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Charlotte’s (Tangled) Web

I’m a 49-year-old guy, and when I met my girlfriend of six months she told me she was 30. Our 19-year age difference worried me, but she said it was cool with her. A few weeks ago, I inadvertently discovered she's really 39. She admitted it, apologized, and said she didn't know why she didn’t tell me. I’m glad she's 39, but should I be worried about this kind of dishonesty spilling over into other areas?

--Trust Tested

“Beauty is truth,” wrote Keats. Clearly, Keats never experienced underwire, implants, or those little silicone patties women stick in their bras. (There’s a reason they don’t call them “truthsies.”)

The truth is, beauty is rarely truth, and typically the product of a massive disinformation campaign. If you think about it, even deodorant is a lie -- and may be a “gateway drug” to lipo, Botox, and lips by Goodyear. For liars on more of a budget, there are those pantyhose that squeeze a size 16 woman into a size six woman -- until she passes out and has to be removed from her nylons by paramedics wielding the “Jaws of Life.”

Men, too, lie about their looks -- with Rogaine, hair plugs, socks in the crotch, and the untucked shirt hiding the really big gut. And then, because women are into fiscal good looks, a man’s more likely to introduce himself as “a consultant” instead of “unemployed,” or to live in a treehouse he’s sublet from some kid so he can make the payments on his Jag.

Accordingly, a girl who turns the clock back nine years is lying, but there are lie-lies and there are like-me lies, and they shouldn’t be assigned the same point value. Back when you were, say, just some cute stranger in a bar, her age-shaving was a like-me lie. But, then you started dating. There was a grace period (two dates, three dates) in which she could’ve played the silly girl card, and said, “Tee hee, I have a confession to make. I liked you so much I told this stupid lie!” Instead, she stuck to her deception -- even though she knew that the truth would’ve made you feel much better. The coverup turned it into a lie-lie -- a sign of questionable character -- and probably led to some fast talking about how old she was when she got her first mullet.

Will her dishonesty spill into other areas? It’s possible. Let’s look at the area you’re probably most worried about -- some other guy’s bedroom. Researchers Todd Shackelford and David Buss gave a battery of tests to 107 married couples, and found three personality traits common to those more susceptible to infidelity. The first is narcissism -- being self-absorbed, self-important, lacking in empathy, and prone to exploiting others. Next on the list are low conscientiousness and high “psychoticism,” clinical terms for a personality marked by impulsivity, unreliability, and an inability to delay gratification.

Even if some or all of this sounds disturbingly familiar, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll stray. Don’t bother asking her whether you can trust her (what’s she going to say, “Probably not”?). Just act like you can so you can observe her in unguarded moments and learn the truth without her knowing she’s telling it. In time, you should get a sense of whether she’s just insecure, and insecure about admitting to it -- or inclined to take those “little shortcuts of life” more accurately known as lying, cheating, and relocating to the Caribbean with the contents of your bank account.

Posted by aalkon at May 16, 2007 12:06 AM


"...or inclined to take those “little shortcuts of life” more accurately known as lying, cheating, and relocating to the Caribbean with the contents of your bank account."

Amy...you're so funny. ;) Just had to put that out there.

She sounds pretty insecure, to take pretty much a full decade off her age and then not 'fess up...but HE sounds pretty insecure, too, what with the whole "should I be worried about this kind of dishonesty spilling over into other areas" question. Maybe they should just lighten up a little. Don't we all have bigger things to worry about? I mean, really.

Posted by: Sarah at May 16, 2007 4:39 AM

He's still 10 years older than she is, so he should really consider himself lucky, and shut the hell up. (haha) No seriously, I agree with Sarah, they both have to lighten up!

Maybe he should come clean on all his little white lies too, which probably have to do with his finances, and possibly his marital status and dependents?

Posted by: Chrissy at May 16, 2007 5:50 AM

Excellent analysis, Amy. This one really amused me. Thanks for the good laugh. I entirely agree with your assessment of the first stage, the like-me lie. Then I thought perhaps you were being a bit harsh by saying she had crossed the line and graduated to a lie-lie. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to agree. You nailed it, as usual.

