This Is Not a Celebratory Forties Post
I remember how very old I felt approaching 30. And, with hindsight, I’m sure 42 will come to seem equally young, equally naive. Yet, like adolescence, early middle age is a difficult time. Because ageing is real, it hits you, and it sucks.
Thanks to sundry affordable enhancements – I went back to blonde after finding one too many grey hairs, occasionally nuke my wrinkles and am seriously considering doing something about my smoker’s lips — I don’t even look particularly old. But I am.
And that sucks. I might be carrying on like a 20-something and, for that matter, still pass for one in a sufficiently darkened room, but my body, in particular my withering ovaries, continues to deteriorate.
Quite frankly, I imagine that watching friends and family pop off this mortal coil has quite the reverse effect.
It is around this age, of course, that one discovers the fear of death. I’d like to think that this gets easier with, ahem, maturity, but quite frankly, I imagine that watching friends and family pop off this mortal coil has quite the reverse effect.
In early middle age, the immortality and invulnerability of youth is replaced by the hideous revelation that half a life has passed in the blink of an eye and the other half will rush by even faster. I have realised I’m going to die with a shocking and awful clarity, and every so often it fills me with tremors of absolute horror.
It seems bitterly, bitterly unfair that we’ve only got one short life to live and can only do a handful of things with it. I’d quite like to have the certitudes of religion, the opium of the masses, that there’s something pleasant on the other side. But I’m damn sure there isn’t, and when the cells shut down, it’s game over.
This is why, dear younger readers, they call it a midlife crisis. People abandon the daily grind or their partner of many years to pursue big, bold dreams. Why? Because it’s at this kind of age that you realise you only have one life, and need to make the most of it, and often the one you have feels like a trap.
My beer gut appeared more than a decade after my baby and has absolutely fuckall to do with it.
I apologise, by the way. This is not one of those celebratory forties posts, embracing my newfound wisdom and maturity, loving my wrinkles, celebrating my muffin top and generally cheerleading for the inevitable.
You will not hear one word about how happy I am about my beer gut because it gave birth to a baby a) because my beer gut appeared more than a decade after my baby and has absolutely fuckall to do with it and b) because I would much rather be thin. Sorry!
There are many things I am grateful for at this stage of my life, but I remain absolutely fucking enraged by the sheer unfairness of middle age.
I consider myself a feminist. But I still think wrinkles suck. On both genders. Unless you’re Peter O’Toole, of course. And, despite more than five decades of feminism, I am unable to think of a female equivalent of late-period Peter O’ Toole or, indeed, of the term “roué”.
Men can grow old disgracefully, can sport lines and “silver highlights” as signs of distinction, and can procreate easily within inches of the grave. Women, well, can’t. Sorry, loves. While almost everyone looks better young than old, the veneer of youth is more critical in a woman. I’ve yet to meet a person who was actively improved by a beer gut, but straight men can get away with a lot more spare flesh than either the girls or the gays.
For, oh my god, the slowing metabolism of middle age is no fun at all. I used to be able to eat what I wanted and give off an – admittedly deceptive – impression of athleticism. Now I have to think about what I eat, refuse myself things, and still expand out of my trousers. I’ve put all the weight I lost through dengue back on – and extra. This is, like all the myriad indignities of early middle age, just the very, very top of a long and slippery slope with mediaeval horrors at the bottom.
I don’t mean the generic whines about being treated as a combined cashpoint and taxi service.
I am lucky enough to be parenting a teenager in middle age. This has its joys, as parenthood, an activity whose sole purpose is to adequately equip a child to leave you, approaches its key goal. It also has its sorrows.
I don’t mean the generic whines about being treated as a combined cashpoint and taxi service. In fact, I’m blessed with a parent-child relationship that extends beyond said functionality into intimacy.
But I have a glimmering, now, as Zac closes in on adulthood, of what a man meant when he said to me long ago, “Oh, that’s a lovely time, when your children are small and you are the centre of their world.”
I don’t want to be the centre of my son’s universe, of course. That would be warped. It’s good that his friends are the focus now. But, still, I do very much miss the days when I was the mother of a young child. I’m not yet ready to give up that stage of life.
And I suspect that this desire to cleave to your children even as they grow further and further from you is something that persists and intensifies lifelong, and that like so much else in middle age, it just gets worse with age.
So what I want to know is this. What’s the secret?
So what I want to know is this. What’s the secret?
Is there some magic bullet by which one accepts ageing, comes to terms with one’s own mortality, acknowledges one’s children leaving and embraces the myriad physical transformations of middle age? Or is this a suite of problems that you drag around with you until the day you die, occasionally ignoring it but never really overcoming it?
Time heals all things of course. But time is also the mechanism of ageing, so I don’t see that one working out at all.
I’ll write something about travel next week, I promise. I’ve done enough of it of lately and there’s more coming up.
And, yes, like so many middle-aged clichés, especially on Bali, I’ll go back to doing yoga. It can only, one assumes, improve my mood.