Turning 40 gets a lot of bad press. Sure, my knees are less shock-proof, and hangovers last for three days, but overall, I think this decade is pretty great. Here’s what I love about being 40:
1. My comfort level with knee socks
I wear them pulled up, with my nightgowns, which for some reason my husband likes. Not “Likes” on Facebook, because we are 40 and Facebook is for 60-year-olds, but actually likes IRL on our couch in a perverted husband way.
2. My DVR library is comprehensive and amazing
It’s filled with Togetherness and Transparent and The Slap and there’s no room for the NBA game my kid asked to record because it’s my damn TV and I need the storage.
3. Going to your friends’ homes for dinner instead of making reservations and going out
You just don’t care anymore about restaurants and when they opened and their menu tutorials, and you become enraged when these places present you with $200 checks but don’t take credit cards. Oops, sorry! We’re cash only. There’s an ATM four blocks away. Hanging out on a Saturday night and ladling food from your friends’ crockpot into a bowl and drinking endless glasses of wine before walking around the corner back home to bed fills me with relief and happiness. It also fills me with wine.
4. It’s OK to ask for a chair with a back
It’s OK to not consider the “bar” a “table.” And it’s OK to say, with vague menace and a wink, “That’s OK, I’ll wait for a table. Touch of stenosis. I’m 40 now.”
5. The Garnet Hill catalog
This catalog used to be a nuisance—you’d throw it out without even flipping through. You’d think, “There’s that booklet of hooked oval rugs and jaunty doormats.” But now, I have pleasant feelings about all of the boiled wool, slender hobbit slippers and robes. I order spare Christmas tree skirts that I don’t need and bath towels that I have no place to store. Garnet Hill makes me feel very alive. I wish I had more doors to doormat.
6. You never have to wear shorts again
Nor, perhaps, should you. But it’s up to you, of course. You’re 40 now—you can do whatever you and J.Crew want to do! It gets hot outside! Your call. But I care about you, so I want to say to you that you should not wear those shorts. Because I am also 40, I’m equipped with enough confidence to tell you this.
7. Your friends are the best gift of middle age
By now, hopefully, you have the friends that will be there for the rest of the rest. You don’t spend valuable time with people you don’t like, so your life is filled with people who are important and solid. You know who to call or text, with every possible emergency, every joke, every complaint. When you’re 40, you are well loved by your friends and the love you give in return flows easily. It’s beautiful.
8. You can curse freely again
And it’s fucking fun! When the kids are babies and learning to talk, there’s a lot of spelling of words and editing of expletives. But now it’s OK—they know cursing isn’t allowed for them but is allowed for you. Do as I say, not as I fucking do.
9. You can watch movies from your adolescence with your own kids
With some exceptions, of course. Can’t exactly do Rocky or Ghostbusters with a toddler. But if your kids are older, you can unpack the entire 1980s canon with them. Bill Murray is as beloved by our 10-year-old as he is by us. This makes me like my 10-year-old very, very much.
10. Sex is great when you’re 40
You’ll do any old thing. Have as much as possible. Or as much as your Netflix load allows for. I know that in middle age we’re torn in many directions and have many responsibilities.
11. Mark Duplass is dreamy now
I’ve come to develop warm feelings for all kinds of interesting men: Jeff Daniels (as Will McAvoy from The Newsroom, not the unfortunate town idiot from Dumb & Dumber). Peter Krause as Adam Braverman is a perfect man, for example. Hell, as Parenthood wore on, I was musing on Zeek. I love Jimmy Kimmel. Louis CK. You get the idea. Baggy Dad Jeans welcome. Except on my real-life husband. I would berate him and force him to change if he showed up in Barack dungarees. Desire up-close is complicated.
12. I can cry openly at 100 percent of school performances
I cry about other people’s kids. I cry about my own. The whole thing—just watching these tiny people stand on stage and dance/sing/act/djembe drum—moves me to big, hot, salty tears. I used to cry about the kids just beginning, doing things for the first time. Now I cry because it’s all happening too fast, too soon, escaping my grasp faster than I could have imagined. And if there is anything in the world like watching your child look for you in the audience and then smile when your eyes lock, I don’t know what it is.
