How Hard Can It Be?
Funny thing is I never worried about getting older. Youth had not been so kind to me that I minded the loss of it. I thought women who lied about their age were shallow and deluded, but I was not without vanity. I could see the dermatologists were right when they said that a cheap aqueous cream was just as good as those youth elixirs in their fancy packaging, but I bought the expensive moisturiser anyway. Call it insurance. I was a competent woman of substance and I simply wanted to look good for my age, that’s all – what that age was didn’t really matter. At least that’s what I told myself. And then I got older.
Look, I’ve studied the financial markets half my life. That’s my job. I know the deal: my sexual currency was going down and facing total collapse unless I did something to shore it up. The once-proud and not unattractive Kate Reddy Inc was fighting a hostile takeover of her mojo. To make matters worse, this fact was rubbed in my face every day by the emerging market in the messiest room in the house. My teenage daughter’s womanly stock was rising while mine was declining. This was exactly as Mother Nature intended, and I took pride in my gorgeous girl, I really did. But sometimes that loss could be painful – excruciatingly so. Like the morning I locked eyes on the Circle Line with some guy with luxuriant, tousled Roger Federer hair (is there any better kind?) and I swear there was a flicker of something between us, a sizzle of static, a frisson of flirtation right before he offered me his seat. Not his number, his seat.
‘Totes humil’, as Emily would say. The fact he didn’t even consider me worthy of interest stung like a slapped cheek. Unfortunately, the impassioned young woman who lives on inside me, who actually thought Roger was flirting with her, still doesn’t get it. She sees her former self in the mirror of her mind’s eye as she looks out at the world and assumes that’s what the world sees when it looks back. She is quite insanely and irrationally hopeful that she might be attractive to Roger (likely age: 31) because she doesn’t realise that she/we now have a thickening waist, thinning vaginal walls (who knew?) and are starting to think about spring bulbs and comfortable footwear with considerably more enthusiasm than, say, the latest scratchy thongs from Agent Provocateur. Roger’s erotic radar could probably detect the presence of those practical, flesh-coloured pants of mine.
Look, I was doing okay. Really, I was. I got through the oil-spill-on-the-road that is turning 40. Lost a little control, but I drove into the skid just like the driving instructors tell you to and afterwards things were fine again; no, they were better than fine. The holy trinity of midlife – good husband, nice home, great kids – was mine.
Then, in no particular order, my husband lost his job and tuned into his inner Dalai Lama. He would not be earning anything for two years, as he retrained as a counsellor (oh, joy!). The kids entered the twister of adolescence at exactly the same time as their grandparents were taking what might charitably be called a second pass at their own childhood. My mother-in-law bought a chainsaw with a stolen credit card (not as funny as it sounds). After recovering from a heart attack, my own mum lost her footing and broke her hip. I worried I was losing my mind; but it was probably just hiding in the same place as the car keys and the reading glasses and the earring. And those concert tickets.
In March it’s my fiftieth. No, I will not be celebrating with a party and yes, I probably am scared to admit I am scared, or apprehensive (I’m not quite sure what I am, but I definitely don’t like it). To be perfectly honest, I’d rather not think about my age at all, but significant birthdays – the kind they helpfully put in huge, embossed numbers on the front of cards to signpost The Road to Death – have a way of forcing the issue… How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson (Harpercollins) is on sale from 21 September
I worried I was losing my mind; but it was probably just hiding in the same place as the car keys and the reading glasses and the earring