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Roll Off Your Back Like Water On A Duck

I have been friends with a woman for many years. Our birthdays are two months apart, and I am the oldest. Whenever birthday time comes around, she invariably makes a comment like “I’m younger than you are ha ha ha.” I do not interpret this as gentle ribbing, it is said with a kind of one-upmanship glee. I have, in the past, said things like “Yes, I’m aware of that” and “oh, here we go again.”

Today we talked and as her birthday approaches she said “How old are you again?” (in the context of trying to “remember” how old she was going to be–I should mention we are both approaching senior status). I told her and she said, “So you reached (that big number) before me!” and I said “Yes, I did it first and better.” I must say, she was kind of taken aback. Was I wrong? Sometimes I hold things back until some borderline thing just pops out of my mouth. I’m not sure I want to be that kind of person.

The whole thing is kind of ridiculous because at our age two months is, of course, nothing. So why is it so important to her to bring it up? 0910-13

Why is it so important to you to respond to something you realize is petty?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Green123 September 11, 2013, 5:37 am

    I think OP’s response was appropriate, given the context.

  • laffin September 11, 2013, 6:03 am

    I thought that was a great comeback. Maybe she’ll think twice before taking any more digs at your age again.

  • Heather September 11, 2013, 6:10 am

    As Admin says, she is behaving in such a small way… why respond? But I understand the need to get it off your chest. I had a friend who did this as well. One time, I couldn’t help myself… when she made one more remark… “Yes, I’m younger”, I said, “That’s true, I just look younger.”. I never heard the remark again.

  • Barbarian September 11, 2013, 6:35 am

    An old friendship is more important than a silly comment. Old friendships can’t be replaced especailly as we age. Your friend sounds like she is more conscious of her age than you. I have a sibling who got unhappy because I mentioned to some people in our hometown how old I was and she scolded me: “Don’t do that! When you tell people how old you are, they will figure out how old I am.” We are 1 year apart.

    Maybe if she makes an annual habit of this issue, you can deflect her by asking her to think of how many ways you can celebrate your birthdays= a joint birthday should be double the cause to celebrate.

  • Mary September 11, 2013, 6:41 am

    If these comments about being older were made with true snarkiness, I would just make s comment back about my being older and wiser and she should respect her elders.

  • Jewel September 11, 2013, 6:54 am

    Even a saintly personality would get aggravated by years of petty comments. Your response to her was perfect. I bet your friend will find that her “game” isn’t fun anymore and will stop with the inane comments.

  • The Elf September 11, 2013, 7:08 am

    I crack these jokes all the time with my husband, who is a whopping three months older than me. My best friend is a little younger – she teases me about the same. It’s all good natured fun BECAUSE we all know that amount of time is meaningless. We’re all born in the same year!

    But the problem is when the person is sensitive about birthdays in general, or about aging, or about a particular birthday. Friend should be able to read your discomfort about it and lay off, but since no one is a mind-reader it would be good if you said it once and for all. “This kind of teasing bothers me. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment about my birthday.”

    BTW, “Yes, I did it first and better!” is, to me, the perfect response to that teasing. If my husband had popped off with that one, I would have laughed hard.

  • SFL September 11, 2013, 7:26 am

    I think that was the perfect response. It might give her pause to realize she has been engaging in foolishness.

  • Lo September 11, 2013, 7:35 am

    I’m in the “adults are too old to make a big deal of out birthdays” camp so take this with a grain of salt if you aren’t.

    I cannot imagine being bothered by something being 2 months older or younger or even that it would make a bit of difference. I *can* see being annoyed by someone’s constant reference to your age and I did laugh at your retort.

    But it would be better just to ignore her. It’s a minor offense to snap back but it’s an unnecessary step to take for something so petty. I guess the problem is that if you’re vocal about how much it bothers you she might take it as you actually do care about how old you are. So I would just keep quiet and let her act like a fool.

  • Easily Amused September 11, 2013, 7:41 am

    Funny- I had a similar conversation with my son yesterday. Another 10 year old boy in his 5th grade class is always bragging about what a fast runner he is, and my son was pretty mad about it. I asked him why he cares so much about what the other boy has to say about himself? I told him to say “good for you” and move on. He could even throw the other kid a bone and compliment him on his running- who cares? Another person’s skills or lack thereof do not affect your abilities or accomplishments!

