The other day, someone I met five years after I graduated college asked me if I’d finished school yet. It’s not the first time this has happened to me. For once, I gave up, said yes I had, and accepted my congratulations. I’m not sure what I would have done if he’d asked any follow-up questions, like what I was planning to do now, or when my graduation ceremony was. “Well, I was thinking I’d spend a couple years unemployed—that’s been a popular thing for 2008 grads, you know, recession—and then I figured I’d take a job completely irrelevant to my degree. The job, in fact, where you asked me this question.”
Many years ago, I thought that looking younger than my age would eventually work to my benefit, and I’d be grateful for it. Maybe that’ll happen in another ten or twenty years. A year shy of thirty, it’s turned out to occasionally funny.
Once someone asked me if I live at home. I answered, “Do I live at home? Uh, well, yeah. Home is where I live.” It’s been awhile since I lived with my parents. A few times, older people have mentioned cassette tapes, then exclaimed, “I bet you don’t even know what a cassette tape is!” Once, this even happened with the color chartreuse. Granted, I was born ten years after they heyday of chartreuse, in the 1970’s, so that one might have had some merit.
Minor, persistant annoyances have been more common than funny stories. Since I have a job that’s heavy on the small talk, questions about school come up at least once a week. These conversations should be innocuous, ending with a chuckle and me saying, “Yeah, I’m totally old enough to drink and rent a car, and I even existed before Seinfeld came on the air.” Unfortunately, I have a lot of regrets about college. Such as: where I went, why I went, what I studied, why I studied it, and how. Instead of being able to leave the past in the past and do what I can in the present, that past is dragged up with depressing frequency.
Then there’s the tendency of people to treat a twenty-one year-old differently than they would a twenty-nine year-old. My partner is also young looking for his age. Because he’s more charismatic than me, he usually ends up with more funny stories in these situations. We’ve both had times when someone treated one of us poorly, then suddenly changed their behavior upon learning that we were eight years older than they had thought, pay bills, and are otherwise able to put up a thin veneer of adulthood. It feels weirdly like a sociological experiment. Like a man in a dress with sock boobs, experiencing how the opposite sex exists in the world, sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing the world of a person who is not actually me.
So far, I can only think of one time when looking younger than my age has been to my benefit. When a misogynistic creep was regularly coming to a coffee shop I worked at, and a lot of the women there were addressed as (let’s mad lib this: choose an adjective) bitch, I got off lucky with a daily “Hey there, buddy!” Too young for misogyny? I’ll take that.