At a certain point--it's hard to pinpoint exactly when--bartenders, waitstaff, and liquor store cashiers stopped asking for my ID. For women especially, this can feel like a depressing milestone.
A woman's dread of her own advancing age is perhaps the last bastion of fully indulged and embraced misogyny in our culture, and it's one in which all of us willingly participate to some degree.
Multibillion dollar industries are devoted to the (thus far) futile task of stopping time--smoothing wrinkles, whitening teeth, zapping fat, recoloring gray hair, and being advised with a finger-wagging certainty what clothes you are too old to "get away with" anymore.
Women fear aging, knowing it will never bring them the same "distinction" it brings men, whose primary threat to their masculine pride can be resolved with a little blue pill. Women rightly fear something much worse: Invisibility.
Because society (and, one could argue, evolutionary biology) assigns women a temporary value based on their looks and their sex appeal, they spend a lot of time wringing their hands over getting old and looking old, what it will mean for them, and what they can do to stop it.
Which brings me back to our dinner table conversation.
"Sometimes I stand there at the counter," said a friend whom I happen to know was born the same year as me, "and I just want to ask, 'WHAT IS IT?!' My clothes? This forehead wrinkle right here?," she poked a finger hard between her eyebrows. "What is it that makes you so sure I'm not 21?!"
We all laughed uproariously. We all knew the feeling. Somewhere along the way, we had all lost the one thing we had been conditioned since puberty to be so afraid of losing, the thing we are supposed to cling to with all our might, the thing we will be lauded for and praised if we are able to keep--and we will never get it back.
We had failed.
I joke and whine about getting old and looking old all the time, and I'm as much of a participant in the subtle misogyny of ageism as anyone: My bathroom is littered with expensive serums and creams that promise to get me carded again, but it never happens, and it's not going to.
I too want to scream "WHAT IS IT?!" at the cashier or bartender who knows I'm well past 21, but this conversation at dinner tonight made me think that maybe I need to be asking myself a different question entirely:
Why should I care?