I guess I have to accept that it was a compliment. It was a compliment. I know it was meant to be, anyway. But still.
There's a certain sting when a single, professional woman of about 30 gushes, "Oh, my gosh, you're 46? Wow. I hope I look half as good as you do when I'm your age."
It's nice to look good. It's disconcerting to look good for your age.
Still, there's no getting around it. My late 40s are well under way, drawing me toward greater self-awareness than I'm accustomed to exhibiting.
For example, I just bought a fitness magazine — one that features a six-week plan to eliminate belly fat. In the past, to eliminate belly fat, I just used to have a baby.
I find myself glancing at news articles about the latest discoveries in the study of perimenopause. Worse, I actually just used the word perimenopause in a sentence.
I no longer imagine that I would use a cash windfall to augment certain body parts (not that I ever seriously considered this). Rather, I imagine I would use a cash windfall to have the varicose veins removed from my legs.
I use night cream. I use it during the day.
Previously, I was one of those women who worked hard to cultivate a summer tan. I'd spread my fingers and toes under the hot July sunshine, wondering what all the fuss was about overexposure to ultraviolet rays.
Now I'm one of those women who wears a hat at the pool along with oversized sunglasses and sunscreen made especially for babies, providing 250 percent protection against the sun's harmful rays (in case 100 percent protection isn't quite enough). If some is good, more is better.
I'm considering buying a tube of zinc for my nose, and I don't care if it makes me look like a Miami retiree.
Lest you conclude I'm just a vain and shallow woman caught up in the superficialities of appearance in the culture of youth, I have just one thing to say: Um … well … sigh.
To be clear, I don't have unrealistic expectations about the aging process. It's happening as it should, and, yes, it beats the alternative.
Besides, I wouldn't want to look like a thirtysomething mom anymore, especially because appearing freakishly young would create some weird assumptions when, in a couple of weeks, I take my eldest daughter off to college. I'm always suspect of those women who look so young you almost can't tell who's the mom and who's the daughter. (Remember the country duo the Judds? They were just odd.)
I guess what I didn't expect is how much effort it would take to stay in the game. Turns out it's much more difficult than it used to be just to buy the same size blue jeans from year to year.
Actually, the issue of women and aging is part science, part religion.
Scientifically, it appears we women are afforded only so many years of an active metabolism. After about age 45, metabolic activity slows to the pace of molasses in winter. Also, gravity begins to pull a woman's skin toward the surface of the Earth and away from the surface of her face.
The part that's religion? The part where you pray, "Lord, please let me zip these jeans."
Of course, exercise and a proper diet are the keys to staying young and fit. I never had to think about either one when my children were very young. I carbo-loaded on boxed macaroni and cheese because simply getting the children bathed and off to bed constituted a heavy workout.
Now I go to bed before most of my children because I have to get up at 7 to go for a 40-minute power walk. Then it's time to start drinking the gallons of water recommended by all the best diet programs. (You must finish the water intake before dinner or else you're up all night, for obvious reasons. If you needed this explained to you, you're not yet 45).
This is just what it takes to care for an aging female body — but maybe it also is what it means to look good for one's age.
Knowing and accepting that time marches on, we recognize that we're responsible for our health, our well-being and the frequency with which we visit the colorist for highlights to cover the gray.
If I think about it too much, I suppose I could choose to be offended by the backhanded compliment paid to me by my younger friend, but I'm getting too old to think about things too much.
Instead, I decided to use her kind words as incentive to keep fighting the good fight. I'm tackling 10 pounds and rekindling my relationship with the man who stocks the produce section of the grocery store.
After all, there are two things that give me comfort, no matter how much it hurts to realize that a full-grown adult said I look good for my age.
First, that lovely 30-year-old gal will be my age faster than she can say "glucosamine and chondroitin." She may think it's a world away, but I know better.
Second, I've still got a great neck, and as I've always said, if a gal has a great neck, she has everything. That's the sort of wisdom you can only gain with the passing of time.