I don’t generally enjoy reading things about getting older. They usually fall into one of two categories: relentlessly upbeat, as if it’s all one huge menopause party, or a complete horror show (I was nearly on suicide watch after reading Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck).
Based upon my comprehensive and exhaustive research (i.e., drinking wine with my friends), I’ve drawn some conclusions about what really happens to us in our 40s.
1. All young women look pretty to you.
I’ve really noticed this over the last few years. When I see a woman in her 20s or even early 30s, I automatically see her beauty. I look without envy because God knows I wouldn’t want to be back where she is just to have that young pretty face. But when I hear one of them complaining about their looks, I want to say, “Shut your mouth. Every last one of you is f***ing beautiful. Go read a book.”
2. Your dancing looks really stupid but you have absolutely no f***s left to give.
There are times – even vodka-free times – when I feel like I’m a legit really good dancer. I have rhythm; I feel the beat. Sometimes I feel like I’m such a good dancer that I bust out my professional grade moves in front of a mirror just to confirm. SUCH A BAD, TERRIBLE, BAD IDEA.
But here’s the thing: I would actually pass out if I cared any less. I will seriously Dougie my way through cleaning the kitchen, wop while I fold laundry, and Tootsee Roll while I vacuum. My children are horrified. And I do not care in the slightest. How did that happen?
3. Your body makes weird noises.
When I was a kid, I heard people like Johnny Carson make jokes about their joints creaking and their bodies making noises when they got out of bed in the morning. That shit seemed so stupid and corny. I also never thought it would happen to me. Wrong! When I come down stairs in the morning, I hear clicks and squeaks that don’t sound entirely human. All my parts are OEM so it’s not like I have a store-bought knee or something. It takes some getting used to, you guys.
4. It takes DAYS to recover from hangovers.
5. You are significantly less judgy.
By the time you get this far, you will – maybe without realizing it, and probably without trying – become more compassionate. It’s just easier to see the complexities of life as you get older, and to find yourself more shrugging than scolding.
6. Sleep is elusive.
Remember how you used to sleep before you had kids? And then you told yourself that you’d be able to sleep again once they got a little older? Yeah, no. You’ll never have a full, uninterrupted night of sleep (without medication) ever again. Sorry.
7. You don’t scare as easily.
At this point, you have been through so, so much. Right? I mean, I’ve experienced the death of a parent, another parent’s serious illness, my own divorce, a kid who’s had significant struggles literally her entire life, relationships that ended painfully and on and on. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve had to deal with some real tough shit, too. So it’s a lot harder now to get worked up about things that used to really stress me out: a job interview, or a bad parent-teacher conference, or a first date, or telling someone what I really think.
8. You stop taking things for granted.
I like to think I’ve done a
great good decent acceptable job raising my daughters. Something I’m really proud of in them is how grateful they are for the material things they have. They don’t get extravagant gifts because they share their dad’s and my belief that experiences are better than things. I like that.
But, like all young people, they take everything else for granted. Their glowing skin and hair, sunny days, exquisite meals, narrowly-averted disasters, legs that work, the luxury of hot running water in the home, the miracle of smartphones, perfect macaroni and cheese, belly laughs with friends. I’m sure they like those things when they actually think about them. Being in your 40s means that without even having to remind yourself, you’re spontaneously grateful for all those things I listed and more.
9. You work out just because it makes you feel better.
I’m not a person who plays sports or feels compelled to jump on my bike because it’s a gorgeous day. For most of my life, exercise has been associated with one thing: trying to get thinner. Because I don’t like to work very hard, I rarely got any real, noticeable results from my efforts.
But as I get older, I actually like to work out. Because it feels really, really good. (I know, crazy.) Once I let go of the whole idea of “results”, I realized how much exercise helps me sort out my thoughts, de-stress, and sometimes just escape, when I’m in that “Goddammit, if this kid asks me ONE more time where something is!” kind of place. You know that place.
10. You learn how strong, resilient, and beautiful you really are.
God, it takes a lot to get here. It takes pain and loss and failure and disappointment and starting over. But it’s worth it. Because after all that, we get to look in the mirror and realize we’re still here, there’s still so much ahead, and everything will be more than okay.