When I was a kid, if someone asked my grandmother her age, she’d always demure and tell them she was 29. Sometimes it was an obvious joke, but sometimes people actually believed her. She was a young grandma, after all—only 39 when I was born–and she always looked spectacular for her age. My aunts lied about their ages too, and my mom probably joined in once in a while.
So I grew up seeing the women closest to me afraid to say how old they were, like they were ashamed of aging. I always thought they were ridiculous. Then, when I turned 40, I was a little freaked out about how old the number sounded, and I was almost tempted to lie about my age too. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that there was no way; I was going to tell the truth, because being 40 was way better than being 29.
The 20s are a complicated decade, and I spent most of that decade desperately trying to hold on to being a kid for as long as possible while at the same time trying to learn how to properly be an adult. Every time I’d do something “grown-up,” like throw a dinner party, I’d feel like I was playing pretend, like my 20s were just the dress rehearsal for true adulthood.
In my 20s, there were a ton of milestones that I felt an enormous pressure to meet on time: finding a boyfriend, getting engaged, having a big wedding, buying a house, getting pregnant. I constantly compared myself to my peers, and I was a late bloomer who took a long time to figure out what I wanted to do in life. I white-knuckled my way through 10 years of my life trying to keep up, always asking myself if I was doing “it” right, whatever “it” was. I agonized and second-guessed every decision—not just the big ones, like if I should go back to school—but also little ones, like, “Is this red dress too slutty to wear on a first date?”
I laugh at this now, but I was in a total panic about turning 30. Looking back, the panic over being 30 was much worse than the panic over hitting 40. I was 29 and felt like a complete failure. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, and my career was less than inspiring. The heat was truly on now, I believed. I only had a few years left to start a family. But I still hadn’t found my true love or even my true passion in life! I was pretty sure that I was going to end up living in the condemned house at the end of the cul-de-sac, hoarding feral cats and dogs. I was certain that my future was bleak, and I’ve probably never had less confidence than I did when I was 29.
That’s all changed now that I’m in my 40s. The best part of being older is that for the first time in my life, I truly feel like I can relax. The pressure is off: I’m married, I have a child, and yeah, I did end up going back to school and it was the best decision I ever made. I found my passion in writing. I’ve passed all the milestones now, even though I was late on most of them. They didn’t end up mattering as much as my 29-year-old self thought they did.
For me, my 40s are going to be a decade of celebration. I am permanently, forever, done with school. I will never, ever have to do algebra or write a term paper again. I have a career that I love, and because of it, I can actually afford groceries and no longer have to live on ramen noodles and grilled cheese sandwiches. The anxiety about having to find a life partner and get married and have kids all within a small time frame is out the window. I am thrilled that I have my daughter, so I took my biological clock and smashed it to smithereens. From here on out, sex is just for fun! On top of that, I’m only going have my period for a few more years. Trust me, this is great news.
The best part of being in my 40s, though, is that I still feel young, vibrant and healthy, but I’ve gained the wisdom that comes with having lived for a while. Part of that wisdom has taught me that I need to commit to my own well-being. That means no more Twinkies for dinner and staying out until 4 in the morning. It means exercising and learning to be calm and present and never having time for drama.
More importantly, it means that I’ve learned to meet my own needs instead of waiting around for someone else to fill my empty spaces. Mentally and physically, I’m definitely in the best shape of my life. It’s funny, because when I was 29, I dreaded getting older. Now that I’m here, I see that middle age and the freedom that comes with it is a prize. I’m ready to wear my age like a jeweled tiara.
I’m proud that I’ve made it this far and excited about what lies ahead. Instead of worrying about establishing myself as an adult and conforming to a certain standard of success, I can spend my days planning new ways to enjoy myself, have adventures, see the world, and experience a fulfilling life with my daughter. When someone asks me how old I am, I’ll gladly tell them the truth. I learned a lot of valuable lessons when I was younger, but I’m glad my youth is behind me.