Posted by: Marie at May 16, 2007 6:59 AM

Sigh. I understand the temptation to lower your age by a few years, given how much the culture values youth in women...but if a 49-year-old guy is really going to like you better if you're 19 years younger than him (i.e. almost a different generation) instead of 10 years younger, is that the guy you really want to be with?

However, I guess it's possible that this was one of those spur-of-the-moment things said to a guy who she didn't think would be around very long...that then turned into a Real Lie when he turned into a boyfriend. Guess he'll see...

Posted by: marion at May 16, 2007 7:27 AM

Such economy of language. The men's questions tend to be so factual and to the point while the women's often wander off into the quasi-philosophical. He gives the background and asks a simple question: "[S]hould I be worried?"
Yes, yes he should. But nobody reads the Advice Goddess for terse rulings; let's go between the lines. He actually believed she was 30 so he must see her as quite young and attractive and he is probably hesitant to show her the door for one instance of brattiness. He's got to ask himself if it is worth the headache of supervising a spoiled woman-child in order to date someone who turns heads. If he dreams of growing old with his soulmate by his side, he should take out the trash and change the locks. If he likes to live life on the edge, he should put a PI on retainer, check his credit report daily and buckle in for a wild ride.

Posted by: Martin at May 16, 2007 7:58 AM

Thanks, Marie, and I, too, understand the temptation...but I think it's much sexier to be comfortable with yourself. As a strong, flamboyant woman, I've had a lot of guys find me off-putting. Michael Levine, a PR guy, told me I had to "tone myself down." Yeah, that was going to happen. I found it a much healthier approach to have a series of boy toys and wait until I could find a man to pair up with. Gregg found the notion that he would find me intimidating rather amusing. Of course, he goes and looks at sawed-up dead bodies with the Detroit cops for Elmore's books, but hey, whatever it takes to have love in your life!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 16, 2007 8:50 AM

Am I the only one impressed that a 49-year-old man not only reads The Advice Goddess, but emails her?!

Posted by: Angela at May 16, 2007 11:21 AM

That whole business with women lying about their age has always baffled me. 1) It's one of the easiest lies in the world to expose, and 2) if she looks like good enough to pass for 30...well, why does she want to? what's the POINT? I'm 34, but people frequently place me nearer my mid-20s, and I'm always HAPPY to correct them. It's a point of pride for me that even though I'm fast approaching middle age, I've still got it. (And not the kind of "got it" that delusionally insists on wearing inappropriately youthful clothes, or acts like a giggling idiot, either...). Nope, I've been out of graduate school for ten years, have distinguished myself in my field, accomplished a lot and put all the insecurities and fears we deal with in our 20s behind me, but still turn plenty of heads when I walk into a room. And not just the sugar daddies; my last "boy toy" (to use your words, Amy) was 12 years my junior, and found my age kind of hot. This guy's girlfriend should stop and think -- is it better to pass herself off as a hot 30 year old, or actually own it that she's a SMOKIN' HOT 39 year old?

Posted by: Daisy Jones at May 16, 2007 4:15 PM

I'm with Daisy. That having been said, women who are less confident about their non-outward qualities sometimes feel tempted to lie about their age. Me, I like telling people my real age...and seeing the genuine shock on their faces! (Sunscreen really IS a wonder drug.)

"Gregg found the notion that he would find me intimidating rather amusing. Of course, he goes and looks at sawed-up dead bodies with the Detroit cops for Elmore's books, but hey, whatever it takes to have love in your life!"

He does? SUPER COOL.

Posted by: marion at May 16, 2007 4:37 PM

Sunscreen + lots of water with lemon juice + a five mile run every day, and you're GOLDEN, baby!

