Why I Don't Lie About My Age

When I was 18, I used to lie about my age to get into bars. Drinking was my incentive for that. I can honestly say that after turning 21 and being able to legally consume alcohol, there hasn’t been any other incentive to lie about my age, ever since. I’m 37 years old. I was born in 1980. Yes, I’m a woman, and, yes, I’m almost 40.


Telling people you’re younger than you actually are always seemed against logic to me. I always felt that if you were compelled to lie about your age, it would mean that some degree of vanity were involved. On that basis, wouldn’t it make more sense to tell people you were older than your actual age? If I were to tell people I were 45, I’d imagine people would think I looked pretty good for my age — or at least better than if I were to tell them I were 25. Thus, I could never fathom why anyone would say they were younger.

Lying about your age, however, is more problematic for me than that. Age-dishonesty, although confusing to me, at best, has some deeply upsetting social consequences, at worst. When women lie about their age, they give in to a very sad notion that women actually have an expiration date. The hush-hush attitude suggests that we might actually have something to hide and that we better keep quiet. In the era of #metoo, I can’t imagine anything more important than women deciding to embrace the inevitable phenomenon of aging with pride.

In my work as a therapist, I find that both men and women struggle with aging, but women seem to express a great deal more fear, embarrassment, and sadness when they talk about aging. If we, as women, really want to be treated as equals, however, then we can’t afford to support the idea that a woman ought to keep her true age a secret — it seems downright Victorian to me. Most of us want to be loved for who we are as people, and how can we experience real love if we don’t share our truths? Your birth date is the starting point of your story — if you lie about that detail, then how is your story told with any authenticity? When we lie about our ages, we support the idea that aging for women is shameful, when really, our aging selves might be more beautiful than our youngest selves.

When I was 33 1/2 years old, I got divorced — and the fact that it happened at that age is as important as any other significant piece of the story. If I told you I were a different age when it happened, the story would neither be the same, nor would it be real. I barely recognize the girl I was in those days who actually thought that age was old — and I’m extremely grateful for having also divorced myself from her, as well.

As a way of coping with the intense changes I was experiencing at that time, I threw myself into dating. I had not dated since my early 20s. What I immediately discovered, was that dating in my 30s was worlds more interesting and exciting than anything I experienced in my early 20s. The men whom I was meeting were mostly all in their 30s and 40s, and vastly different from the much younger men from earlier dating years who were juxtaposed against them in comparison. Each new guy during this 2nd Round of dating brought something invaluable to the table— life experience. Each man had gone through countless journeys since their 20s that involved business endeavors, oodles of failed relationships or marriages, sometimes child-rearing, and also a great deal more travel around the world just due to having been on the planet longer. To me, it was incredibly sexy that men in their 30s and 40s simply had a more interesting story to tell than men in their 20s— and so did I. I had more to say than I did back then, because I had done more with my life. It was then that I realized that men became sexier to me with age, and I wondered if many women didn’t realize that they probably had become sexier with age, as well.

We all know that in the workplace, nothing has more value than experience. It befuddles me, however, that people don’t realize that it’s the same way in our personal lives. Most people I know in successful marriages that began in their 20s will attribute their relationship success to having grown together, over the years. I’m certain that with age, I’ve becomes a more interesting me, which is why I’m not ashamed of my aging.

Many women I know fear that their true ages might be stigmatizing when looking for jobs and men. I argue that it might help separate the boys from the men to start being truthful and unashamed of your age. If a man won’t date a woman of a certain age due to perceived fertility challenges, I can kind of wrap my head around that since the reason isn’t a shallow one. He may, however, want to explore that with her if some genuine interest or connection is there. If a man won’t date a woman, simply because he’s hung up on a number in an image-conscious way, then that seems neither reasonable nor kind. Any man I date is going to eventually see my passport, and I wouldn’t want to have to admit that I was lying about the day I came to this earth — which should be a day he is proud to celebrate with me. I’d want a relationship based on secure trust and honesty, and I can’t ask for that from anyone if I can’t deliver it, myself.

