As one of the youngest in my social circle I watched multiple friends hit the big milestone long before I did, and each of them had different advice on it just like everyone weighs in on what makes a good marriage, how to raise kids, etc. Make sure to do something big, go somewhere fun, don’t treat it like an ordinary birthday. And it wasn’t – my husband threw me a nice little backyard surprise party that was the perfect combination of friends, food and drink. But otherwise there wasn’t anything different about this birthday.
I don’t feel different. I certainly don’t feel older (and according to my trainer my physical and vital stats put my body age at 18 so I’m not deteriorating, although I have developed a sudden allergy to walnuts that’s infuriating because I love walnuts and put them on everything). And actually the idea of turning forty was worse than actually turning forty. I think that’s because of the expectation put on it.
For years leading up to my birthday I saw countless Facebook posts about what people were doing for their fortieth. Pictures of big vacations and huge parties were plastered all over, making me feel like I was a loser if I didn’t do something amazing. And for awhile I was more stressed about doing something amazing than actually turning forty, because I felt all this pressure to make sure it wasn’t a normal birthday. Then I felt pressure about not going overboard, because I couldn’t justify spending a ton of money we didn’t have laying around just to treat this one birthday as the biggest event in my adult life (which it wasn’t and shouldn’t have been). I’m not by nature an anxious person, but feeling like I had to keep up with this trend of unforgettable birthday celebrations stressed me out to the point that I washed my hands of it and put it on my husband, and then proceeded to worry that he wouldn’t pull it off. I was probably more high strung in the weeks leading up to my birthday than I was since giving birth the first time, and not because of the number looming in front of me but because of the expectation that I had to acknowledge that number in a special way. Now that the party’s over and the stress is gone I realize all the fuss about this “milestone” is about being afraid to turn forty, not celebrating it, and I wasn’t afraid of this birthday.
Maybe it was the fact that most people I know were already forty. Or maybe it was that I mentally hit forty just after graduating college. I don’t mean that to suggest I am wise or mature, I mean that to suggest that I’m boring. A great night for me is either dinner and cards with another couple, or more often, movie night with the kids. Bed around nine, maybe ten if it’s a good movie. And that’s not to say forty is or should be boring, but that this fear of forty is probably rooted in people being afraid to act old, and I’ve been acting old for over a decade so I didn’t need a number to make it real.
I think people like to live it up for their fortieth just to prove that they aren’t old. That they can still have fun. But I have no illusions that while my body may think its 18 my mind knows I’m not. I don’t miss staying up until four in the morning. I don’t miss drinking all night and feeling like shit the next day. In fact, my good friend is getting married this spring (which I’m totally looking forward to) and the bus back to the hotel after the reception doesn’t leave until 3:30. A.M. (which I’m totally not looking forward to). As a matter of fact I sort of dread that reception. I don’t think I can stay up that late without drinking to give me some energy, but I don’t think I can function any part of the next day if I’m drinking until three.
Functioning the next day is sort of critical because there’s a brunch, but I’m not good company when I haven’t had enough sleep. My brain is foggy, my head weighs at least twenty pounds more, my temper is short. I’m not at all pleasant. I feel like I should practice staying up late but I’d like to still be married by the time the wedding rolls around. I actually did stay up late for a Halloween party, 2:30 a.m. to be exact, but that was nearly a disaster because I (for the first time ever) faked a happy ending just so I could go to sleep and I got caught. Disaster was averted only because I think my husband has no memory of it.
If I hadn’t been boring before forty I probably would have had felt pressure to go crazy and prove that just because I was turning forty I wasn’t old. But that’s the cool thing about forty, I don’t feel pressure to act like I’m not forty. Not from society anyway. I’m don’t care that my idea of a perfect night out is a dinner someone else cooks and home by ten. I don’t care if that dinner is at a nice restaurant or my 85 year old neighbor’s house as long as the food and company are good.
Forty seems old when you’re 15. But once you get there you realize you felt the same as you did at 39, 25 or whatever, with the exception of a walnut allergy, which did seem to manifest one week to the day after turning forty. And there’s nothing wrong with a big celebration to mark turning forty, just make sure it’s a celebration and not a denial of your age.