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Saturday, February 18, 2006

I love being over 40

The only negatives I have ever had to contend with in being over 40 as a woman is (a) societal prejudices about being "over 40" and (b) the chances decrease at an alarming rate if you ever hoped to bear your own children. Other than that, life has been much better after 40. When I wake up at night in those moments where how you feel about yourself in general will be reflected on whether you wake up feeling very alone in the world or wake wondering which of the 100s of things you think about you want to pursue first.

I was engaged at 19 and though I knew precious little about anything else in life, I knew that I did not really want to get married and I called off the engagement. I do agree with Katharine Hepburn's belief that a couple get on better if they live in separate residences. While that would be okay with me, the idea of having a child or adopting one never even appealed to me until after I turned 40. While on the one hand I have not ever "done" what I was supposed to according to the cultural model, the physiology of women and the ability to have kids is not fair. There is precious little one can do about that. No one to appeal to on that one. If you want to adopt, you need to do it by the age of 50 unless you have a lot of money then you can cheat on the age cut off.

In my mind, it makes perfect sense to settle down and have a family after, say, 40 and not before if we are going to talk about "shoulds." Why get married and struggle with the finances of a new house and family when you are in your twenties? Or 30s for that matter? Why not get settled in the first career of your choice (and maybe the only one) and have time on your own before settling down? Well, unfortunately for women, biology doesn't wait. If you want your own child, you have to start in your twenties because after you hit 30 the chances of being able to do that start to decline significantly. That's a bitch for a lot of us. I had no interest in settling down or being mama. Not wanting to be mama is why I ended a few relationships.

But would I have a child by myself (adopted or otherwise) deliberately without a father?

No, I really would not want to do that as it is not fair to the child. He or she has to explain to the other kids about not having a second parent around. That can be awkward. I would not want to set out to do that but the desire to have a child is extremely strong and I have to make a decision pretty darn quick before all opportunities run out. Would I live in a separate residences from my boyfriend or the father figure for my child? I don't know how I would feel with that whole dynamic of having a child in the picture. If it was just me the boyfriend, we could live in separate residences just fine. I have many friends who are married with children and when I visit them, I envy the family unit and wish for it but when I leave, the wish disappears. Too often I am asked "are you happy?" which is all about the fact that I am single, as if it simply isn't possible to single (as in not even dating someone in particular) and be happy. Fortunately, it is possible. I never believed that if you are not a whole person unless you are part of a couple. Actually, I find that notion and anyone who has it to be very sad.

I digress a bit from my stated title of this piece.

What you do tend to feel after forty is acceptance of who you are, even if that "who" isn't what you hoped you would be. There is nothing to stop you from trying new things, taking risks and having fun. I know that my being somewhat of a loner enables me to withstand certain personal situations that would greatly pain others. I know the difference between enjoying solitude and being lonely. Big difference there. There is little sweeter than being in love with a guy who accepts you for who you are and you for who he is. You can't change people whether they are 20 or 50. Most relationships fail, I believe, because we try to change for other people and it simply doesn't work.

I also confess to enjoying hearing some men talk about wanting younger women (though they are 40 or older) because they feel the younger woman has more to offer. Most of us ladies in middle-age know we can do many things 3 times better than those younger women. The experience we have includes the knowledge that at times what is even better than ribald sex is being able to sit and just be with a guy, without talking and only holding on to each other. We can do that without thinking something is wrong or missing. If you are not able to do that in my opinion you are missing out on what it truly means to be with someone and love that person.

These are things I learned over 40. I have also been somewhat amused that younger men than myself actually seek out the older woman for the reason I mentioned above. I'm the one who has a problem with a guy being a lot younger - I feel like I'm dating my brother or something (he is six years younger).