To clarify, I don’t believe that women who lie about their age are doing so to be deceitful — I think that many women lie about their age because they think they have to. If we continue to lie about our ages, however, then we may send the message to our daughters that they have to, as well. Thus, we have to stop supporting phenomena that keep us down. Our age tells the world simply what chapter we’re on in our timelines — and our timelines are nothing to be ashamed of. I think most kind-hearted people would agree with me that it’s time for women to be prouder than ever about who they are. The days of accepting sexual harassment and other #metoo events as just another part of the female experience are, thankfully, and, seemingly, dying down. These changes can only begin to take place, globally, however, when we start with ourselves. When we confront the woman in the mirror and tell her to celebrate her age rather than resent it, we are unknowingly helping other women at the same time. I think we can agree that It’s time for women to start helping each other — after all, we’re not getting any younger:).

Living Honestly

                     A dear, gay friend of mine once told me that being gay meant a decision and a commitment to living honestly.  This reality was particularly true for him, as he is a little older than I am, and his generation dished out a great deal more judgment and shame on those who “came out” than one would hope people would today.  If you were to come out in his country of origin in the decade in which he was doing so, you had to really be sure you were ready to be met with judgment and disgust.  Sadly, several gay patients of mine have shared with me that the shame of yesteryear for the gay community is still here with us—even if homosexuality is now more mainstream and socially acceptable than it used to be.  It saddens me to no end that we still aren’t free from the absolutely ridiculous notion than gay people live incorrectly.   I realize, however, from my own life, that those of us who shake-up tradition can often make people uncomfortable, and our differences are met with criticism and even ridicule. 


            My friend’s statement about honest living, however, resonated with me, and made me realize that the idea of whether or not many of us are truly living honestly might be in question.  People often seem bewildered or even horrified when I point out how much I enjoy living alone, but it’s a choice that I celebrate, and I know that if I didn’t admit to it, I’d be faking it.  Most of us would say that honesty is crucial to a meaningful life and a healthy relationship.  I would agree and take it a step further that trust is not only something we need from our friends, family and partners, but also with ourselves.  Trust is how we maintain romantic partnerships, friendships and professional alliances, but it’s also how we build character and a positive self-image.  By trusting ourselves we pull off such feats as health, sobriety, and success.  We often fail when we don’t trust ourselves to succeed in the first place. 


            In the therapist’s chair, I’ve made a great many observations about human behavior and general trends of adulthood.  What I envy about my gay patients, as well as my friends, is the bravery required in them to come out.  I applaud anyone who finds the voice to say ‘I choose to live differently than maybe you and many people think I ought to live, but I'm going to do it, anyway’.

             I will clarify—I don’t believe we’re all secretly gay.  What I do believe, however, is that we can all take a cue from the “coming out” experience.  Perhaps there are a great many of us who haven’t been challenged by an issue compelling enough as sexuality to get us into the business of living our dreams and our truths.  Naturally, we all have responsibility and can’t necessarily afford to spend our days surfing or doing crossword puzzles; but how many of us are living our best lives? 


            We all need to prepare, somewhat, for the future.  Winding up old and poor is not in any way what anyone I know wants.  But I will say that one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from someone who urged me to let go and stop breaking my back to control the future. 


            “One foot in front of the other. ”  He said.  “Life will unfold.” 


            In that statement he urged me to trust not only the universe but also to trust myself.  With that trust and relaxation, I began to live more honestly.  I started to question what I really wanted versus what I thought I ought to want.  Before I knew it, I was architecting a life of my own design, and I experienced a freedom I’d never known. 


            I think, if you break it down, honest living really comes down to a faith and a Zen about the future.  Like my friend, who came out in an environment that wasn’t accepting, he had a faith in his own convictions that living honestly would work out better than living a lie.  Sitting with the discomfort of unpredictability was a wiser idea than conning himself out of taking that risk.  The risk of being judged or misunderstood was still worth it to him, in order to live authentically.  When you live differently than, perhaps, people pictured for you to live, you surrender the ability to control how others perceive you.  For many of us, living honestly might mean living differently, and an a-typical path might not necessarily provide safety in predictability.  I know, in my own, life, that when I stopped trying to convince people of the logic behind my life decisions, that’s when I knew I was truly happy—the necessity to defend myself was gone.  No longer feeling like I needed to explain myself meant that I was not only certain that I knew what I was doing, but also meant that I was resolved with traveling wherever those decisions might take me.   Living honestly is, intrinsically, a risk.  Quite possibly, however, the greatest risk you might ever take. 

