deception, nonetheless. In the end, I can’t continue to beat myself up over my unnecessarily dubious online dating profile. I’ve already updated and corrected it. I’ve learned my lesson. It’s time to grow up and start acting my age. And that just pisses me off.
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