9 Myths About Turning 40 That Just Aren't True

by Lela Casey
Two cupcakes in blue and pink with the number 40 on them

These days, it seems everyone is turning 40. Charlize Theron did it, Drew Barrymore did it, even baby-faced Tobey Maguire joined the club.

So, finally, after much deliberation, I decided that it was time that I too cross over the threshold of the stable, secure 30s into the rootin’ tootin’ Wild West that is 40.

Now that I’m on the other side, I can’t believe that I waited so long to do it. It’s a party over here, people! There are happy hour mojitos with bawdy girlfriends and karaoke with that cute guy from the office (who, hell yeah, you have a crush on), and guess who’s the guest entertainer: 50 Cent (yep, he just turned 40 too!).

I know, I know. You’re still not convinced. I see you standing over there, clinging to your 30s like they’re a security blanket, dreading the day when the weight of the years plunges you into middle-age. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. Turning 40 can be a joyous, festive, transcendent occasion. But first, you have to let go of all those preconceived notions you have about crossing over to the other side.

Here are 10 big, fat lies the world has been telling you about being 40:

1. You have to turn in your Forever 21 card.

I snicker every time I see one of those “How to Dress for Your Age” articles. I wear what looks good on me, whether it comes from Hot Topic, Talbots or the Salvation Army. I refuse to let marketing or societal standards guide my fashion choices. The truth is, we all come in different shapes and with preferences that have very little to do with our age. I know some young women who are most comfortable in Ann Taylor suits and some very sexy over-40 women who are still rocking mini skirts and stilettos.

2. You can’t go dancing anymore.

I must admit that I fell prey to this fallacy long before I turned 40. Dancing has always been the one form of exercise that makes my heart flutter—and not Zumba classes or swing dancing lessons, but out-there-on-the floor-shaking-your-ass-hard-to-the-thumping-beat kind of dancing. This last year, a friend asked me to join her at a dance club. After a fierce battle with my inner demons (who shouted things like, “Everyone is going to laugh at you!” and “Your boobs aren’t nearly perky enough to be jiggling alongside those 20-year-old boobs”) I took the plunge. I’ve never once looked back. Now, a monthly girls’ night of dancing is an absolute must.

By the way, my inner demons were dead wrong. No one laughed at me, my boobs did just fine, and I got hit on just enough to feel like the vibrant, sexy woman that I am. More importantly though, being out dancing late at night gave me that wild, free, sensual feeling that staying home with little ones for so many years can rob me of at times.

3. You have to exercise like crazy or risk the perils of a sinking metabolism.

Bah, I say. Bah! Look, I know that there are all different body types out there, and I can’t possibly speak for everyone. But what I’ve found is that if I stick to a relatively healthy diet and do some moderate (incidental) exercise, my body will be just fine.

I live in a fitness crazy town. Almost every single person I know has completed some sort of marathon or triathlon or running while knitting race. (It’s a real thing! Look it up.) But I’ve chosen to opt out. It’s not that I don’t believe in the health benefits of exercise, it’s just that No. 1, I’m lazy; and No. 2, at this point in my life, I choose not to do anything that doesn’t make my soul sing (one of the other benefits of being 40). Though I might not have stellar abs or toned arms, I feel pretty great about my body.

4. You have to embrace being a MILF or a ‘Cougar’ if you want to have any chance of being seen as sexy ever again.

I hate those terms—both of them. Yes, I am a mother, and yes, I am someone some people might like to…you know. However, the two things are mutually exclusive. Putting them together feels like some sort of Oedipal complex. Then there’s the term “Cougar.” There’s a sense of desperation that comes with that word that I can do without. Sure, there are older women who are attracted to younger men. So what? Why do we have to give them such a predatory, catty—literally—title? Older men have been dating younger women for years, and as far as I know, there’s no drooling canine term to use for them.

5. You are past your prime sexually.

No way, Jose! If 35 is the peak of a woman’s sexuality, then I was too smothered by howling toddlers and dirty dishes to notice it. Now that my kids are a little older and a lot more independent, I am able to reconnect with my body and what makes it feel good. Having the time (and confidence) to flirt and fantasize and go out on regular dates with my husband has awakened a very lusty goddess inside of me that had lay dormant for years. The past few months have brought on sexual adventures that I never could have imagined before.

6. Your main source of pleasure should come from watching your children grow and become the wonderful people they are destined to be.

Because if that doesn’t give you enough pleasure, you’re a terrible parent. And if they’re not turning into wonderful people, you’re an even worse one.

I love my kids more than anything in the world. Watching them mature is one of the greatest parts of this stage of life. But it’s not enough. I need to be doing my own things, achieving my own accomplishments, making my own discoveries. Not only is it good for me, but it’s good for my children too. What sort of message does it send kids when all they see is their parents carting them around from one activity to another? That parenthood is nothing but a sacrifice? That their own overscheduled lives are the only thing that matters? That your own life ends when you become a parent? Screw that. I am writing and socializing and dancing with my kids and without them. It’s good for all of us.

As far as raising wonderful people, good God, I hope I am. But the truth is, all the love and organic snacks and carefully chosen activities don’t always add up to the perfect child. There are environmental and social factors that are beyond our control, and don’t even get me started on the genetics (try as I might, I cannot change my 11-year-old’s innate Republican tendencies). Just as I can’t take credit for all their accomplishments, I can’t take the blame for all their mistakes.

7. You have already experienced all the most meaningful moments of your own life.

This one was one of the hardest for me. When you are young, everything feels alive with electricity. Meeting new people, going on adventures, falling in love—these are things that, for many people, end in their 30s, or at the very least, get diminished under the weight of a mundane suburban existence. It doesn’t have to be that way. In the last few years, I have made a point to push my own boundaries, to find friends who live outside the norm, to go on international vacations, to fall in love over and over again with people and places and new experiences.

8. You are no longer interesting to the under-40 crowd.

Hogwash! At 40, you will not only have the wisdom and confidence that the younger crowd craves, but you will still be young enough for them to be able to relate to you. I have many friends in their early 30s, most of them mired in the early years of changing diapers and all-night nursing. They tell me that I help them to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that seeing how vibrant life can be at 40 gives them hope for their own futures.

9. You are irrelevant.

Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin at age 40, Benjamin Franklin helped design the Declaration of Independence at age 70, and Caitlyn Jenner came out as a woman at age 65. There is life after 40. I promise!So, you late-thirtysomethings, give up that security blanket, grab a mojito and come join the party. I’ve saved a spot on the dance floor just for you.