Greg Dennis: When age isn’t just a number

They say age is just a number. Perhaps so. But some numbers matter more than others.
Your teeth start coming in before you’re one. Most children lose their last baby teeth by age 12.
Five is when you toddle off to kindergarten — or, increasingly so if you’re a boy, it’s age six because boys, well, we’re slower.
Ten seems like a big age because you’re at last in double digits. It never occurs to you that someday you might make it into triple digits.
I kissed my first girl at age 12. Thank you, Judy Rotach.
You can start driving at 15 in many states. A lot of Vermont farm boys and girls start driving tractors well before that. Some Vermont town kids learn early on to drive a golf cart around the course.
It used to be that 18 was a magical age because it meant you could legally drink alcohol. Although in the small New York town where I grew up, nobody cared if you were 17 as long as the bartender knew who you were.
Being 18 also entitles you to join the military and be trained to go kill people. And importantly given the upcoming midterm elections, 18-year-olds can vote.
Most people consider a 21-year-old to be an adult. But I sure felt I learned a lot between 21 and 25, at which point I started to feel like some version of a real grown-up.
Surveys in various countries, according to The Guardian, have found these average milestones along the path:
•  Men categorize the most-attractive women to be between ages 20 and 23 (sorry, ladies).
•  Men feel most lonely at 35 (perhaps having realized that they’re not going to be sleeping with a 23-year-old anytime soon).
•  Peak creativity for both sexes is at 25.
•  Peak contentment: age 38.
•  Peak depression: age 44 (49 for men and a surprisingly young 40 for women).
•  Nobel Prize winners have an average age of 59.
Having concluded that the Nobel Prize committee is not going to be calling me anytime soon, the age I’m thinking about most these days is 66. That’s because I woke up on the morning I’m writing this, having turned from age 65 to age 66.
Sixty-five seemed like a good time to retire and halfway through the past year, I mostly did that.
But now 66, well, that feels like a much different number than 65. I can tell myself I’m still in my mid-60s. But really, the trend is not going in the right direction.
The New York Times reported this week on the sad tale of a college classmate of mine, also 66, a feminist and a distinguished New York University professor. She’s being forced to take a mandatory year off from the university, having been found to have sexually harassed a man in his 30s. She’s a lesbian and he’s a gay man.
Oh, the sorry and mortifying ways in which we can go astray.
I’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes, in various ways over time. But my classmate’s plight has me recognizing that as many screw-ups as I’ve blundered into in this life, at least there are some whoppers I’ve managed to avoid.
One big reason age 66 feels so different is that I can now collect the allotted “full” amount of Social Security. One has the option of waiting until 70 as the benefits accrue an extra 8 percent per year. But I’ve decided why wait? The fate of Social Security is uncertain past about 2030, just 12 short years from now.
There’s an easy solution to extending the life of this wonderful government program, by the way. As things stand now, people with taxable incomes over $128,400 don’t have to pay the 6.2 percent tax on income above that amount. Lift that ceiling and — voila! — high earners are paying their fair share and everybody gets to look forward to some financial support in their older years.
That’s unlikely to happen, though, since the Republican Party seems intent on starving government until it can be strangled in the bathtub. So I’ll take the money and run, thank you.
In the meantime, there’s always age 67 to look forward to, and hopefully more.
The life expectancy of an American male is almost 75. American women live to be almost 81, spending their last six years missing their husbands but perhaps sometimes also cherishing their alone time.
And if a man makes it past 75?
Oliver Sacks put it this way:
“I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”
Bring it on.
Gregory Dennis’ column appears here almost every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email” [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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