Being Middle-Aged Doesn't Have To Be Depressing

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas

Do yourself a favor and don’t Google, “How old is middle aged?” I did and was instantly filled with regret. I was thinking I had years before I got there. Turns out, with an average life expectancy of a woman in the US at 80.5 years, I’m smack dab in the sweet spot. At 42 years old, I have officially crossed the threshold into the second half of my life. You know, the part where you shrivel up like those little Shrinky Dinks from the ’80s and get tossed out like trash when no one wants you anymore. That just sounds depressing.

But why does being middle-aged have to be a bad thing? What’s wrong with being in my 40s? Absolutely nothing! Sure, I carry tweezers in my purse to pluck those three-inch hairs that appear on my chin overnight. I may have borrowed my mother’s readers on occasion, but just for the fine print. And yeah, I wore those Steve Madden black platform slides, so I dab on a little eye cream at night. So what? I am growing older, but I truly believe that I am better.

My kids might disagree with me. I’m not always hip to the lingo. Sure, I’m “cheugy,” but I think I’m supposed to be. Aren’t all parents at some point? I also recently found out that using the word cringe is so “cringey” that my 13-year-old son never wants to hear it come out of my mouth again. I guess I should be lucky that my daughter is only five and knows nothing of side parts or tummy-control yoga pants, because I’d be on the outs with her too.

Speaking of that five-year-old, I can’t be a middle-aged quitter with a child that young. I have to be great for her for a long time. For God’s sake, there are millions of women who start families at 40 or after! Are we supposed to brush them aside for a younger model, like they are proverbial old news? Fuck all of that!

I think for many women, getting to your 40s is an accomplishment and a relief. You know who you are by your 40s. You’ve had the party days, the horrible exes, and awful jobs. Sure, you may still have some of that going on in your life, but you’ve also acquired a bit of wisdom about how to manage things by the time you hit that middle of life hump. And that feels really good.

And why does middle-aged have to sound so blah? I think that’s the problem. It’s an ugly phrase. Can’t we change it up? What about, “Hooray! I made it halfway!” Or “Look at you! You’re in your 40s too!” I’d even like to hear someone say, “Let’s throw you a party! Be proud to be 40!” (OK, that one doesn’t rhyme completely, but I’m from the Midwest and people here tend to pronounce forty as farty, so I’m going with it). We need to make getting to the middle a great feat, not something to dread.

I am truly glad to be in my 40s. If I cut my life in half today and made 20 my middle age, I was really dumb. I didn’t stand up for myself. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t care about the future; I just lived in the moment. And sure, there’s something to be said about being young and free, but I feel so much stronger with my head on straight. I have a plan. I want to be present for my children, physically and emotionally. I want to be my husband’s partner and to be with him at the hospital waiting for a grand baby to be born someday. I want to teach my kids how to be self sufficient and successful, but to smile and laugh all the way. I wasn’t ready for any of those things 20 years ago. But life experience has given me the wisdom to know that I need to enjoy it all because it goes so damn fast.

And I’d also like to add that this whole notion of mid-life crisis is bullshit. Knowing who you are and embracing yourself and wanting to live your best life everyday should be your M.O. all throughout your life, not just your 40s. That just happens to be when it kicks in. That’s not a crisis — neither is cutting your hair off into a hot pixie and dying it pink, or buying yourself a pair of heels or purse you’ve been drying for, or that tattoo you want. Just do it! The only crisis is forgetting the words to “Regulate” or “Step-By-Step.” That’s the important stuff. Not the fact that you got your nose pierced. Who cares?

In my 40s, I’ve got fine lines. I have stretch marks from carrying four huge babies. I drive a minivan that I’m not so secretly obsessed with. I also wear exactly what I want, when I want, and top it all off with a smear of red lipstick just because I can. Friends, embrace what they call “middle age.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best age. You do you and forget the rest of the bullshit; you don’t have time for it. And while I am happy to embrace being in the middle, there is one thing I’m not here for. AARP, you can stop sending the paraphernalia. I’m not interested. I’ll pay full price for my room at the Marriott, thank you very much.