               Honest living does not translate into being foolish or cavalier.  Your life and time are precious.  Few decisions are without consequence, and the choices we make do tend to impact life trajectories.  Honest living is both thoughtful and mindful and does not mean you give absolutely zero thought to the future.  What honest living is more about is living with less anxiety about the future and avoiding attempts to control it to a compulsive degree.  Extreme worry about the future can stifle us and prevent us from spending our time here the way we may truly want to.  Most importantly, honest living is a commitment to living without secrecy.  Many of us are aware of how the secrets we keep from others can devastate our personal lives and relationships.  The secrets we keep from ourselves, however, can devastate us, as well.   Secrets act as a barrier to trust and there is no one more deserving of your trust than you.  Many of us strive to be honest purely because honesty is a virtue, and if you live by the credo of "be nice to people", then most likely you want to be an honest partner, employee, parent and friend.  What you might not be considering, however, is that in addition to playing your roles in life honestly, you may want to also make sure you're being the most honest with yourself.  



Sleep and Awake: Linking Your Conscious and Unconscious Minds

 Your may not realize it, but your unconscious mind dictates a great deal of your behavior.  Very few of us pay attention to it, however.  Some of us are even lucky enough to unleash it with a glass of wine, here and there, but still don’t take the opportunity to learn from it.  Do you ever experience contradictory behavior?  For example, you know you want something, and you have a goal, but you’re not doing a damn thing to help yourself get there.  What’s the reason behind this self-sabotage?  The reason, very possibly, is that your conscious mind wants one thing, but your unconscious mind wants something else.  This harsh reality is something that very few of us are willing to admit to ourselves, but I promise you, it might be worth looking into.  Our life trajectories can often lie in the simple space between our conscious and our subconscious minds.  


         I meet countless people who do the opposite of what they say they want to be doing.   People who claim to have dreams they do nothing to pursue.  I meet people who claim to love their jobs yet put minimal effort into their work and, consequently, put their jobs in jeopardy.  People who claim to be in good marriages and relationships but purposefully do things to piss off their partners.  I meet people who want to be artists yet never create anything.  If you find yourself in a similar predicament, perhaps it’s time to really check-in with yourself about what it is you really want.  It’s simply counterintuitive to claim to want something and, yet, to do nothing about it.  Granted, there are extenuating circumstances and emotions that can act as a barrier to getting what we want—fear being a leading one.  If you have a dream but are simply too afraid to pursue it, that can be a reason never to go there.  If you’re depressed and, therefore, fragile, and your self-esteem has taken a recent nose-dive, that can be another reason you don’t feel strong enough to take risks.  Emotion can certainly get in the way of our highest aspirations, but what about the possibility that maybe your unconscious mind doesn’t want these things as badly as your conscious mind does? 


         What interests me the most about this puzzling phenomenon is why our conscious minds want something when our hearts desire the opposite.  What is the reason for thinking we want something our souls just aren’t into?  For many of us, we’re hardwired into thinking what culture, society, tradition and friends and family tell us we ought to want rather than really questioning our own wants. 


I know a guy who dove into a marriage simply because he thought he should due to his age.  He feared losing credibility with others if he let himself turn 50 without ever having “settled down”.  I meet countless people who commit to career choices they’d rather not dive into.  We all have obligations and responsibilities, of course—and in life, no question, we have to do things we don’t want to do.  Most of us need to earn a living.  If we have families, most of us need to provide for them.  If you don’t have these responsibilities, however, could you, arguably, follow a less conventional path, free from the judgment of others? 


