ANNE GILDEA

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - Anne.gildea@mailonsun­day.ie

Life be­gins at 40! That was a re­frain I heard much of a few years ago. Friends, sib­lings, ev­ery­one seemed to be do­ing it: turn­ing 40. There was a spate of mem­o­rable par­ties, then it went quiet for a while. Now I’ve just been to my third 50th in a row. Not that I’m at that point my­self, mind. I’m mid- 40s. Oh, feck it, I’m 46. Why try and fudge the fact! The Os­car Wilde ex­cuse? ‘One should never trust a woman who tells her real age. If she tells that, she’ll tell any­thing.’ Well, if you’ve ever read this col­umn, you’ll know I’ve no is­sues there

Age­ing: it’s nat­u­ral, in­evitable and seen as a curse in our mar­ket­ing- driven world. A world in which Be­ing Sexy is the be-all, and the wis­dom you’ve ac­crued in a half a life­time’s ex­pe­ri­ence is nought com­pared to the power of an 18-year- old hot­tie in size-zero jeans. But I’m en­joy­ing it.

Who cares that men don’t look at you any more? ‘They do, ac­tu­ally,’ a fel­low 40s chum re­cently ex­plained. ‘I’ve no­ticed late- 60s and 70-ish old men in my lo­cal, glanc­ing my way with a ‘She’s a bit past it; I might be in with a chance’ gleam in their eye.’ Lovely.

‘Men our age don’t want women our age,’ a sin­gle woman I met at the last 50th rue­fully com­mented. We mused about why that is. Maybe they want the op­tion of kids. Maybe a young one on the arm makes them feel as if the youth is rub­bing off on them. Maybe when they look into the face a fel­low 40-some­thing, they can’t han­dle the wrin­kling around the eyes, that slight Bas­set Hound thing that starts hap­pen­ing with the skin along the jaw line, per­haps the ploppy flap of a lit­tle ex­tra chin. It’s like look­ing in a mir­ror... a talk­ing one that shouts, ‘ Hey, don’t for­get. YOU’RE GONNA DIE ONE DAY!’

So this woman told me she’d tried the in­ter­net for a man. In con­trast to the pub sce­nario, she found her­self fight­ing off 20-some­things. As with the pub sce­nario, there was the sense that a chick her age must be des­per­ate — the kid­die-men were all look­ing for no-strings nookie. ‘Feck off, I’m old enough to be your mammy’ was her stan­dard re­ply.

She’s now try­ing a trick that came with the rec­om­men­da­tion ‘this re­ally works’: get a picture of a uni­corn; write on the back ex­actly what you’re look­ing for in a man; put it un­der your pil­low. He’ll come along. Yeah, but what if the uni­verse gets it wrong and five years later you’re ask­ing your­self, ‘How in the name of God did I end up hitched to a

‘Phys­i­cally I feel like a crock. Sex­i­ness for me is like the Vik­ings,

crino­line skirts, pros­per­ity – A Thing

Of The Past’

pony with a pointy horn in the mid­dle of its face?’ What would I put, I won­dered later. ‘Tall, beau­ti­ful-faced, im­po­tent, al­pha male, who’s good with shelves and chat­ting’? Im­po­tent, yeah. Ah, funny how things change as you get older. Phys­i­cal shenani­gans are the last thing on the mind since the mas­tec­tomy, fol­lowed by the be­gin­nings of lym­phedema in the arm, and the other shoul­der I broke three months ago and have been re­li­ably in­formed will never be right again.

Not to men­tion the chemopause: chemo-in­duced menopause. ‘I’m still hot. It just comes in flashes now!’ as one des­per­ately pos­i­tive loon put it on a blog I read. (A yank, nat­u­rally.) Net re­sult: phys­i­cally I feel like a crock. I’ll never be the per­son I was be­fore. Youth is ka­put in this neck of the woods. ‘Sex­i­ness’, for me, is like the Vik­ings, crino­line skirts, pros­per­ity — A Thing Of The Past. And what a ruddy re­lief! I don’t care about all that hoopla any more. Hur­ray, no yearn­ing, nor yowl­ing nor long­ing.

I never wanted to set­tle into the hus­band-wifekids pat­tern, and I’m past the point where it’ll hap­pen. Now that I’m de­light­fully older, it’s great. No ques­tions asked — I’m not in that mar­ket any more. Free­dom. The uni­corn lady’s point was that you can­not find what you seek un­less you clar­ify what it is. When I thought about it, I re­alised: I have what I want al­ready. That’s what has come with age for me: ac­cep­tance. The end­less op­tions you felt un­der pres­sure to choose from, and ex­ploit, when you were younger have closed off some­what. You’ve got a guide­book called Your Past as you face into the fu­ture. You’ve a very keen sense that life won’t last for ever. So you just get on with it.

Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist Arthur Stone pub­lished re­search on this area in 2010. In a sur­vey of 340,000 peo­ple, he found that lev­els of stress, worry and anger dropped sig­nif­i­cantly in the 50s, and lev­els of hap­pi­ness and en­joy­ment in­creased. His find­ings sug­gest it’s not that dif­fi­cul­ties dis­ap­pear but that as peo­ple age, they be­come more cir­cum­spect. They learn to reg­u­late their emo­tions, fo­cus less on bad mem­o­ries and rel­ish what’s im­por­tant: friends and fam­ily. In fact, the one im­age that sticks in my mind from that last 50th party was of the 70-some­thing cou­ple who danced ev­ery­one else off the floor with the el­e­gance and ease of their long­prac­tised ball­room chore­og­ra­phy. The love and dy­namism they ex­uded was in­spi­ra­tional.

So it’s not, as one mo­rose half-cen­tury chap­pie expressed to me, that 50 spells the Be­gin­ning Of The End. Rather that, as Dr Stone ti­tled his pa­per, hap­pi­ness be­gins at 50.

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