There are two types of people who will tell you that “Life begins at 40,” or “40 is the new 20,” or any of that other nonsense that people feel obligated to console you with as you approach a milestone that (optimistically) marks the middle of your life.
The first type are the people older than you. They have watched 40 come and go and actually miss it, as they have progressed on to an even more withered and decrepit age. These are the same types of people who will tell you things like, “Cherish each moment with your child, because they are precious and fleeting,” as they watch you attempting to disentangle your toddler from a rack of scarves whilst having a meltdown in the accessories aisle of Target. They also say, “On their deathbeds, nobody ever wishes they had put in more time at their job,” as you gripe about changing your work schedule each week to accommodate various PTA meetings, playdates and after-school activities. Or they even say, “You’ll know what I mean when you get to be my age,” which is irritating on a number of levels, mostly because you give the same advice to people younger than you.
These may also be the type of people who are eager to share horror stories about various medical procedures they’ve endured that begin to become more common after the age of 40. They can’t wait to relate every distasteful detail of their colonoscopies once they learn you’re due for one yourself. “It’s not the procedure that’s bad. It’s the 12 hours before!” they will chuckle, attempting to be mysterious, as if you haven’t already combed through the online annals (pun intended) of WebMD’s colonoscopy message boards. They are also constantly trying to one-up you—or more accurately, one-down you—with their medical conditions. “Oh, got high cholesterol? Not as high as mine, I bet.” If you have a hernia, they’ve had two. If your knee hurts after running, they are walking around with numbness in their legs on a regular basis. Oddly, they seem to remain energetically argumentative despite the fact that most (per their physicians) are “lucky to be alive.”
The second type are people significantly younger than you. They are either in denial that they will ever reach the relatively advanced age that you are now, or they genuinely feel sorry for you that you are so old and want to express their condolences in a politically correct and socially acceptable manner. These are the same type of people who will call you “ma’am” when they are waiting on you in a retail store or restaurant, or ask you if you need help carrying your groceries to the car when all you’ve purchased is a pack of sponges and a copy of People magazine, or suggest you cut your hair in a more “age-appropriate” style with bangs and highlights—code for “You probably want to cover those forehead wrinkles.”
These may or may not also be the type of people who, at an annoyingly young age, have discovered their life’s passion or calling, or they have achieved financial, spiritual or emotional success (or all three) while you still ponder whether you should take that continuing education class on poetry or the one on floral arranging. They may say things like, “I was just in the right place at the right time,” or “I’ve always known exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” or “My father is well connected.” They will encourage you to continue to pursue your own dreams by reminding you that “age is just a number”—or some other factually incorrect statement—and give you a signed copy of their latest book, CD or screenplay before they take off for some fabulous destination, while you climb back in your minivan and try to remember to buy coconut milk on the way home.
There are two types of responses that you can give once someone takes it upon themselves to be the merry messenger of your impending middle age. You can invest in prunes and granola and Sleepytime tea. You can drop your hemline, raise your neckline and buy sensible shoes. You can Google “hairstyles for people over 40” or “age-appropriate highlights” or “pant suits with elastic waists.” You can put your dreams—be they writing, painting or learning to waltz—on a shelf and focus on being an adult, no matter how dull, disheartened or dreary it may make you feel.
Or, you can realize that today is the youngest you will ever be, and whether you have 50 more years or 10, every minute worrying about what age you are is one more minute that you could use in a million other ways. The face in your mirror is the least wrinkled it will ever be. The hairs on your head are the least gray. Your legs are the least veiny, and your boobs are the perkiest. And whether you say “Thank you” or “Fuck you,” know that 40 is what you make it.
Make it count.