I honestly think you shouldn’t have to apologize for any of life’s choices unless you’re making choices that negatively affect others, such as being a mooch.  If you barely work and constantly have to borrow money from your friends and family just to get by, then you’re probably not looking after yourself, properly.  If you’re partnered-up, however, and your spouse is happy to provide you with a jobless lifestyle, or a more creative and less lucrative career path, then who is to say you can’t enjoy that? The important thing to look at is whether or not that existence gives you meaning.  If that existence isn’t enough for you, isn’t meaningful enough for you, then it might be time to explore something else.  But the key is deciding for yourself and not letting others guilt you into taking on something you don’t even want or need. 

I’ve worked with countless housewives who felt deeply embarrassed and apologetic for not having careers, despite having happily, and very successfully, raised children and built a home and life with someone.  One woman, in particular, and I worked for years on trying to get her to own her choice and to stop apologizing for it.  Her conscious mind experienced guilt over her life’s choices, while her unconscious mind felt elation.  She never did succumb to the guilt and take a job, because in her heart she knew she didn't want to.  


And let me open this up to the men I know and work with—who typically experience a different type of pressure.  I’ve worked with burnt-out finance guys who, after years of sleepless workweeks, weekends in the office, schmoozing clients until 6am, and coked-up, powdery mornings (just to make it through meetings) were finally sick of the lifestyle.  The main pressure I gleaned from their experiences was that they simply had to keep going, no matter how miserable or disinterested they might have become in the game.  I worked with guys who had put plenty of money away, but still feared being perceived as either losers, or dropouts if they were to change careers or take time-off.  Time-off for a NYC finance guy might, unjustly, be perceived as weakness.  For the ones who even made enough money to retire at 38, they still struggled with the decision to take a break.  As an onlooker, you might say, why the hell would one continue in a miserable, overworked existence if money were neither an incentive nor an object? 


I celebrate anyone’s ambition, however, even if it’s just success for success’s sake, and I support anyone who pushes themselves to keep trucking despite struggle.  I do, however, believe that ambition does require fueling on both a conscious and an unconscious level.  If your heart’s not in it, you might risk burning out.  For someone who is a breadwinner and a provider, the desire to provide might be enough to unite both the brain and the heart—and that’s a winning combination.  If there’s nothing linking those two organs, however, it’s very possible your unconscious mind may start to act out.  Our subconscious has a tendency to send us messages via our peculiar, inconsistent behaviors—and it can be both fascinating and amusing to do an inventory of times in your life when that’s been the case. 


The lesson here is to pay closer attention to ourselves.  Do the words we say match the choices we make and the actions we carry out?  If they don’t, then here lies an amazing opportunity to get to know yourself a little better—to live more honestly.  Honest living could be our greatest freedom and can potentially, led us to a more authentic path based on true teamwork and solidarity between our hearts and minds. 



Addiction: How Indulgence Can Equal Avoidance

I can’t tell you how often my patients present their food addictions to me as though it were nothing more than a lack of discipline.  Yet no one would look at a meth-head as someone who could just use a little more willpower—we would likely all agree that this was a full-blown addiction and an extremely dangerous problem.   We would probably immediately suggest he get some help and wouldn’t dream of merely suggesting he just cut back a little.  With food addiction, however, the problem is rarely taken as seriously and the suggestion to go on a diet is often handed out with a condescending shrug.  Problems with drugs and alcohol are just more pronounced than problems with food, and we can probably attribute that to both legality and safety issues.  Drugs and alcohol are mind-altering substances, and, yes, you could die the first time you try them.  Binge-eating, however, is a beast that is likely get you over time, and, no you’re not likely to drop dead on a weekend-long McDonalds bender.   What do they have in common, however?  Our ultimate indulgences do serve a function.  In my work I see it almost daily, the very undeniable underlying reason for addiction:  Avoidance.  If you’re struggling with addiction—any addiction—I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there’s something going on in your life and mind that you’re simply not dealing with.


