Let me get this out of the way: I’m 31. Well into my 30’s. Out of my 20’s.

The transition from one decade to the next has been both wonderful and challenging, but for the most part, being in my 30’s is a welcome change — I love that I’m so much more comfortable in my own skin, and that I’ve pretty much stopped caring about whether or not anyone thinks I’m cool (I am. I’m super fucking cool.)

That said, I also don’t have quite the same taut skin that I had in my late teens and early 20’s. Sure, I still look good (damn good), but rounding the bases into the fourth decade of life leaves you with the inescapable knowledge that youth is fleeting, and whatever rosy glow I still have in my cheeks will inevitably fade. (Yes, I’m in a pithy and sort of depressing mood. Consider yourself warned.)

And that’s the tradeoff of age, right? Being older is overall better than being younger. But nothing is perfect.

Anyway, I didn’t necessarily expect to think much about my age during my travels this holiday season, save for the occasional relative reminding me that my time to pop out babies is closing in on me. But I did think about it some, and those thoughts were generated by three incidents. These incidents — and the lessons contained therein — are as follows:

Soldiers can always call me “ma’am”: Walking up to the check-in kiosk at LAX at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday with sleep still encrusted in the corners of my eyes, I happened to mosey up behind a young soldier.

“Are you in line for the kiosk?” I asked.

“No, ma’am,” he replied.

His innocent reply could easily have left me feeling crinkly and old — I don’t get called ma’am every day, you see. But instead, it made me feel like our men and women in uniform are extremely well-mannered. It’s all about the delivery. Well played, America.

…but when teenagers call me ma’am it makes me feel super fucking old: On Christmas Eve Day, I showed up at my future in-laws’ house and began chatting with a tall teenage boy. He was gangly and twitchy and adorable, and I thought maybe I could help alleviate his apparent social discomfort by getting to know him better.

“So, you’re a junior in high school?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

OUCH. Lesson learned, and in contrast to my fine young soldier friend, I received the “you’re old” message in this hoodlum’s reply loud and clear. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, teenagers now see me as another indistinguishable face in the cluster of adults that they have to be polite to. If the future belongs to the youth, my perception of self-relevance just crumbled a little.

Nevertheless, women in their 30’s are hot: Driving home from dinner, my fiance and his younger brother began reminiscing about old times, and his brother fondly remembered one girl with whom he once failed to seal the deal. My fiance insisted that not sleeping with her was the right decision at the time. His brother countered:

“But it still would have been awesome to hook up with a 32-year-old woman as a 19-year-old.”

And that’s all it took to redeem my week of ma’ams and scary grown-up realizations. For a 19-year-old, hooking up with someone my age is a coup. I’ll go ahead and take that to mean that it’s because we’re both sexy, and experienced. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I do wish to God that I didn’t care whether college-aged guys found women my age attractive, but that’s just one more thing I’m learning with age: I’m nothing if not a work in progress.