    It’s the same with these little age games. Tell her, oh, yes good for you. Or mess with her some and say “yes, I reached 50 first- pearls before swine!” Joke, have fun, laugh- or stop talking to her. Just don’t let these petty things be a source of stress in your life.

  • Mae September 11, 2013, 7:43 am

    Some people NEED a little drama or to feel superior/better, etc., or they are unhappy. That is the type of person this colleague sounds like. You know she is baiting you, so do as admin suggests and just stop responding or even walk away. She will either get the hint or ask and if she does ask, simply tell her that you are too old to engage in childish behavior. 🙂

  • CaffeineKatie September 11, 2013, 7:48 am

    Sorry–but I think OP’s comeback was funny, witty and to the point! Good for you–you tried bland, non-engaging responses, and she didn’t get the hint.

  • Marie September 11, 2013, 7:52 am

    My best friend’s birthday is the day before mine and I always joke that she’s older than I. It’s all in fun. I think you’re overreacting.

  • Anonymous September 11, 2013, 7:52 am

    Yeah, this is something that a blank stare, or a “did you really just say that?” stare, should fix. Failing that, what’s wrong with, “Hey, that bothers me?” We’ve had a rash of Assertiveness Heck stories on Etiquette Hell lately.

  • BabySnakes September 11, 2013, 8:28 am

    It does get very tiresome. My BIL is a big whopping week younger than I am and brings it up every blankety-blank year. I’m to the point where I just say, “yeah, yeah” in a bored tone and it pretty much shuts him down at that point. This has been going on since we were 15 and we’re now in our late 50’s!

  • momofeveryone September 11, 2013, 8:39 am

    ha ha! i love it!

  • Wild Irish Rose September 11, 2013, 8:50 am

    Easily Amused just kind of took the words right out of my . . . keyboard. I once knew someone (younger than I was) whose standard stupid remark to me was “Age before beauty” whenever we would approach a doorway, elevator, etc. at the same time. So finally I looked at her, smiled sweetly and said, “Pearls before swine” and entered the elevator ahead of her. She never did it again.

    It’s petty, yes, but the constant dig about something over which you have zero control can get to you. I thought OP’s response was perfect. And I’d probably spend less time with this person in the future.

  • Chicalola September 11, 2013, 8:54 am

    Have you ever told her that it bothers you? If you have played along with her all these years, and never let her know, she probably thinks you enjoy the game as much as she does. I’m guessing she isn’t a mind reader, you should probably tell her. She may think your most recent response was rude. I guess you will never really know unless you actually talk to her about it….

  • Yet Another Laura September 11, 2013, 9:00 am

    Petty things have a way of getting under a person’s skin like a mosquito in your tent on a camping trip. Such a tiny thing, but the buzzing will keep you awake. Mosquitos need to be swatted before they multiply.

    I don’t agree with the idea that it’s not OK to call someone out when things they say is hurtful. How else will you get them to stop?

  • Joy September 11, 2013, 9:47 am

    Ok, it was a wee bit petty. But if these two are really friends, they both have the right to say what they think. If the younger lady wishes to be a bore and ignore the other’s feelings, then go ahead. The older lady has the right to tell her to stuff it, if she chooses.

  • Jenn50 September 11, 2013, 10:34 am

    I find that faux-concern works beautifully in this type of situation. Say, with pity dripping from your voice, “My dear, is everything alright? You seem awfully preoccupied with announcing how young you are. Are you feeling insecure about your health, or mortality?” This highlights to her that the effect of her comments is to induce pity and concern instead of elevating her in some way above OP, and may serve to point out to her how ridiculous it sounds.

    I’ve never understood our society’s preoccupation with youth superiority. I’ve seen fit, strong and healthy people of any age. You hear all the time about seniors running their first marathon, or swimming long distances. With age comes wisdom and experience, and a certain amount of respect and deference, if you earn it. Why talk about our age as though it’s shameful?

