Dear Annie: I find that I have a real problem with aging. When a flight attendant nicely says, “This way, young lady,” I want to punch him. I can’t stand the condescension! I hate being old. I am 76 and, while I still maintain an active life – teaching elementary school music and dance part time, and directing plays and musicals – I have found that I have finally begun to look my age.
This causes people in the Czech Republic, for example (where I am humiliatingly able to travel free on the trains and buses), to try to give me their seats and for people who don’t know me to treat me with deference. While that seems like a good thing, it is not.
I think it is reasonable to be deferential to people with disabilities. I would very much prefer not being looked upon as someone with a disability because I am old.
The people who know me do not treat me as though I am old. I am vibrant and an active singer, dancer, director, teacher and church member in my community. It is only with people who do not know me that I am treated as though I am old. While I understand it, I resent it greatly.
Can’t we just be nice to everyone and stop treating older people as aliens? Younger people: Hopefully you will get to be old, too. And then you will see what it is like to be treated differently just because you have lived longer. – Sick of Being Treated This Way
Dear Sick: I’m printing your letter as a wake-up call to anyone who might be guilty of this kind of behavior. Unfortunately for us both, not everyone will read this column, so there are always going to be those who continue acting this way. The key for you will be finding a way to rise above it. I’d be curious to hear from other readers about how they’ve dealt with this issue. I’ll print their insights here.
Dear Annie: I’m 31, and in the last two years, people have started to ask me when I’m going to get married and have kids. Ninety percent of the people who ask these questions are strangers. Most recently, it was an Uber driver. He asked if I was married. I told him no, but that I was in a committed long-term relationship. He frowned at this as though it didn’t make sense. Then he said, “Well, when are you going to have children?” I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to. Then he looked at me like I’d sprouted a third eye.
Just last month, I was getting a facial and the esthetician was talking to me about her kids. I candidly told her how I like kids but have been realizing I might not want to be a mom myself. She started saying that I shouldn’t wait too much longer. She didn’t mean I shouldn’t wait much longer to just make a decision, mind you; she meant that I shouldn’t wait much longer to have children. It was as though she totally ignored what I said about motherhood maybe not being for me.
Annie, I wish this didn’t bother me, but it does. I’m realizing I might have to keep fielding these questions for a while. But I’m hoping you’ll print my letter so that people realize how hurtful it can be when they act so judgmentally about strangers’ life choices. – Child-Free
Dear Child-Free: I printed your letter alongside the previous letter because there’s a clear throughline: No matter what stage of life we’re in, there are going to be people who try to put us in boxes according to societal stereotypes. But like all the best things in life, you can’t be put in a box and wrapped up neatly with a bow – and that can leave some people feeling unraveled. Do your best not to let it rankle you. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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