Recently I had a rather interesting conversation with my work colleagues about age. Someone at work had a birthday and the subject came up. The thing is, we don’t know the age of many of our co-workers and many of us don’t feel comfortable asking them either. Somehow it just does not feel right asking people to reveal their age and they tend not to volunteer this information. Personally I am always quite surprised if someone asks me how old I am. Admittedly, it does not happen very often.
But why are we so reluctant to talk about age? I remember as a child I was so keen on getting older, I used to count down the months and days until my next birthday. Becoming an adult felt so important and being younger than your friends, albeit by a few months, was definitely uncool. A child will happily tell you their age, that’s pretty much one of the first and most basic bits of information children learn about themselves and are all too happy to share with everyone they meet. But when we grow up, something changes. I know people in their early twenties who are very secretive about their age. Somewhere along the way age stops being cool and becomes a sensitive topic, something most of us are not prepared to discuss openly, especially with people we don’t know very well.
Perhaps this has a lot to do with our youth-obsessed culture. It's all about being young and looking young and staying young for as long as possible. Obviously getting older is not much fun, but is it something we need to worry about while we are still in our twenties and thirties? And do we really need to be ashamed of our age for any reason? Women, in particular, seem to be very cagey about it, to the point where some girls refuse point-blank to reveal their age if asked. Or they choose to lie. There is this wide-spread notion that it is rude to ask a lady how old she is and it is definitely stuck in our collective consciousness. As a result, most men avoid the question altogether. But how offensive is it really? After all, it’s not like your opinion of someone will drastically change just because you find out that they are a few years older than you thought they were.
This leads me to the next question: is age really that important? One of my colleagues said that it’s the first thing he usually wants to know about someone upon meeting them, along with their name. But why ask someone you only just met something like that straight away? It is obviously important to know a person’s name so you know how to address them. But as far as age is concerned, I am not too sure.
Perhaps age is simply one of those things that make for a very awkward conversation topic, much like money is in many cultures. It's one of those things you wish you knew about people around you, but will probably never ask, unless they choose to tell you.
I have a friend who never asks people how old they are, instead he asks them "How young are you?" Talk about putting a positive spin on things. Linguistic idiosyncrasies aside, he might have a point. If you would like to find out someone’s age, be it a work colleague, an acquaintance or a total stranger, try that. It may work a treat.