  • badkitty September 11, 2013, 10:44 am

    She was saying petty, ridiculous things that nonetheless bothered you. You endured it in good humor for years, and finally gave exactly as good as you got. There was nothing unkind in your comeback – any more than her “you’re so old!” comments are inherently unkind – and so if she has a problem with the “first and better” comment it’s only because she’s decided that the other side of this running joke isn’t fun. Gee, ya think?

    If she makes a thing of it later, you can point out that your statement was no different in tone or intent than any of hers. Otherwise, just let it go. My guess is that you won’t be hearing that joke again, though.

  • Shalamar September 11, 2013, 11:03 am

    Ugh, I used to work with someone who was about 8 years younger than I was, and boy, did she love that. When I turned 30, she came up to me and asked “HOW old are you today?” (She knew darned well, she just wanted to hear me say it.) When I told her (between gritted teeth), she squealed “THIRTY? You’re THIRTY? OMG, I can’t even IMAGINE being that old!”

    I take a certain satisfaction in knowing that she became “that old” at least ten years ago. 🙂

  • Shalamar September 11, 2013, 11:07 am

    Forgot to say that I occasionally tease my husband about our age difference, which is a whopping 9 months. He’s turning 50 this year, and I’ve already made a comment about being married to an old geezer in his 50’s while I’m still a vibrant young woman in my 40’s. He takes it with a good grace, but then, we have that kind of relationship.

  • Tyler September 11, 2013, 11:08 am

    I think it is important for her to respond to something so petty because it is something she has had to deal with on a yearly basis for an extensive period of time.

  • Library Diva September 11, 2013, 11:20 am

    OP, I think you have nothing to feel bad about. You delivered that infamous “3 AM comeback…” when you think of the perfect comeback to a hurtful/annoying/prying remark in the middle of the night hours after the situation has long passed. It was said with humor, it wasn’t nasty (in fact, when you take it apart it’s a bit ridiculous…how can anyone turn a certain age better than someone else?) and it had the added benefit of shutting your friend’s mouth on this topic, possibly for good.

  • Calli Arcale September 11, 2013, 11:23 am

    That’s a great come-back!

    My dad and his big sister have long teased each other about their ages. It’s good-natured in their cases, and they are of course further apart in age than this. Their favorite schtick is for my dad to let her go first through a door, saying “Age before beauty,” to which she replies, “Pearls before swine,” and goes through ahead of him. 😉

  • michellep September 11, 2013, 11:27 am

    @Jenn50, You. Are. Awesome! Love the post. I’m with the posters who say that the OP got the point across after years of petty comments, although I have to agree that this is a silly thing to get worked up about.

  • Abby September 11, 2013, 11:35 am

    I don’t think “I did it first and I did it better” is anything to really get offended about. I mean, it’s a joke! Obviously doesn’t mean anything.

    That being said, I actually feel a bit sorry for your friend. She clearly lives for the two months out of the year she can feel superior that her age is less than yours. I think you should let her have this one.

    For the record, my dad is 2.5 months younger than my mom. From mid Feb to early May, the “older woman” jokes are plentiful and shared by everyone in our extended family.

  • jd September 11, 2013, 12:07 pm

    If she asks how old you are again, fake concern and ask her if she’s talked to her doctor about her memory loss these days! However, I liked your response. It is a small issue, but it can be like water dripping, until you snap or give a snappy comeback. You gave a snappy comeback, and I loved it. It’s the same thing my friend did years ago when he endured year after year of bragging on kids by someone he saw only two or three times a year: after listening patiently to yet another recital of the bragger’s kids’ perfections, and finally being asked how his kids were doing, he deadpanned, “They flunked.” And moved away to get a snack and talk to others. And never got the bragging thrown at him again, although he’s talked to the bragger many times since then.

  • Karen L September 11, 2013, 12:41 pm

    I once saw a birthday card that said “Quit being younger than me, you b***h!” Of course, I would never suggest (wink) that you should kid her with this joke.

  • Angel September 11, 2013, 12:45 pm

    I like the OP’s comeback. It was short and to the point. Yes, it’s regarding something petty. But not everyone can rise above everything all the time. Personally the age jokes would grate on my nerves after a while too. Especially when the age difference is negligible.

