I turned forty a couple of weeks ago, and I’m surprisingly not all that bothered by it.
I suppose my acceptance of The Big Four Oh stems from the fact that I’ve thought of myself as “basically forty” for almost three years now. So I’m pretty well used to the idea. And honestly? At this stage of my life I have more important shit to worry about. Things like “Did I send in my son’s Book Fair money?” and “Am I the only one in this house who can flush a toilet?” and “Is this is a zit on my labia?”
Another reason that turning forty isn’t sending me into a deep, dark depression spiral is that I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not where I thought I would be. Because I had visions of forty, you see. When I was younger. Don’t we all? Visions of how we’d look, where we’d work, who we’d be with, whether we’d have kids, what we’d know, things we’d have accomplished. They’re the simple expectations of midlife that either become realized . . . or don’t.
Some of my expectations have come to pass. I’ve fallen in love, for instance. I’ve gotten married. I’ve discovered the joy and wonder of childbirth, as well as the pain and indignity of same. I’ve traveled. I’ve made friends. I’ve lost friends. I’ve mastered the fine art of the Thanksgiving dinner.
But some of my expectations have decidedly not come to pass.
Expectation #1. I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d be comfortable. Secure. Oh me. Excuse me while I belly laugh.
My family isn’t starving, that’s true. We have a roof over our heads, 3 squares a day, and the money we need to educate and enlighten our son. But we are FAR from comfortable. FAR from secure. There’s no nest egg. No college fund. No safety net. If my husband lost his job tomorrow we’d be fucked with a capital F.
Still, I see a lot of my midlife friends going through the same shit. This world isn’t the same as it used to be. Jobs for life no longer exist. Benefits are a joke. Everything is disposable. Nothing lasts. Guarantees are bullshit. It’s even acceptable to move back in with your parents when your life falls apart, which it inevitably will.
So I guess I’ve just gotten used to the fear, because from what I can tell, we’re all going through it.
Expectation #2. I would have multiple kids and they would be almost grown by now. When I was younger, I assumed that at 40, my kids would be around the same age that I was when my mother turned 40. It was 1992 and I was seventeen years old. I graduated from high school and left for college that year. I was out of the house, out of my parents’ hair, paying my own way, and free to do as I wished. I was an ADULT and no longer their responsibility.
It turns out that I ended up having one kid, and he is only SEVEN. People are having babies later these days, and I was close to 33 when I had my son. Which means that instead of waving “wistful” goodbyes to him as we drag race away from his freshman dormitory, my husband and I are still scrubbing skid marks out of his underpants and scraping his dried boogers off the wall with our fingernails.
My little guy won’t be leaving for college until I’m 50+. Which, all things considered, makes 40 not seem quite so bad.
Expectation #3. I would have chosen my life’s work in college and been doing it for twenty years. By this time, I would be an expert. So, yeah. Let me tell you a little story about my college career. As an undergrad, I received a B.A. in History. I GOT STRAIGHT A’s, PEOPLE. A motherfucking 4.0. That could not have been a clearer sign to keep doing what I was doing, right? To take my awesome writing skills into academia and become the world’s leading expert on something something blah blah blah?
WRONG. Instead of following through on that, I went to BUSINESS SCHOOL. Why, you ask? Because after paying my way through college, I had no more money and a lot of debt—and business folks make bank, as I’m sure you well know. So I decided to get my MBA. And not surprisingly, I hated everything about it. After choosing a double major in Investment Finance and Marketing, I was completely miserable for two years, at which point I graduated with a GPA of “meh.”
I did finance and real estate for a LONG TIME. I wasn’t bad at it, but I wasn’t fabulous either, and it didn’t come naturally to me. And I’m sure you can imagine that I had quite a bit of trouble as a young, sarcastic woman in a field chock full of old boys. It wasn’t until I met my husband and he gave me the courage to quit corporate life and move back into writing that I managed to throw that particular yoke off. As a result, I’ve been doing my life’s work for only about three years at this point. And I’m categorically not an expert.
But I’m happy. FINALLY. So I’m okay with it.
Back to turning 40. As I said at the top, I’m not feeling how I expected to feel, which was something along the lines of “I need a coffin, STAT.” Yes, I’m older now. Yes, I’m closer to death than I was before. Yes, my body aches and I get weird hairs and gross smells and I don’t have the energy I used to have. But my outlook is still surprisingly young. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced, and I’m not disappointed that the expectations of a younger me haven’t come to pass.
And speaking of passing. . . I should probably give that guy selling cemetery plots a call back.