“Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
I found my first gray hair when I was 22, so by the time I turned 40, I was used to being “old.” While friends fretted over entering their fourth decade, I made my one-thousandth appointment to have my hair colored. Forty, for the most part, was just another birthday (albeit with a fancier cake). The way I see it, you can celebrate getting older, or you can be dead.
I would be lying, though, if I didn’t admit that things have changed. I have lived more than half of my life, if statistics and family history are to be believed, my hormones are out of control, no one whistles at me on the street, and I sometimes wear granny panties (they are super comfortable and, finally, trendy!). Yet, every wrinkle and sag has bought me something remarkable—the ability to know myself with all of my flaws and strengths and experience and desires. Middle age is the fulcrum of our lives, the place where we balance between youth and wisdom, and I love this precarious space. I am happier here than I have ever been, despite joints that ache in ways they didn’t when I was in my 20s. They still work, and that’s something.
Along with night sweats and a little belly I can’t seem to get rid of, 40 brought me a confidence I lacked before and that is no small thing. I no longer care much what people think of me, and I understand exactly who I am. I know what flatters my figure and what I am better off leaving on the rack. Goodbye low-rise jeans, hello yoga pants. I don’t need to put on makeup before I run errands. I enjoy a glass of wine, but stop before I cross over into hangover territory. I am unashamed of my addictions to HGTV, shiny lip gloss and fried food. Forty years can teach you a lot about yourself if you’re paying attention.
I don’t follow trends, boys don’t break my heart, and I don’t need to fit in with the cool kids. I don’t know who the cool kids are anymore. I cry over things that matter, not skinned knees or bad dates. I can comfort and chastise in equal measure. I dance in my underwear and sing in the shower. I know better than to react right away to a slight, in part because I realize that most slights don’t matter. My time is spent on things I truly love and with people who bring joy to my life, rather than drama. I exercise because I like it, not because I need to prove anything. I eat chocolate and chicken fingers and kale, although not at the same time.
When my insecurities make an appearance, I know how to shut them down. It isn’t that they don’t exist, it’s that I recognize that they only have as much power over me as I allow. So I hear the voice that tells me I’m not good enough or smart enough or capable enough, and then I ignore it. That voice is a total bitch and probably wasn’t hugged as a child.
I know what a healthy relationship is, and I’m in one. I’ve learned not to judge people who aren’t. I’ve bought a house and made it a home. I’m raising a child and tending a marriage and a garden and believe that I’m good at those things, not because I’m special, but because I’m a grown-up and I work hard at what matters. I screw up, a lot, but work hard to fix things rather than pretending they didn’t happen. I read long-form posts on the Internet and real books and gossip pages too, because if nothing else, 40 allows you to be serious and silly at the same time. I am not on Snapchat because I don’t care. I am conflicted about pedicures.
People I love have gotten sick. People I love have died. I’ve learned to be grateful. I’ve learned not to whine. I’ve learned that age really is just a number, and being scared of a number is for sissies.
Forty isn’t the absence of fear or insecurity or failure, it’s the acquisition of perspective. Forty isn’t about losing youth, it’s about settling into yourself and seeing the culmination of four decades of experience.