The other day I read somewhere that 43 is the median age in the United States. I turned 43 a couple weeks ago, so this statistic stood out to me — I’m exactly in the middle! Perfectly middle-aged! — but when I Googled the statistic to link to it in this post, all I found were some articles claiming that 38 is the median age in the United States. Had I been mistaken in what I thought I read the other day? Was there a qualifier to the statistic- maybe 43 is the median age for white people or for women or for some other descriptive category I fall into and thereby a reason I attached an “it me” meme to when I read? I don’t know – I’m 43 and my memory isn’t what it used to be.
I’m 43 and here are a few other things that aren’t what they used to be:
all the physical stuff you would imagine might be changing (and maybe are experiencing yourself because you’re also in your 40s or older. Hi!); the number of fucks I have to give on a number of tedious topics (what most people think of me, rude or nasty internet comments directed at me, celebrity gossip); my ability to tolerate — and thus, enjoy — red wine; my knowledge of current music; and my tolerance for large crowds, spicy food, and upspeak. Some of these changes have been difficult to deal with. I’d love to enjoy jerk chicken, for example, without loading up on Prilosec for a week in advance, and I’m still caught by surprise when I see a reflection of my neck in the mirror and wonder whether 68 degrees is too warm to wear a scarf.
Not every surprise about getting older has been unwelcome though. Some discoveries have been truly delightful. Like, if you’re 28, you might not realize the absolute, life-altering occasion of a really great night’s sleep. You may not yet appreciate the sheer thrill of an unscheduled afternoon, or the downright aggressive bliss of immediately saying no to something you don’t want to do instead of initially saying yes before being emotionally drained by an oppressive sense of dread followed by a raging case of guilt after canceling. Who knew the most liberating words in the English language were “No, I can’t”? Every self-respecting person over 40, that’s who.
Being a woman in her 40s is fun because if you ever miss the kind of attention you got ten or fifteen years ago, all you have to do is put on some work-out clothes and walk down the street and suddenly you realize the perks of your increasing invisibility when you aren’t wearing spandex. Sure, people — men — don’t hold the door open for you as often anymore, but then you don’t have to feel their gaze on your ass when you walk by either, and since you are perfectly capable of – and maybe prefer — opening doors yourself, this is kind of a win-win.
Listen, it’s not all fun and family game nights in your 40s though. If you managed to get through the first four decades without experiencing much loss, you won’t be as lucky when you’re forty-something. Someone you love will die, and this is a hard truth — hardest, of all, I think — of being in your 40s. It may be your last living grandparent whom you’re particularly close with, a beloved pet you’ve had since your twenties, or a parent you helped care for through an aggressive illness. It may even be an unexpected loss – someone your age, a peer, a close friend who was healthy in every way. And this loss, or losses, will make you reflect on your own mortality and the legacy you will — or want — to leave behind (all of which pairs particularly well with the red wine you can no longer tolerate).
Even if you’re in your 40s and haven’t yet experienced a big loss, you know it’s coming. You’re seeing posts on social media with increasing frequency from old high school friends announcing the deaths of their parents, or their siblings, and sometimes even their spouses or, god forbid, a child. If you’ve avoided feeling intense grief so far, the probability of it hangs heavy in the air like the proverbial shoe you know is going to drop — could drop at any moment. And when it does, there’s almost a relief. The worst has happened — you’ve lost someone you love deeply — and you’ve survived. And in surviving – in experiencing grief and getting through it — something kind of wonderful happens, too: you meet the depth of your own strength and the strength of your support. The people who have your back have your fucking back; maybe you didn’t even know they were there, but you do now. And if you’re a person worth her salt, you’ll be there for them, too. Maybe you already have been and you didn’t know the value of the support you gave until it was returned to you.
Knowing your value is a wonderful perk of getting older. It’s the scaffolding upon which the best relationships are built and from which the worst are dropped. It’s the path to more career fulfillment and better rewards (monetary and otherwise), and the lens through which once-ambiguous obstacles become clear. When you know your worth, you understand what is unworthy of your time and attention, and that’s the first step to clearing your life of these energy-sucks. Clearing these obstacles is such an important step because you need every bit of energy and time you have for new demands: monitoring your kids’ social media engagement; making sure you know your parents’ end-of-life wishes; sending out sympathy cards every other week; getting your blood pressure down; and binge-watching Fleabag.
In a decade that is full of surprises, maybe the biggest of all for me is this: I love being in my forties. It’s my favorite decade so far, despite the losses and the age spots and the acid reflux. I love feeling more confident, having stronger relationships, and not giving weight to things that just aren’t very important. I’m so inspired by other people in their forties, too: their growth, their grit, their determination. And, of course, all their incredible scarves.