Friday, September 30, 2011

Tree rings and crow's feet

Mary’s comment on a previous post went something exactly like this:

“Dude. I gotta say :o, she looks younger than you do.
Why do people say I look
older than Sheri?

That bright light streaking through the heavens that you thought was a falling chunk of NASA space junk? Actually, it was an ascending Venema–after reading that comment.

Me? I say, “Old news.”

There has always been a discrepancy between our actual birth-certificate-certified ages and how old we look – or, more accurately, how old Sheri looks. When we started dating, I mistook her age for about a decade younger than she actually was. Shortly after we went public, Sheri’s friend, S., said our age difference wasn’t visually apparent because I could pass for ten years older and Sheri could pass for ten years younger. I could have taken that as an insult, I suppose, but what I heard was “Michael looks mature enough to consort with Sheri.” To which I thought, “Naturally.”

But recently, another friend–catching glimpses of us in photos on the blog–wrote to us that “Michael is catching up” to Sheri, visually. And then there was Mary’s comment, that with fallow field atop my skull, crow’s feet when I laugh, gray stubble on my chin, I’d passed Sheri by.

Over the last few days I’ve asked people who don’t know me well to guess my age. The massage therapist said 45, the woman working the counter at the Peruvian restaurant guessed 50, and the co-owner of our favorite neighborhood restaurant said, “Hmmmm. 47.”

Those guesses were all in range, and the restaurant owner was scary accurate (wish me a happy 47th on Oct. 15). This unscientific survey suggests that I actually do look my age.

What that means, exactly, I can’t say. How does someone look his or her age? What do we see in each other that allows us to guess an age with remarkable accuracy, so much so that “she doesn’t look her age” is the exception rather than the rule?

Veterinarians look at dogs’ teeth tartar to estimate years. Dendochronologists count tree rings. We humans seemed to be attuned to each others’ posture and hair, skin, fashion sense, and all those things add up to a number. The number is necessary, somehow, or we wouldn’t develop the age-sense. Certainly, there are biological reasons, but perhaps we have social, tribal reasons, too.

Maybe, on some level, perceiving age is protective. On an occasional weekend I walk across the campus where I teach, and surrounded by all that youth, I’m struck with a strange unnerving sense that the authority I have during the week has vanished and that I’m now an alien, an intruder, and I think about that famous Yeats’ line, and I leave as soon as I can, and hurry back to my wife who apparently looks my age, or younger, and with whom I always feel at ease.


  1. Gee, sorry.(not really ;o) I am 46 & I am often told I look much younger...but then the little girl at the food pantry I volunteer at tells me I smell just like her grandmother. Uhm, thanks kid(& she tells me that every.single.time. I see her).

    You don't look old; she just looks so great. Now, having been married to you so long, I give you some of the credit for that. I've noticed that women in unhappy marriages, if you will excuse a cliche my mom used to use, "let themselves go." She probably enjoys looking good for herself, but also wants to look hot for you too.

    Age, or what we consider old age, leaves so many of us feeling disempowered..but I think we allow that too is a flawed pattern we need to take in hand & change. ~Mary

  2. Randy and Sallie JohnsonOctober 12, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    Hi, Sheri and Michael. We just read your article, Partners in Time, and we both enjoyed it immensely. I'm Randy, age 53, and my wife is Sallie, age 70. We've been married for 27 years. That, plus I'm white and she's black. Our life together is wonderful! I can certainly identify with Michael's experience of feeling like several different ages all in the same day, and I love it. People never want to believe that Sallie is 70. I tell them that's what comes from being married to a good man. We'll be reading your blog from now on. Thanks for sharing your experiences!