13. You can cancel plans because it’s cold out
You can just say, “Well, too cold for me to be outside.” Even better is when the other person cancels the plans, because then you don’t have to.
14. Yes, I am wearing the same exact outfit I wore yesterday
Because I am 40 and I am not wasteful and I also didn’t think I’d run into you again today.
15. Podcasts are cool
I’ve been blessed by this cultural moment in which podcasts are not only considered cool by me, but cool by Everyone. Even people of questionable taste. For instance, people under 40.
16. Experimenting with new habits
Your expectations are low and you know you don’t have to commit to anything permanently. You might think, “I’m going to go ahead and develop a loose leaf tea practice.” My friend brought me an amazing little sack of Chai from Maine recently. My husband keeps brewing up these small pots of chai and lovingly straining them for us. I watch him doing it and feel a swell of affection for him—but I won’t be let down by the fleeting nature of the hobby, as I would have been years ago. We’ll say fondly, “Remember all that tea bullshit we did last year?” Besides, tea’s most marked characteristic is how much it makes me want a cup of coffee.
17. You and your mate can place individual Seamless orders from different restaurants
I don’t have to pretend I want the giant dosa or the pizza that everyone loves but I think tastes like a dry Eucharist. As long as we eat the food simultaneously it doesn’t matter if he’s slurping tortilla soup and I’m eating raw fish. I routinely order better though, which is awkward.
18. You’re always cold
Wait, this isn’t good, this is terrible. Life is leeching out of you all the time and so your body is freezing. But you’re allowed to wear unflattering parkas and cartoonishly huge fur hats without apology to protect you on this slow march toward death.
19. You don’t have to invite everyone
20. You still fret and feel like you should invite everyone
Which is good because it means you still have a generous, kind heart and you’re not some sociopathic, 40-year-old asshole.
21. All of the smoking you did is a lifetime ago
Your lungs are restored by now to a ripe, pure, fluffy state. It’s some other part of you that’s rotting away in secret.
22. When you’re 40, you have enough ramekins
23. You know so many things about yourself
And you know how to use what you know to behave better, treat others better, treat yourself better. You’re just better at being a decent human being. You probably think about this fact at least once a day. Twenty-year-olds don’t do this. They have photos to post.
24. You don’t finish every book you start and you don’t feel bad about it
There are so many books you will never get the chance to read. This humbles you but doesn’t make you sad anymore. Look, there’s Gravity’s Rainbow over there on the shelf, you think. And there it shall remain until the end of time.
25. You have begun teaching your children about tolerance and equality
You’ll be empowered and enriched by teaching them about it, and astonished to see through their eyes how far we still have to go. You know they will teach you so much about tolerance as well.
26. Stretch fabrics
You’re technically wearing pants three sizes too small, but thanks to stretch innovations, the lie lives on.
27. You can rule out at least a few maladies and diseases
Sure, you could still end up with crippling halitosis or restless leg syndrome, but you’re not going to wake up with buckteeth and schizophrenia.
28. You are OK with your feet
Look, they’re not perfect. You’re not being hired for fetish sites. You’ve been looking down at them for half a lifetime wishing you could make small adjustments here and there. But that’s over now. You’re wearing the goddamn Ancient Greek sandals you bought because they are SO VERY PRETTY.
29. You’ve accepted that you will never be alone or at least without brief visits while in the bathroom
In fact, if you’re in the bathroom and no one comes looking for you, you feel unloved and rejected. Guess I’m just left for dead in here, for Christ’s sake, you might shout from the commode.
30. You have probably been kind to many people by now
You’ve probably been unkind from time to time as well. But hopefully the good you’ve done overwhelms the regret. You can still fix some of it.
31. You experience many small pleasures, many times a day
Pleasures that fulfill you and shock you with their power to do so. The first sip of coffee every day. A warm house. A good blanket. Your child’s skin. The meal with your husband. Holding hands in the movie theater. Root beer. Laughter every day. By 40, you think, if everything stays just like this, it is enough.
32. By the time you reach middle age, you realize that a list of the best 40 things about being 40 doesn’t really need 40 things
Folks don’t have to be so literal. Thirty-two is enough. Because you said so. And who the hell promised you that there would be that many great things about middle age anyway? Are you crazy? There’s not. By age 40, we don’t bullshit each other.