People don’t realize how their vices con them into thinking they’re happy.  One of the big warning signs I often listen out for is any derivative of a ‘can’t complain’ statement as a response when I ask friends how they’re doing.   Some people are happy.  Some people are seemingly happy.  Some people are unhappy.  Some people are downright miserable.  The miserable ones are fairly easy to spot.  The quieter ones are the ones who often slip through the cracks.  You might misread a slight vacancy in their eyes as a sign of a previously bad night’s sleep but not realize that your friend is experiencing well-masked pain.  The truth is we simply don’t know what our friends are doing behind closed doors.   Whether they’re eating too much, spending too much, smoking too much, over-exercising, or even dipping their toes into darker pools such as self-mutilation, we really just don’t know.   People present well and most of the people we know are functional.   They make it to work each day, they look after their children, they pay their bills and they keep their houses clean.  Yet as a therapist, I get to see and hear each day about how many of these seemingly happy people who get things done and handle their business are secretly finding ways to self-soothe each night after work.  It makes me wonder if Thoreau was right about “the mass of men lead[ing] lives of quiet desperation.”  The problem isn’t that our friends are withholding their pain—the problem is they may not even realize they’re in pain to begin with.  The addictive behavior they’ve discovered can serve to take the edge off just enough to make someone get through the day—thinking they’re alright enough. 


The litmus test I would use to discuss with any patient whether or not their behavior was, indeed, addictive in nature was whether or not they could not do it.  If you can’t not do something, then maybe this behavior has gotten problematic.  If you can’t not have dessert one night.  If you can’t not have a drink (or 2 or 3 or 6) after work, then you should look at that.  The problem is that such patterns of destructive behaviors are a mask, a hiding place.  The trick is to challenge yourself to actually feel your feelings.  Many of us drink too much when going through a break up.  Or we eat too much or exercise too much or do whatever we think we need to do, excessively, to cope with whatever we’ve got going on.  The problem, and the irony of it all, is that the key is to be able to actually sit and cope with our feelings until we don’t need to go do something else.  To get to the point where you can actually tolerate your own emotions is where the real freedom lies.  Indulging on the short-term, however, such as in response to horrible news and events is different than using on the long-term.  The habitual nature of addiction is the indicator that something isn’t working for you in your life if you need to incorporate these substances into your routine. 


A patient recently asked me “Is it better to cry?”  She then added, “if I couldn’t reward myself with sweets at the end of the day, then I really think I might spend my evenings crying—even though I already do cry over being at a weight I don’t want to be at.”  Most of us wouldn’t like the idea of sitting and crying each night, but here is the thing with that: If you fell into crying episodes, unpleasant and awful as they can be, you probably wouldn’t cry everyday for the rest of your life.  Crying is a release, and the more present you are with your emotions, rather than stuffing them down with food or booze, the more likely you might be to get in touch with what’s really going on.  You might have a better shot to get to the bottom of the critical question of your life’s problems.  Why do you feel so emotional?  What is the void in your life that you’re choosing to fill with something?  Even if you didn’t become closer to answering these questions on your own maybe you would at least elect to go talk to someone. 


“Wow, I guess I’m not happy with my life”, said Donna*.  “I think I’ve just been going about my days making the best of a bad situation.”  Donna had a historical struggle with Binge Eating Disorder and had had a particularly hard time with it for the past few years.  She didn’t realize that her weight struggles actually telegraphed more of a message to herself and to the world that things weren’t quite right.  Donna isn’t alone.  I can’t tell you how many people I see who eat or drink or spend or smoke or snort over bad marriages, toxic work environments, tensions with their in-laws or family members, or just general anxiety and malaise.  It doesn’t matter what you’re using—if the behavior feels at all out of control, it probably is.   Addiction is a delay—a procrastination.  This maladaptive behavior, however, does serve a purpose—to get you through the day.  Realizing your dependence on this behavior, however, is an opportunity to wake-up and take charge of the fact that this is your life and it’s up to only you to make it better.  Addiction doesn’t have to be something as indulgently obvious as heroin or deep-fried Snickers bars.  Anything you’re using that you feel you can’t do without should be looked at.  Yes, it would be great to replace our bad behaviors with healthier ones.  I tell my patients all the time, “I’d love to see you paint a picture or go take a bubble bath in response to feeling sad, but I know that behavior isn’t likely to take the pain away like a cocktail would.”  The instant gratification is often what one is addicted to, but it prevents long-term satisfaction, and that is the trap.  It’s a scary thing to admit to yourself that you might not be happy, and I think that is the reason people hide from it.  It’s ok to be unhappy.  And if you're addicted to something you know you shouldn't be, then, no, you just aren't happy.  If you are lucky enough to figure that out, perhaps you can, eventually, leave the donut-cave behind and start living the actual life you want.  


