A female friend recently lamented in her blog that she was having a hard time attracting male attention. The reason, she said, was that she was perceived as being beyond her “sell-by date.”
The term has increasingly made its way into the mainstream conversation. Where once it strictly referred to perishable items in the grocery store, it’s now being applied to a whole host of situations, many of them having nothing to do with freshness.
It’s worth noting upfront that most food is still edible after its sell-by date, and that stores are not required to remove food from the shelves. The dates stamped on the packages also vary by states, with some areas requiring highly volatile items like milk to be sold before the sell-by date, others saying it’s okay to leave it up.
All of that points to the fact that sell-by is not a strict cut-off date, but an advisory on when you should start to consider other options.
Women are particularly sensitive to the term. Given the biological imperative, they are victimized twice — once when they are too old to bear children, again when they are compared to men of a similar age. Expect the issue to emerge in the race for US president in 2016 if Hillary Clinton enters, as expected. She would be 69 at inauguration, or roughly the same age as Mitt Romney would have been had he been elected. And, of course, there’s granddaddy Ronald Reagan, who was a month short of age 70 when he took the Oath of Office.
The Effects of Aging
While it is true that there is no absolute “sell-by date,” it is also a fact that certain functions diminish with age. There’s a long-running perception that baseball players hit their prime at age 27, gradually diminishing in bat speed and overall athletic ability from there. Other sports have similar age ranges, with most pegging optimal ability somewhere between age 26 and 29. Yes there are outliers, but putting together a team mostly on the Jersey side of 30 is asking for trouble.
Intelligence can also be affected by the aging process, although the measurement is more in reaction times and visual acuity. And it certainly doesn’t consider acquired wisdom and experience. Faster is not necessarily better, as we’ve learned in journalism and automobile driving.
Music ability is also something that has a prime age, although it too can be offset by experience — and a good sound man. Voices begin to warble as vocal cords are stretched in the 40s, and dexterity can be lessened by advancing age. Of course, muscle memory, and the smarts not to reach for the high notes, can mask a few things. And fans of older musicians tend to be older and more forgiving themselves. See Shirley Bassey at the Academy Awards two years ago for details.
Of course, it’s inevitable that there will be a reckoning on sell-by dates. After all, they warn of impending spoilage, which will eventually happen to all products — and humans. There’s even a handy guide available to let you know the approximate times when you should give in and toss something. At least with food.
That guide may not get you a date. But it certainly will save you hours of embracing a receptacle, from eating tainted food.