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.