  • Victoria September 11, 2013, 12:50 pm

    My husband is six days older than me, and for six days every year there are “respect your elder” comments and others of the same ilk. It’s just teasing, and doesn’t bother me. If it did bother me, I would TELL him.

    Please don’t use the passive aggressive comments others are suggesting. That just creates more bad feelings all around. If it really bothers you that much, tell her it bothers you. You’ve been friends with this person for years, I doubt she’s deliberately trying to hurt you. Don’t assume it’s “one-upmanship glee” where there may be only teasing. TALK TO HER. If you use the passive aggressive comments and it turns out it was only friendly teasing? You’ve just hurt your friend for no reason.

  • Ashley September 11, 2013, 12:53 pm

    Even someone with the patience of a saint is eventually going to get annoyed with the same comments year after year after year, especially if they are done with the intention of annoying/hurting the other person. In this case, I think OP’s response was spot on and will hopefully show this friend that the comments aren’t appreciated and haven’t been for some time.

  • lakey September 11, 2013, 2:48 pm

    I suspect that the reason she responds to something that is petty is because these kinds of remarks that are petty, are also put downs. It can be annoying tolerating put downs. I think her response was fine, but I prefer to respond to people like this by cutting back on the time I spend around them. I have a sister who builds herself up pointing out things to people that upset them. I see her 3 times a year, Easter, Thanksgiving , and Christmas.

  • Marozia September 11, 2013, 3:26 pm

    Well said, OP! What started off as probably a bit of a laugh has now become tiresome. When heard year after year after year, it can become grating.
    I always use the ‘pearls before swine’ comeback as well @WildIrishRose. That shuts them up!

  • hakayama September 11, 2013, 3:39 pm

    Hooray, OP! Also, please accept my sympathy if that friend is someone whose other annoying quirks, habits and mannerisms are gradually surfacing as time goes on… With some people it has taken me some decades to discover that not only they annoy the dickens out of me, but we have so few points we agree on. Yup! Slow on the uptake 😉 and willing to overlook faults. Until the cup overflows…

    I did double check on my recollection, and the expression does not apply to “you first” situations described by several respondents. “Before” in this case does not refer to time sequence but to location, as in “[pearls scattered] before [in front of] the swine”…

  • wren September 11, 2013, 4:14 pm

    Admin, it’s important to her because she’s sick and tired of something that has become part of her life, and if it’s needling at her, and her friend isn’t receiving hints that it’s time to stop the remark, then I want her to take a new approach.

    Her friend apparently still finds enough humor in the yearly birthday remark that she continues to say it. I hope the OP laughs along with her, then winks and says, “Ah, but I did it first and better!” or “Yup, I’m still ahead of you,” or “I’m older and wiser, I admit it!” or the like.

  • Raven September 11, 2013, 5:02 pm

    Any “joke” told constantly is going to get annoying. Without going into too much detail, my last name is also a (not-offensive) slang-expression word. Everyone, when introduced to me, makes the same joke, and then they laugh like they are incredibly witty and brilliant. I used to smile politely. Now, I give them a big smile and say, “Wow! You are SO original! Never heard that one before!” with a wink and a giggle. I know it doesn’t change anything, but still – I’ve heard it so many times it makes me feel all stabby inside. I figure a bit of snark is better than a homicide.

  • Sharon September 11, 2013, 5:07 pm

    OP here. Thank you for your comments. I agree, when re-reading my post, that it sounds like a petty thing. However, her tone in saying it is not friendly or light teasing…more like taunting. I should have made that more clear. And I’m really not all that concerned about my age. I do appreciate the supportive responses here. If she does ever bring up my “elder status” again I’ll just let it slide.

  • Tori September 11, 2013, 5:26 pm

    On my boyfriend’s 18th birthday (August) my dad said to us “So how does it feel to be just friends again? ” Ze boyfriend didn’t get it, but I understood that it meant since he’s 18 and I’m 17…well legal adult vs legal minor. I responded with a “It’s only a 2 month difference.” I stuck my tongue out for good measure because hey I only had two months of childhood left. Dad goes “Well it’s illegal and we don’t want anyone in trouble…” I wish I hadn’t responded “It’s only illegal if we have sex.” Made that convo so much more awkward. I turn 18 next month (October) btw…I’m gonna go bye a lotto ticket on my bday. Pray I win, becuz I’m now in college and it’s super expensive.

