On my 40th birthday, I was poking around a boutique when I happened to come across this particular birthday card.
It had a retro girl on the cover. She throws her hands up in glee shouting, “Hurrah! At Last I’m Forty!”
I bought it for myself.
The card was more than just a cute take on the neurosis about turning the big 4-0. It reflects a truth I’ve recently come to realize. Turning 40 is actually kind of cool. After all, no more wondering, “Where will I be when I’m 40? Will I have kids by then? Will I have accomplished my career goals? Will I own a home?”
I already know the answer to these questions. No, no, and no. I can quit obsessing about having done all these things by the time I’m 40 and can just get about the business of pursuing them without a looming deadline hanging over me.
Why do we hold up 40 as some kind of litmus test? No doubt it symbolizes a great deal about fertility and where we are in our career path and relationships. Most of us have been on our own for a good 20 years and wonder what do we have to show for it? It’s easy to feel like a failure if one (or all) of those goals or milestones hasn’t been met.
Then there’s Judd Apatow's recent declarative statement movie, “This is Forty.” Much of the film deals with the main characters’ relationship together as parents of young children. I am a) no longer married and b) have no children. Sure, I laughed like everyone else in the theatre but I didn’t go, Oh, my gosh, they really hit the nail on the head! The thing is that I didn’t identify with that kind of 40.
Regardless, by turning 40 I feel I’ve been welcomed into womanhood in a way I hadn’t since starting my period. My over-40 friends have cheered me, “Welcome to your prime,” and “to the best part of your life so far.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of frustration, blues, or a kind of mourning for what are now considered my “younger days.” In beauty magazines, I no longer get to follow the skincare advice for “If you’re in your thirties” (damn it!). The recommendations are no longer pre-emptive; I now get to read about “mature skin” and “crow’s feet” (Great). Same thing for articles on “best workout for your age group.” Forties! Sigh.
Also not fun is the change in my doctor’s health guidelines. I now qualify for “women age forty to sixty-four” group. They include mammograms, new dietary guidelines to account for calcium loss and a slower metabolism (fantastic) and how to manage sleepless nights that apparently more women over 40 experience than women age 20.
Still, I am proud to turn 40. I posted that “Hurrah! At last I’m 40!” card on Facebook, and let people know this was the big 4-0. But I nixed the idea of a huge party. For my 39th birthday, I hosted a blowout bash, complete with salon-done hair, a lengthy guest list, champagne and gourmet cake. Been there, done that. Didn’t want to do it again the next year.
So, what was I going to do to celebrate? I weighed the options. Lose 10 pounds, buy a bikini and go to Cabo San Lucas? Book a room at the fabulous Terrenea Resort for the weekend and invite all my girlfriends to join me? What the heck -- just throw a party three times the size of last year’s?
I did none of that. My 40th birthday just felt like a time to be mellow, mindful and reflective. I ditched all the hoopla and went home to the Midwest. I invited my beau to meet me at the family cottage in Michigan, and spent my birthday weekend with the people I love most -- my family, significant other, and my best friends of 20 years who I only get to see a few times a year. It felt like the right kind of “party.”
I think of the old adage, “Life begins at forty!” and I can’t help but wonder what the world has in store for me. A book deal? A new marriage? A child?
Maybe my metabolism will have slowed, but the pace of my “primehood” will not. I can only imagine I'll be extra motivated to reach the goals I set for myself in my thirties -- and curious about how those goals have evolved.
I may sound like a teenaged cheerleader when I say it, but this is forty! Get psyched!