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.