I always dreaded aging. I was downcast at 20, twitched at 25 and inconsolable and in hiding at 30. 35 grated my jangled nerves. I approached 40 with mounting dread, waking at night in cold sweats and having palpitations at the thought of impending middle age. I compulsively checked my paunch, my crow’s feet and my thinning hair. I started to squint slightly when the hairdresser brandished a mirror over my balding pate so as to avoid the shock in full vision. I even considered giving up smoking again.
When the time came, amazingly, I welcomed my 40th birthday like no other. I actually even had a party, hiring a cinema and showing a suitably absurd film for a group of friends. Surprisingly, I actually really like being 40. It has so many advantages.
1) I no longer have to go out at night. I spent many nights in my twenties and thirties in grimy gay bars, relentlessly swigging alcohol and navigating creeps, freaks and weirdos. It was often an effort to even navigate the floors, the local gay club having the stickiest floor in the known universe. Don’t ask me why. I’ve tried to block out fathoming that one out. It opens a whole can of worms. I tolerated inane music, having to shout to be heard and endured halitosis as people craned in close to be heard by me. I drank enough to enable me to dance, putting up with clumsy drunks, sweaty atmospheres and stumbling teenagers. I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore. I can now safely enter what I call “the divorcee” part of town. No more thudding bass beat, just a lot of older ladies and gentleman sipping drinks and trying to stand in a dim light so as not to expose the saggy bits. It’s much more civilised. I actually no longer care if I go out at all. I’d rather see friends at their houses or at mine or spend a nice evening in the cinema before retiring at eleven pm (after popping a wash on to peg out in the morning).
2) I no longer have to follow fashion. Not for me the canvas shoes caked in foot grime. I don’t have to wander around in February with my bottom exposed, elasticated trousers halfway up my legs and no coat. Not for me the painful blue feet as I trek about in inappropriate shoes in snow. I can go out with a coat on. It’s amazing. Being 40 has made me appreciate the joys of dressing for the weather, usually in a nice warm Macintosh. I can buy clothes because they suit me and I like that. I can even shop at M and S now and no one thinks a thing of it.
3) I know what I like. I have a job which I like, a house I like and I know what I enjoy doing. It’s taken me a long time to learn these things. Woe betide anyone who tries to take that away or make me do things I don’t want to do (e.g. celebrate Christmas, enter churches or endure weddings). I no longer feel the need to pretend that I quite like package holidays, works’ leaving dos and eating at Nandos. I feel resolute enough to say “No” and stick to doing what I like. I also know what I want from friendships and relationships and am happy to set my own agendas (with the occasional compromise at a push).
4) I no longer feel the need to suffer fools. I spent many years putting up with stupid or annoying people, tolerating liars, the inane, the dull. Hell, I even spent time living with them. The older you get the less you have to tolerate. I feel able to speak my mind or just to ignore people and move on and away. It’s amazingly liberating and I wish I’d learnt it at a younger age.
5) I can nap. I’ve napped from a young age. Sleeping is a hobby of mine. Years of working shifts led me to appreciate the afternoon snooze as a pick me up and now I feel it’s also age appropriate. The over 40s can nap to their hearts content without disapproval. I’m no longer in the napping closet. I’m an out and proud napper.
6) I’m old enough to have had a lot of therapy. Aging means I’ve had time to have had a hell of a lot of therapy. I’ve had counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychotherapy. If I was any younger I wouldn’t have logistically fitted all that in. Being theraped (I made that word up) has given me the chance to move on from the horrors of the eighties. Let’s face it, unless you’re pretty deluded the eighties were grim all round and we all need theraping to escape that.
One final point though. I’m more than happy to be 40. I don’t lie about it, don’t hide it or resent it. Just don’t expect me to embrace getting any older. 41 sounds just terrible.