Posted by: Daisy Jones at May 16, 2007 4:47 PM

2 years ago, I dated a guy who answered my ad on Craig's List. He told me he was 45, and this was fine with me. The following year, after I split up with him, he responded within 5 minutes to my second Craig's List ad being posted, saying he was 36! He didn't know it was me, of course.

There's a lot of lying in the personals. The worst stories I heard were from male friends, who told me of meeting women who were 100 lbs more than their photos and other such stuff. Even fudging by a few years is bad, better to be vague but honest about the vagueness. Having an approximation is helpful, I agree, say within 5 years, but not the exact age. Mostly because I do judge people on how they act, but I'll cut a little more slack for a younger person.

I just don't like telling or hearing falsehoods. Better to just say, I'm not going to tell you exactly how old I am. I don't owe it to anyone to tell them my age. A legit reason for asking might be 1) they're my doctor 2) they're worried I'm jailbait 3) they want kids.

Posted by: Red Ree at May 16, 2007 8:43 PM

Daisy and marion are right. I never lie about my age because I think it's funny that people would have a preconceived image of what 'women my age' look like. I tell them I'm the same age as Madonna (48), so that gives them a bit of perspective.

I'm chased by guys of all ages, so obviously the important thing is to take care of yourself, make the most of what you have, and be confident about yourself. And women really have to be a bit more open minded about the age of guys they'll date. There are a lot of very mature responsible guys in their 20s and 30s, and all guys should be judged as individuals on their own merits.

Posted by: Chrissy at May 17, 2007 7:49 AM

Even "little" lies scare me. I can't imagine anything worse than lying to a man whose trust I was trying to gain, and saying I'm 40 and not even 38 or 36 has cost me dearly--but hell-o, the last time I checked, The Truth doesn't employ negotiators.

Red flags as an advice goddess fangirl: a) 10 years is ALOT! There's creative marketing, then there's and a creative relationship with REALITY. b) She did not even 'fess up, he found out. I don't know that I'd want to share a bed, my lips and a whole lot more with someone after catching them in a lie.

Posted by: Susan at May 17, 2007 9:24 AM

My friend lived with a guy for 2 years before finding out that he was 10 years older than what he had told her. She found out by accidentally seeing his new drivers licence, so it's not like he admitted to lying. I found that creepy beyond belief.

I suspect that my ex-boyfriend may have been lying about his age too, although I never was lucky enough to see any of his official documents to find out. He told me he was 2 years older than me, but may have been much older, no idea how much. I always had my reservations about him maybe because I sensed he was hiding something, I don't know.

Posted by: Chrissy at May 17, 2007 11:56 AM

Amy, I find this column to be one of your best, in my recent memory. I love the contrast of that overly used quotation "beauty is truth, truth is beauty" with our culture's crass fixation on personal hygiene and grooming. Truthsies--hahahaha!

As for my own input, well, Daisy beat me to the punch (I'm 33 and proudly proclaim it, because people still think I'm in my mid- to late-20's). Also another anti-aging elixir: not smoking and light to moderate drinking. Just in case anyone out there wants to maximize their preservation. :)

Posted by: Wendy at May 17, 2007 7:39 PM

Amy, again, great response. I love it when you approach things from an angle which I never would have considered. (Which is always, actually!)

One thing that struck me about some of the responses - saying that one is *proud* to admit to being in one's thirties... isn't that in fact saying that there is something shameful about being in one's thirties? Implying that being in one's twenties is the ideal. (In this country, the tv culture part of it (not to mention the raw biological part - which is undeniable and understandable and strong), I know that that is the case, so...) But being in one's thirties is so young, in my opinion. I wonder if these same posters will say that they're proud to be 60, or 50, or 40. I hope so.

I'm 44, an actress, but my agent sends me out as a 34 year old. (She didn't even want to know my age when I signed with her; in fact, she stopped me before I could tell her.)

When I date someone, I wait a very long time before telling them my age, because I don't know if it's someone I can trust, or who will be around long enough for it to matter. For me, my age is as private as my Social Security number. And it can affect my work. I do tell them straightaway that I'm not able to have children, if that's what they're looking for.

