I said it before, and I’ll said it again: your 40s are fucking weird. They are liberating and terrifying, fun and lonely, confusing and focused, all at the same time. And that just describes the emotional landscape. The physical changes are downright bonkers. (Thanks, perimenopause.)
It’s not that I didn’t know that my body would change when I hit “middle age.” I had seen my mother and my aunts and their friends experience it. I had read about it. Lord knows, I had heard about it. But it wasn’t the whole story. It didn’t really sink in. And I wasn’t prepared.
Just the other day, I looked at my knees and was legit shocked to realize that I have that papery look. My skin looking like an old homework page that was crumbled up, chewed on by the dog, crumbled some more, sat at the bottom of my tween’s backpack, all wet and crumbly, and then flattened out again. WTF. I mean, what the actual fuck? When did this happen?
Maybe all this shouldn’t come as a shock, but it does. I’m fascinated and surprised and just a little bit horrified, TBH.
But then I remember all the stories and talk to others about the wild 40s, and I realize with perhaps even more shock and awe: OMG, I’m a freaking middle age stereotype.
I have wrinkles and acne — at the same damn time. Which would be bad enough if it weren’t for the advertisers and marketers preying on our insecurities every damn second of every damn day, telling us that we should do something to stop the wrinkles and reminding us that our hair is looking flat and lifeless and shoving Botox down our throats. Can we just get a rest already?
I wake up at 2 a.m. in a puddle of sweat, my mind whirling: Did I remember to turn off the oven after dinner? Why did I say that stupid thing 12 years ago? Are my kids on their phones too much? Why can’t I get “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo out of my head? I don’t even know the lyrics but I can’t stop hearing it. OMG, my teen is going to be driving soon. We’ll need a second car and more insurance and I’ll need a stronger Xanax prescription.
Sometimes the 2 a.m. panic is so fierce that I can’t breathe. Middle age means night sweats and night panic attacks, which therefore means daytime exhaustion. I look tired all the damn time — because I am. I am freaking exhausted. Just like middle age moms since the beginning of time.
Not only do I look tired all the time, I look pissed. My RBF has taken on a life of its own and I’m too tired to do anything about it. People will ask, “Why are you pissed?” thanks to my RBF, and I’ll think, I wasn’t pissed — but I am now. Thanks for that. A while back, probably in the midst of my 17th Zoom call of the day, I realized just how much time and energy I was spending on trying to look not pissed. And I realized, ENOUGH. I’m tired of focusing on contorting my face just so that I look the way society tells us we should look. Which brings me to my next middle age cliché…
Middle age means we’ve had enough of the bullshit. Enough with the shit that doesn’t matter. And so much just doesn’t matter. I find myself muttering “who cares” a lot. Who cares if I have the job of my dreams or not. Who cares if my waist is wider and my butt flatter. Who cares if I get another tattoo. Who cares if I dye my hair hot pink. Who cares if I wear cowboy boots or a miniskirt or sweat pants. Who cares. Who cares if I have upper lip wrinkles and eye crinkles and 11s so large they could apply for their own zip code. Who cares what I post on social media. Who cares if I do the dishes or fold the laundry. Who cares. Is “who cares” the new middle age mantra?
But then again, I do care. About a lot. I care about fighting sexism and dismantling racism and letting women age naturally and in their own way. I care about raising kids how are empathetic and kind. I care about a lot. And there is bullshit everywhere. Every-fucking-where. I have higher expectations and lower tolerance for bullshit, which means I’m more disappointed in people (including myself when I don’t live up to my own ideals). I’m pissed a lot. Is it hormones? The shortcomings of the human condition? Who freaking knows.
Whatever the reason, it’s there. Always lingering, simmering below the surface. The anger. Where the hell did this anger come from? Because I’m so fucking pissed sometimes that I think my head might literally explode. Or I might crumble into the fetal position and sob for hours. Either one. Sometimes both within a matter of minutes.
But alongside the anger is also so much joy and gratitude that I don’t know what to do with it. And there’s the realization that life is short and precious and beautiful. And OMG, it’s half over. Cue the panic that I’m doing it wrong. That I’m wasting my life on things that don’t matter. That I’m not seizing the proverbial day. And the literal day for that matter. Cue the nighttime panics.
So much about middle age is conflicting and confusing. So damn confusing. But it’s also liberating and fun and empowering. I feel like I’m a middle age cliché, while at the same time feeling utterly shocked that this is happening to me. No, not to me. This is happening. It is me.
And if the stereotypes are true, chances are, these things are you too.