*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

The Power of Guilt

We've all got regrets--but do you still carry around cringe-worthy tales from your past?  For many of us, these experiences become more bearable over time, but still can make you squirm if you were to really dwell on them.  In dating, the likelihood of breaking some hearts can often be proportionate to how many times your own heart gets broken.  The universe often has a tricky way of balancing these things out.  Karma can often enter the equation, which is one reason, among many, that I try to urge my patients to make their karma a priority and always handle the hearts of others with care.  Unfortunately, though, mishaps can and do happen--even sometimes with the best of intent.  And then you're left with the god-awful byproduct of guilt.  It stares you in the face and can cause many a sleepless night, as you beat yourself up over how horribly you handled something.  The good news is that if you experience guilt, then you are likely to be a good person--as people who routinely hurt others and don't feel bad about it are ubiquitously roaming the planet with us.  Let's hope you don't run into too many of those on your romantic journey:).  Well-intentioned people who put themselves out there, however, will likely disappoint people just as they will experience disappointment and heartache, as well.  The larger point, however, is what do you do with your guilt once it lands on your doorstep?

People often assume that because I'm a therapist that I've never made a mistake.  While my professional training has, of course, brought about oodles of benefit for my personal relations,   I've certainly screwed up before.  Years and years ago, based on my youth and inexperience, I was extremely cavalier with a young man's heart.  Thank God I have the excuse of being in my 20s at the time.  I dragged it out for too long and his heart ended up being the casualty to my bad behavior-- the guilt that ensued was downright intolerable.  It took eons of time before I could truly forgive myself--and that was with boatloads of help from my friends.  The agony of having made a tremendous mistake that I couldn't undo was one that haunted me for longer than anyone could even tell.  I was horrified and embarrassed in front of our mutual friends, and I feared there was no way to truly redeem myself or to ever make it up to this person whom I'd hurt.  

While the guilt felt like a jail sentence, there was tremendous value in doing the time--I learned something.  And it made all the difference of how I handled my romantic life from that day forward.  I made a vow to myself to keep my eyes open a little wider and to never, again, be so careless with a person's heart.  I learned to consider the two of us rather than just myself at the onset of a new relationship.  That experience then bled furiously into my work, and I feel proud that I've had something to do with helping people to drive their relationships more carefully.  I think I've genuinely prevented a few slow-moving car wrecks in the lives of others.  It feels good not only because i love what I do, and I chose a helping profession on purpose, but also has made my own personal driving record a great deal cleaner.  Perhaps I've been guilty of a speeding ticket or two, but so far, no accidents on this end.  While no one's personal life is perfect, I'll put it this way, I sleep well at night and can't really identify anything to feel guilty about at this juncture. Knock on wood.  And guilt-free living is a gift, as most of you just from being on Earth.  

So this one goes out to all the Guilt-Ridden people out there, and I promise you I'm not serving you a side dish of Pollyanna with your steak.  I know what it's like to suffer from guilt--I'm not merely hypothesizing, here.  I KNOW the tossing and turning, the general uneasiness, and the oh-so-horrid flashbacks.  Guilt sucks, but it's also a meaningful opportunity to start making real changes in your life.  If you don't like the way you treated someone, the gift is that you don't ever have to do it, again.  People don't often realize that the point of all this therapy and self-improvement is to actually change!  It never ceases to amaze me how people work on changing a golf-swing but not on their attitudes and interactions with people!  People believe in their ability to change the physical, but not the mental, and that's where I remind you that there is always room to grow.  You may never agree with your former self based on past decisions, but remember that we've all made some doozies.  Many of us are even mortified at who we used to be.  The decision to learn from it, however, means that all those cringes and stomach rumbles actually had some use.  


Denise Limongello, LMSW