(I'm currently dating a man who's 41, another who is 38, and another who is 47, so all close to my age. Generally, I've dated men who were about ten years younger, because those were the ones with whom I had a reciprocal attraction. (A few weeks ago, I very briefly dated a man who is 22, but that ended for non-age-related reasons.))

I would like to be free of this - feeling as if I shouldn't tell people how old I am. But so many of us do judge people by age: they should have achieved "this", and "this", and "this" by age "X"... I see it in people's eyes when I tell them how old I am (beyond the disbelief, because so many think that I am in my early thirties - and I do smoke and drink! maybe it's because I'm black, since black don't crack... and I have a perfect WHR ratio!). And then, once I tell them my age, they keep bringing it up, as if it were the most important thing about me. It's really annoying, even if it's ostensibly a compliment ("I can't believe you're 44!" gets old really quickly, believe me).

I love what I do, and that means more to me than owning my home (although I would love to) or a car. Which, in theory, I should have had long ago - going by my age. And I know that being a female, it's slightly easier for me in a sense (in terms of being judged for what I own or don't own).

Am I proud to be 44? I don't know, because I've never really thought about it! I'm proud to be alive, and loving what I do. I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far, even if it doesn't seem like much to anyone else. I hope to live fully for as long as I have left to live. The way I see it, if I were dead tomorrow, everyone would say "She was so young!". And since I know so much more now than I did a year ago even, I would never give up that year, or any of my years, for anything in the world.

(I understand that youth = beauty because youth = fertility, which equals life, but at some point we have to come to terms with where we are along that spectrum.)

Posted by: soleil at May 17, 2007 11:43 PM

I'm with the "whatever" crowd. For years I lied about my age . . . rounding up. It amused me to say I was 40 all throughout my 30s. Just because it was perverse and unexpected. Now that I'm 41 I'm telling the truth, and men always think they're complementing me when they say 'No! You must be in your early 30s!" I say, "Dude, I worked hard for these wrinkles. Don't be discounting them!" (I would say "grey hairs," but I dye my hair a color not found in nature . . . not trying to look young, just like an old goth/punk!)

Posted by: Anathema at May 17, 2007 11:46 PM

I found the reference to age kind of irritating after a while too. When guys say 'You don't look 48', I say, 'what does 48 look like?' and they don't know what to say.

I would attribute my preservation to not smoking, staying out of the sun, healthy eating, and using pure shea butter on my face & neck (the stuff you get at the health food store). It's also good genes of course. I figured that if I had been dealt a good hand genetically, I may as well make the most of it. I don't know if I would look exactly the same if I didn't take care of myself, but why take the chance!

Posted by: Chrissy at May 18, 2007 8:38 AM

Soleil, I love being in my 30's. I HATED my life during my 20's. What makes me proud to say I'm 33 often to people's surprise is the simple fact that I look younger. I would feel the same way if I were 60 and someone said I looked like I was in my 50's. It's the substraction of years that strokes my ego. I really can't give you a rational explanation as to why it gratifies me.

Only one thing concerns me about being 33 is that if I want to have children with my soon-to-be-husband, I can't wait too, too long. We will be married this fall, and I want at least 3 years to travel and have fun with him. 5 would be ideal. I don't know whether to believe some of the reports in the media about fertility dramatically dropping when one turns 30. I don't have any scientific data, no study findings to support my fears. I suppose I've just witnessed a few people in their 30's struggle to become pregnant (my sister-in-law was never able to, and probably never will. I really don't want to bring up that whole hot-button topic of giving birth to one's own child versus adopting--that's already been discussed and slung around in another column of Amy's a few months ago. It's my sister-in-law's personal choice not to adopt).

Is it the melanin in a black woman's skin that is her secret? I swear, I've met so many beautiful, hot black women in their 40's and 50's. I hope when I'm at that age I'm hot like that. :)

Posted by: Wendy at May 18, 2007 10:47 AM


Don't worry about your age. My wife had our 2 wonderful children when she was 32 and 35 respectively. She refused amniocentesis because it increases the odds of Downs or miscarriage.