It is unfortunate that so many do see 40 as being some sort of cut-off point in life. For me it has represented the long elusive quest to feel comfortable in my own skin and know that I have at least 40 more years of good living and challenges ahead of me. I hope that does include having a child in my life but if it does not, I will still be happy. This is one thing I know about myself. But the comfort level of having acceptance of myself does not preclude going after new goals with all the intensity of when I was 20. I feel better than I did at 20. I am far happier now than when I was in my 20, or 30s for that matter. I would not want to repeat those years for anything.

And I am so happy to know and accept myself. That is a great gift.


Irishcoda said...

While I probably wouldn't mind repeating my 20s or 30s, I have to agree that I am happier (more content with myself as I am) now than I've been. 40 is great; 50 is better even if your health starts to slip a little. About biology, I have to agree with you there--the whole process ought to be reversed. Start out with no periods and no babies during the teens and 20s and then by the time you're 40 or 50, you're capable of having kids. But along with that, we also have to have the energy to go with chasing after them...

Youth is definitely wasted on the young. :)

Annie Ruth said...

so just as I was getting ready to write this, Richard Chamberlain gave his 'thornbird' monologue, from the mini-series of the same name. ( Do I need to say that I have my television on in the background, or is that assumed?
I can't imagine that anybody reading this would wonder: Now is she watching the television series "the thornbirds" or is Richard Chamberlain actually in Annie's study reciting, you know, lines from the Father Ralph character....? definitively, it's the former, but the latter? now THAT would be awesome...)

I agree that there is definitely a developmental milestone reached after age 40. Like you, Nancy, I also have found a pretty powerful sense of self acceptance, being over 40. It's sort of like a feeling of resignation, but in a good way.

Resignation in the sense that, "this is who I am, this is what I've accomplished, these are the mistakes I've made so far, and this is what I can reasonably expect to accomplish in the time I have left (or the time I *think*/*hope* I have left)
and it's all okay.

Even the stuff that maybe *isn't* one's first choice, like realizing that maybe I won't make a big difference in the world, as far as my work is concerned, or - as you say, Nancy - maybe not having a kid, even though that stuff isn't what we would have maybe chosen for ourselves, it's still in the end, all okay.

My sister and I ((sis is also over 40, in fact she just turned forty-ten : )
had a conversation on this subject not too long ago. My sis had just had a very bad flight up here from Florida, and I asked her how she had felt - was she terrified about the plane maybe crashing, yada yada yada.

And she was quite zen about it; she feels that we're all on the path we are supposed to be on, and whatever is gonna happen is gonna happen, and there's a reason for it, even though it's not immediately evident to us.

Needless to say, my sister is my hero, and I completely agree with her point of view.

As to growing older, I can't say that I don't miss my 20's and 30's, because I do miss that time in my life, mostly because I had a lot more physical stamina then.
Physical stamina, energy, flexibility - I do miss those things, and if I'm being truly honest, I also miss having breasts that didn't always point south....

But, with age you do get that inner peace and resignation that you are on the path you are meant to be on, sagging boobage and all.

Now, my over-40 sisters, let's talk about what REALLY matters - what anti-wrinkle creams are we all using? me? Clarins - highly recommended!

: )

John P said...

I don't know Nancy. I'm not all that thrilled about being over 40. I think I wish I could be in college again and have loads more time to figure things out. I'm not sure if I'm any more settled today on "who I am" than when I was younger.

Woody Allen, a favorite of mine who in my opinion is probably as much a philosopher as a film-maker, said recently that turning 70 has not made him feel any wiser or that there was anything good about it. He's a pessimist and probably knows that his days are more limited, and in some respect I feel that way too.

I guess the one thing I know now is that, if time is indeed limited, we should be spending our time doing what we absolutely want to do and not what we don't want to do. I see people all the time stuck in boring jobs they hate but stay in them for their pensions and other reasons. I say, do what you want - if you can of course - but do what you can to live the way you want to so that when you get old you don't have regrets. I'm sure I might end up with regrets like everyone else, but I'm trying my best to do what I want with the life I have.