A Lady of a Certain Age

Because everyone around me is getting younger, it looks as though I, the older woman, will die before them all.

Lately I've discovered that all the girls are younger than me, including those who are my age or older. With those born after me, I get along; I have no wish to quarrel with chronology. It's those who were born before me that get on my nerves. Time after time I open the magazines of the weekend papers and discover that some woman who was the star of an army troupe and an idol of the country's youth is now actually five years younger than me, and that the journalist for whom I myself threw a birthday party when I was 33 and she was 39, has in the meantime shed 10 years at least. The phrase "how time flies" has apparently become relevant for me alone, which is infuriating, because it's a bit early, even at my age, to be the oldest woman around.

On top of that, there simply has to be order in the world, of the type that is forged by division into age groups. After all, it's out of the question that a girl who was an older and smarter friend of mine, who was two full grades ahead of me when I was 12 and therefore in possession of a certain understanding of the unfathomable subject known as "boys," should suddenly be considered a person of my age. In fact, to this day, when she starts a sentence with the words "At our age ...," I feel as though she has awarded me a matriculation certificate. Yet it turns out that she gets angry when I mention to people that she is older than me, as though I were trying to hint that she is "old." I stopped doing that because it was hurtful to her, and since then my feeling is that I have actually become a little older than her.

Things are even more complicated in my relations with men. Until a relatively late age, I was in any case limited to the guys in my graduating class: I was oblivious to the existence of anyone younger, and the older ones looked experienced and scary. The first time I had a partner who was a good few years younger than me, I kept asking myself whether his young age was not enough for people to suspect me of being a pathetic old woman, though at least a fortunate one, because for the time being I did not yet have to pay for the company of young lovers. I was 38 at the time.

When I had a partner who was 10 years older than me, I never let him forget the age gap between us for a minute, besides which I resented the fact that instead of looking his age, and thus emphasizing my youth, he actually looked, according to my children, younger than me. "Do you remember when we were kids ..." he would say, and invoke, for example, the period when the Gymnasia Herzliya school stood where the Shalom Tower is now. To which my instant retort was: "You were kids, but we weren't even born yet."

But he wasn't the only one whom I corrected. I am also fair when people lower my age, and if someone who is six years my junior tells me "At our age ...," I am flattered but quickly correct his error. In accordance with the same principle, I definitely expect at least some gratitude when I mistakenly place in my age group a female interviewee who is three full years older than me.

But she won't correct me, and maybe I am at fault for not having bothered to start lying in time, so that now I am compelled to accept my age gracefully. In fact, it's said that for women, the habit of lying about their age is almost an instinct, and I see this even in my close circle. For example, there was the mother of a male friend who, half a year before her death, admitted to her children, at her 78th birthday party, that she was actually 80, and that for more than 50 years she had lopped two years off her true age so she would be thought to be of a suitable age to marry their father; or like my grandmother Zippora, who a year after turning 90 suddenly informed me that she was 89, "because 90 is so old."

But in me that instinct has gone awry. The only time I tried to lie about my age (I reduced it by a year) was on a blind date with a man who turned out to have been my clerk in the army (and who as a matter of fact did not lie about his age - only about his height, his occupation and his marital status). And this is the great stumbling block: It is not only chutzpah, but sheer stupidity to try to fake your age in a small country like ours. Because everyone knows someone who went to school with someone else in fourth grade, or whose cousin was in the obstetrics ward with the wives of everyone else.

So, because everyone around me is getting younger, it looks as though I, the older woman, will die before them all. My only consolation is that, as they say in Polish, young I will not be when I die. Whereas they, all those artificially young women - especially if they keep counting in reverse - are liable to be cut down in the prime of life.