    So on the one hand, the older you get the less gaps seems to mean. If a 19 year old decided to date a 15 year old…yeah that’s a bit much. But if it’s a 69 year old and a 65 year old…it’s not a big deal.I think tthat’s becuz at 15 or 19, 4 years is about 1/4 – 1/5 of your entire life. But at an older age it such a small portion of your life in differnce…I hope that makes sense

    On the other hand, it’s like ‘Omigosh I’m really turning 50 (or whatever) where has the time gone?’. So maybe she feels better knowing someine else is going thru it too. Or maybe putting you down because she hates that she’s getting old and wants to act like a 13 year old to make herself feel younger.

  • I suggest September 11, 2013, 5:43 pm

    Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.

  • Cat September 11, 2013, 7:22 pm

    I do not think you did anything wrong at all. I worked with someone who always insisted that I enter the doorway before she did, commenting, “Age before beauty.” My answer was, “Yes, and I go before either of them.” leaving her to be “Age”.
    If someone goes to such lengths to needle me, it seems a shame to ignore them after they have put so much work and thought into it. Give them a snappy reply and they know their efforts were not wasted on you.

  • Andrea B. September 11, 2013, 7:48 pm

    I did double check on my recollection, and the expression does not apply to “you first” situations described by several respondents. “Before” in this case does not refer to time sequence but to location, as in “[pearls scattered] before [in front of] the swine”…”

    There is a story out there (I don’t know if it’s true or not) that someone said to Dorothy Parker, “Age before beauty, Mrs. Parker”, while letting Dorothy enter a room first. Dorothy allegedly quipped back, “And pearls before swine.”

  • Angela September 11, 2013, 8:54 pm

    I worked with a guy who was six months younger than me (I’m female) and after he mentioned my being older a couple of times I said sweetly “Yes, but I look younger and that’s the important thing”.

  • AnaMaria September 11, 2013, 9:18 pm

    I think this response was perfectly fine; she should be able to take back what she hands out.

    I don’t understand our society’s mindset about ages, anyway- why is it better to be younger?? If you are 60, 70, 80, or 110 years old and still enjoying life, you should be proud, not ashamed!! On my 27th birthday, (which fell on a Sunday) a leader at church wished me a happy birthday from the pulpit and said, “How old are you? JUST KIDDING, I won’t make you announce your age to everybody!” Apparently the number of years I’ve lived is something to be embarrassed about??

  • hakayama September 11, 2013, 10:12 pm

    @Sharon, OP: The specific annoyance you describe may be a petty one. But endless petty pains in the neck have a cumulative effect. You’ve experienced the proverbial last straw, and you did come back with a wonderful response.
    Could it be that your friend is starting to “lose it”, or perhaps she never was the sharpest tool in the barn?
    If interacting with her requires work and patience, and each encounter leaves you agitated rather than placidly pleased, I wonder if some distance might not “make the heart grow fonder”.
    Even in the oldest firmest friendships there is room for ebb and flow. Give it a try…
    Best wishes from someone who understands and sympathizes.

  • Maggie September 12, 2013, 12:05 am

    When you reach the next milestone birthday, and she starts in again, shout “Yeah, if age is a race I beat you, I beat you, yeah I beat you, I beat you (etc.)” while doing a victory dance!

  • Easily Amused September 12, 2013, 5:24 am

    @hakayama- “the pearls before swine” reference is actually from Matthew 7:6: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine…” and yes, it is about placing something in front said swine, not going in front of them in line. Sometimes it is considered to be funny when you use a familiar phrase in an unfamiliar or even slightly incorrect way. Semantics…..

  • Sara September 12, 2013, 5:34 am

    I’m a big believer in “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it”. You took it for years in good humor, and finally dished a little back out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that–if you had gone for the jugular and said something really nasty, then that would be uncalled for. But you responded in kind. Your friend may have just been surprised that after so many years, you finally did. Although it may cause her to re-think when she makes these “harmless” comments, whether they’re really as “harmless” as she thinks.

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