Posted by: Dave at May 18, 2007 6:36 PM

A 49 year old man asking you for advise? I am a 50 year old man who tries to read every word you write (and have sought out your advice in the past) because you do solid research and don't send every person who writes to you through therapy... Consider the 49 year old a "wise" person for seeking out a well researched (and often very funny) opinion!

Posted by: Paul at May 19, 2007 7:59 AM

Hey, thanks -- and thanks for noticing.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 19, 2007 9:06 AM

Wendy, just more reassurance. I had my second child a week before my 36th B-Day (took about 3 days off the pill of trying). My third (final) is due a week before my 38th B-day (this one took a whole month of trying). Obviously it's not always this easy, but don't let all the media reports discourage you.

Soleil, I love your attitude about aging. It's so much healthier than moaning about how society judges us on age. Live your best at the age you're at.

Posted by: Kimberly at May 19, 2007 9:47 AM

This 49 year old guy sounds as if he is pissed off at himself for worrying about dating a supposed 30 year old woman for the past 6 months. Now that his worry was for nothing, he feels as if the lady got one up on him and his ego is getting in the way of him forgetting about it. Tell him to forget about it, there are no guarantees in life, there are no warrantees on a 6 month relationship.

Posted by: Rob at May 19, 2007 8:04 PM

Wendy, I don't know about the pregnancy part (I have no children), but re the hotness - think of Helen Mirren! Very hot, not too much melanin (there are many others, but she's the first to come to mind). So I think you'll be fine! ;)

Amy, thanks for another mind-opening discussion. This isn't the place for me to go into detail, but I've been thinking about this a lot since I read and posted earlier. And hopefully, matured a little!

Posted by: soleil at May 21, 2007 5:13 PM

Re: having babies in your later 30's, I had my first the day before I turned 35, and my 2nd (and last) 2 weeks after I turned 38. They are both beautiful, fully functioning young ladies now (I'll be 50 in November), and the lights of my life. I did have an amnio with the second one, because the prenatal clinic told me my AFPs (amnio-fetal-protiens) were exceptionally high, and the results indicated an extra 5 to 7% piece of a chromosone, but she's absolutely fine, is on the honor roll at her middle school, and is doing very well in her dance and archery classes. We could be the exception rather than the rule, but I really don't think so. And what about that woman who is 60 years old and just gave birth?

Wendy, enjoy your life with your soon-to-be-husband, travel and do the things you want to before you have children, and relax, knowing that it is very possible that you'll have little to no problems. (At least until they're born!) :)

Posted by: Flynne at May 25, 2007 5:49 AM

Very interesting article on baby smarts:


Posted by: Flynne at May 25, 2007 5:58 AM

Don't worry about your age. My wife had our 2 wonderful children when she was 32 and 35 respectively. She refused amniocentesis because it increases the odds of Downs or miscarriage.

Dave, I would love to see the sources for your absurd claims.

First, the plural of anecdote is not data, so how would a story from a sample size of one prove that age is not a factor towards fertility?

Second, Down's syndrome is a genetic disorder; it can be detected by amniocentesis, but not caused by it. Howerver, the miscarriage statement is correct - the procedure can potentially injure the fetus, but not mangle every 21st chromosome in its body. Interestingly enough, maternal age does increase the risk of Down's, but I've never understood how.

Posted by: lurker at June 6, 2007 6:20 AM

My sister did this very thing: told him she was 29 (she was actually 35), the relationship matured and he became very important to her. Two years later he found out about "the 2 yr old lie" and dropped her on the spot. He could NOT deal with the fact that she continued to live the lie for two years and not know what else was also a lie. She was crushed! You reap what you sow.

Posted by: Jeff at June 9, 2007 2:02 PM

It is the coolest site,keep so!

Posted by: effexor at July 11, 2007 7:01 AM

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