Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Turning 40

For many people, especially women, turning 40 is traumatic. There is a line that our culture has drawn in the sand between youth and middle-age. And the implicit message is that being younger than 40 is good and being older than 40 is bad, except compared to old age, and then it's OK!

The funny thing about life in North America is that many of us yearn to be older when we're in our teens. We want to be independent. We can't wait to vote, to drive the car, to move out of our parents’ house. And society smiles upon us in our 20s and 30s for our beauty, which invariably diminishes over time. And when the clock turns to the big 4-0, some people freak out.

When I turned 40, I lied about it for three years. I was working in a women's collective at a local university and everyone was younger than me. I wanted to seem cooler than I was by staying 39 forever. Finally, when I came out of the age closet, I started telling everyone my age, even at inappropriate times. I interjected the digit whenever I could, just to be rid of my hangup, but it didn't really help. I still felt old.

40 has come and gone a long time ago for me, but now I'm OK with my age (as long as you don't ask me about it!). Seriously, nothing is more sad than spending the bulk of our time wishing that we were somewhere else, or were someone else, and that's what happens when we don't accept our age (59, thank you, and reasonably proud of it). And numbers are arbitrary. Some people are old souls when they're 16. Old in the sense that they are serious, cynical, or unadventuresome. Other people never get old; they live well into their 80s and 90s with young attitudes because they accept today for what it is and move forward instead of constantly looking over their shoulders and yearning for something that has long since passed.

In my book, Straight and Narrow, both women are about to turn 40. One is fine with it but the other panics. She develops an obsession with her hair because it's one of the few things in life that she can control and she's not the Botox type.

If you're worried about your age, try thinking about all the angst that went with being young and inexperienced. My mother, one of the wisest people I know, has a saying – we grow old too fast and smart too late. How true. Wouldn't I love to be 40 again now that I'm 59? But unless I'm planning to build a time machine, that's not gonna happen. And, unlike Tara, in Straight and Narrow, I can't be bothered with my hair.

If you've already turned 40, tell us how it feels. If you're approaching the big landmark, how does that resonate with you? Is it all right to lie about our age, or should we just stand up and own it?

Sigrid Mac

Author of Straight and Narrow


  1. i'm 48. i almost died shortly after my 46th birthday. i am so lucky to be here, to be alive. i have learned to savour each moment. i don't remember 40 as any particular milestone for me. but things are much easier in my 40s in many ways: i feel more confident in myself, not particularly worried about pleasing anyone else. i speak my mind. i do what i want to do. the 40s have been poignant, beautiful, amazing. i hear the 50s are pretty damn great too.

  2. well in 10 more days I will be 40, and I feel like I have become who I realy am and Iam no longer trying to become something that Iam not. And above all else I trust my own judgement over anyone elses on the things I should or should not do in my life.I feel like as time goes on people are getting younger and healthier , that is why people now say that 30 is now the new 40.

  3. I just turned 40 and I feel wonderful still as I was 30 years old. Im staying young by doing my daily fitness. I got no wrinkles and people still comment on me being 20. I think thats great and even my huband of 17 years of marriage thinks the same thing. I thought being 40 is going to make my life go down hill and thinking life will be over down the road but I guess I was wrong. I still got no kids yet I guess I will never be ready for them. I guess as long as I got my hubby the love of my life and my dog (our baby girl)then life will not change.

  4. I will be 40 in 3 months and I am not handling it well at all. I feel like I am no longer going to be seen as young and vibrant. I have regrets about roads I have chosen. And I am a bit insecure in my relationship (he is 40 and looks 28). I take care of myself but I feel worn out and depressed. I hope this is a phase.

  5. For the sake of clarity, I am going to label the above comments Anon1 and Anon2.

    Dear Anon1, that's fantastic that you feel great after turning 40 and you even feel 10 years younger! Right on. It's also really nice that you've kept up with your exercising, and it sounds as though you have a wonderful relationship with your husband and your dog :-) So, who cares about aging, right?

