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Apr. 25, 2022
and honestly, I’m not loving it. I applaud the older bad-asses out there, but yet, I’m still embarrassed by my age.
I threw myself a big party for my 40th birthday. For my 50th, I plan to flee the country.
At some point during this decade of my life, I’ve become vividly aware of—and yes, embarrassed by—my advancing age. It wasn’t always this way. At 40, I had an adorable 4-year-old, which made me ageless. He was practically a baby! With a child that young, I might be 20, 30, 35… or yes, 40.
Not only that, I had younger siblings who were still in college. Half-siblings, which explains the math—but when I made water-cooler conversation about Muhlenberg College with a freshly graduated coworker, I didn’t detail my family tree. Instead, we dished about the day trip I’d taken that weekend to visit my sister and meet her friends in the dorm (and of course take her on the obligatory off-campus Target trip). My colleague and I had things in common, neither of us considered how many years I had on her! I was ambiguously “grownup” and not “almost as old as her mom."
When I got my full period in one big rush at work not long after (nightmare, btw—it’s called “flooding” and it can happen during perimenopause, yay) and needed to run to the nearest Gap for a change of clothes, the younger female coworkers I confided in couldn’t possibly have thought “she’s so old her hormones are screwy.” Instead, they sympathized: “That happened to me a few years ago in a 300-person college lecture hall.”
In my early 40s, I felt confident, happy, successful. I didn’t hide my age, I celebrated it! I threw myself a 40th birthday! I had years to go till my 30th high school reunion! Life was good, and I looked and felt good. Although my eyebrows had grown sparse after pregnancy, a little pencil and powder filled them in just fine. I barely had crows feet (“good genes,” I told myself), and my crazy grays were erased every six weeks at the salon.
But as the years went on, something shifted, and I was no longer generically “adult”, blending in with the 20-somethings I worked with, or the 30-somethings I shared a neighborhood with. I was, well, old.
It hit me when I went on a business trip with a bunch of women in my industry I’d never met before. Our plane hadn’t even taken off before I realized they most definitely didn’t consider me one of them. Even at first glance, I was the odd woman out. They were all in their early 20s, all wearing basically the same winter coat, rolling the same carry-on luggage, and pulling the same hairstyle into a low ponytail for the long flight. I flinched with every talking point that further separated me from them: No, I didn’t live in the city. Yes, I had not only a husband but a 7-year-old son. Yes, I’d been on lots of trips like this before. No, I’d never heard of the obscure website they wrote for.
Why couldn’t they see we were all adults here, heading off on a fun trip? Instead, I’m pretty sure they saw that a woman their mom’s age was along for the journey. It came as a total surprise, and it hurt. Thank goodness for the trip organizer, a woman also in her 40s. She and I hit it off immediately and laughed our way through the weekend.
That trip was a reality check for me—it reminded me that when I was a teenager, all the guests at my dad’s 40th birthday party seemed ancient to me. That when, in my 30s, I ran a focus group on 40-something consumers, I thought of them like an alien species to be studied with open curiosity. Now, on the other side of things, I thought, “I’m exactly the same as I’ve always been! I’m still fun! I watch and read and listen to everything you do!”Insecurity set in after that trip, and I started hiding my age more. I didn’t lie, but I became very careful not to date myself with references like “I was in college when that movie came out!” I no longer post my age on social media when my birthday rolls around. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well, I’m about to be the maid of honor (ok, matron) in my sister’s wedding so you tell me how old I am.
Actually, don’t bother guessing, I’ll just tell you. I’m months away from 50, and it’s scary. I don’t know how I got this old. When did I go from relying on birth control to prevent pregnancy to relying on it to keep perimenopause symptoms at bay? How did I go from counting the months until I could say I had a “decade of work experience” to removing my college graduation date from my resume? How did I end up the only one on a work Zoom call not logging on from my parents’ house?
I should be proud that I'm coming up on the big 5-0 this year—I've got my health, a great career, friends and family who love and appreciate me—but instead I'm cringing my way through the countdown to old lady. My little boy is nearly a teenager and already taller than I am. My color appointments are down to every five weeks but I’m contemplating every four. And my ob/gyn wants to take me off the pill after my 50th “to see where we are” with my body’s reproductive clock.
Every year when we’d wish my grandfather a happy birthday, he’d say “It’s better than the alternative." And clearly, turning 50 is better than death. But I can’t wrap my head around the fact that 50 is closer to 70 than it is to 20—if the past few decades flew by in a blink, what does that say about my shrinking future?
Luckily, I’ve got decades of maturity and introspection to lean on as I work through my big feelings about this birthday, and why it’s hitting so hard. In the meantime, I’ll distract myself with an overseas vacation with my husband and son, something I’ve been planning for years as a way to eagerly look forward to 50 (at least on the calendar, if not yet in my heart).
It’s going to be an amazing trip, one I hope we’ll remember forever. Just don’t expect me to upload any “50 and fabulous” posts on the big day.
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