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?
Author of Straight and Narrow