    But Anon2, I totally relate to your story and I think it's very common. I always felt that still being in my 30s made me young and the minute I had to say 40, I started choking on the words. But I'm here to tell you that just because the clock ticks, it doesn't mean that anything in your life really changes. Maybe if you felt better in your relationship or were a little less depressed it wouldn't matter as much. I would try to remember that being 40 is really an arbitrary line that somebody else drew in the sand. It really doesn't have to matter to us. If your life is going well, you can still be 40 or 45 or 82 or whatever and feel fantastic. But having said that, I am not in any way diminishing how you do feel now because I felt exactly that way. And now I don't. I'm not freaking out about my next birthday and it will be a big one. So, hang in there and redefine young and vibrant. Young does not have to be a number. It can be all about your personality.

  6. I just turned 40 at midnight. I've been dreading it for months - well --- for a couple years but more lately since it's drawn closer. My kids have reminded me every day and my husband is 3 years younger than I am. I am the oldest of 6 kids and have been reminded all them time that the big day is coming. I'm depressed. I think I will be better in the morning, but I can't say for sure. 40 is huge to me. Like I said, I'm older than everyone else I know. So this sucks for me. They all call me 'old lady'. Plus, its 40!!!! Not 30! 30 was easy and I even looked forward to it. 40 is old and I don't want to be it. How do you get UNdepressed about it? I have the best kids in the world! My husband is more than wonderful, he's my soulmate - if you can believe that! He doesn't care if I am gray or have wrinkles, which I have a lot! He tells me I'm the most beautiful wonman in the world and he loves me like crazy - and so do my kids. So....why do I care? Why am I so upset about this one number? I will not be able to spit it out when someone asks my age. I'm 40 today...but I'm still 25 inside. It doesn't feel fair.

    1. Dear Anon,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I feel for you and I want to tell you how young you really are because I am much older than you, but I remember so well feeling young until I hit the age of 40. There is something about that number and I believe that 90% of it is cultural.

      What you have to tell yourself is that 40 is not old. It really isn't. And laugh right back anybody who makes fun of you. Laugh at yourself and the number. That number is not you. It doesn't reflect who you are. You still feel 25 inside. And you don't have to tell anybody. Age really is private, but you want to come to terms with it yourself so that you feel similar to when you turned 30. So that you are okay with it. Because the only alternative is to be unhappy with who you are or want to change your current age, and unless you have a time machine or some kind of fountain of youth in your backyard, it ain't gonna happen.

      I think this is harder for you because your husband is younger and other people around you are younger. You want to look around and see how many people are older than you. Life really is a long continuum and if you're lucky you'll live till you're 90 and you'll be proud! Then you be telling people.

      Seriously, I think you just need a little time to wrap your head around the figure and to distance yourself enough from it to know that you are no different today than you were yesterday or last month. Of course you're different than when you were 20 or 30, and one would hope so because we want to grow over time.

      40 is a really great place to be. Why don't you do a quick search for all the hot celebrities who are in their 40s or other people to admire who have done something with their lives who are 40 or 50. It will help to put things in perspective.

      Good luck and happy birthday! I think 40 will be a great year for you once you get used to it. Sigrid

  7. Well, I'm about to turn 40. I'm one of those people that would always get really surprised when people say they don't like birthdays. How could you not like a birthday? Why would you lie about your own age? Well...... This year was the first year I started thinking about age. 40. Wow. Am I scared? Yeah. why? I don't know. When I asked my Mom who is Russian (so am I) how she felt about turning 40 - she didn't understand the question. She asked how different is that from any other age? She was surprised I was even talking about it. Do you drastically change when you turn 40? Does everyone point a finger? I guess it makes you think about aging more but should I be scared as I am? Isn't living your life so much more important?

  8. Interesting how different cultures view turning 40. And I'm sure there is a big difference between genders as well. Of course, live your life! 40 is just an arbitrary number. It doesn't mean anything except what you want it to mean. It doesn't mean that you are old or that you will be any less sexy or attractive, which is what I think a lot of women worry about. But of course it does mean that you're probably about halfway through your life and that's if you're lucky to live out your full lifespan. So the number should give us pause for reflection, but not in a bad way. I wouldn't want to be very young again because I have learned so much since then. And much of what I learned was painful to figure out! But now I know it :-) And so do you. So, happy birthday!!! And don't rent the movie called This Is 40.