I’ll be forty-five years old tomorrow.
What an interesting age!
Five whole years until I hit the milestone of fifty, but far enough away from the agonies and ecstasies of youth to remember them with wry fondness.
Aging is definitely a factor now. Oh, yes. I’m a fairly healthy lady – never had any major hospitalizations or surgeries or life-threatening diseases — but now it’s the cumulative lifestyle stuff that has crept up on me.
I’m at that age where the doctor leaves me with assignments every time I visit.
You know what I mean.
I carry +1.0 readers with me everywhere I go now. Can’t read the damned labels in the store without ’em. Or menus in restaurants.
I get creaky.
If I don’t do these funny floor exercises every day, my hip aches.
I have completely given up on my upper arms.
My goal isn’t to live to be 100. I don’t think I could afford it, quite frankly, and I’ve seen extreme old age. No, thanks. Especially not without kids to shuttle me around to doctor’s appointments. So I figure if I’m lucky and be a fairly good girl, I might have another good 30-40 years. But of course you don’t know. So literally every day that I’m at sleep at night in my own bed, free from pain and life-threatening disease, I am grateful. Just today I was at the grocery store wheeling my little cart around and I thought how lucky I am. To be able-bodied, up and ambulatory on a sunny winter day — it’s good stuff. I was at Whole Foods, you know, with all that ridiculous resplendence and tulips in January and a cup of amazing French Roast, well, honestly, I was grinning like an idiot.
Of course I manage to be neurotic in my gratitude. I obsess some nights about people who are suffering, the terrifying sadism at the root of so much evil, intensely grateful that I have a queen sized bed to myself, no one screaming and fighting in the next room/s, no drugs or drunks banging around the place, a washer and dryer in my downstairs bathroom, a sweet sleeping dog and cat beside me, and an interesting and full day to look forward to in the morning. I compare myself to the average Earth-dweller and I can’t believe my good fortune. I think of my maternal great-grandfather waking before dawn to go to his job as a coal miner, spending his days underground breathing poison. I think of my paternal great-grandfather and mother living in the tenements of the lower East Side after arriving in the United States. I bet there were rats. Hunger. Serious survival issues. Bone-breaking hard work.
And my big stress is editing my dissertation? Or presiding over a few funerals over a few weeks?
I adore the freedom of 45. Freedom from so many emotional concerns that once plagued me: will they ever understand me? Can I trust him/her? Does he like me? Should I have said that? Why can’t I be like those other girls? Is it okay for me to want to spend all this time doing this? Am I too that? Am I weird for liking this?
At this age, I trust that I know what I know. My 45 year old self knows: You can’t truly trust that many people. You’ll be betrayed and survive. Very few people will really understand you; they’re too busy trying to understand themselves. Let it go. No one’s looking at you, they’re too focused on themselves — as they should be. If he likes you, he’ll show it. If you shouldn’t have said that, go apologize. If you don’t regret saying it, stand up for yourself. Every second spent wondering if you’re okay because you’re not like other girls is a wasted second.
Once you realize how pointless it is to seek approval, you stop doing it. I am more grateful than I can say for freedom from approval-seeking. I listen to my soul, I pray for guidance, and I do what I discern is God’s desire for my life and I rely on the community of accountability and objective perspectives to give me feedback about whether I’m on track. That’s different from approval-seeking. Approval-seeking begins with the need to earn love by achieving something. Living into God’s desire for you life begins with the assumption that if you use your gifts and talents to the best of your ability, you’re an okay kid. Quit worrying and get to work doing what you can do before your life story turns its last page.
A few more things I’ve learned as I ease into middle age:
If you have to ask, “Is this look too youthful for me?” — it is.
If you’re lucky enough to have a true Love Of Your Life, don’t assume that means you’ll marry him/her. Or that you should.
You can love children in an especially pure and very deep way if you don’t have any of your own. Keep this knowledge to yourself, as no one wants to hear it. But children know it. It’s your sweet little secret and you can giggle together about it.
When people tell you you’re too (fill in the blank), what they are really saying is that they resent you for being yourself. Ignore them. Move on. You’re too old for a personality transplant. Not everyone has to like you. Hang out with those who do and get along as best you can with those who don’t.
You may look good in red, but you don’t look good in every shade of red. Choose wisely. It’s a tough color to carry off.
Don’t ask someone to throw you a party or buy you a gift if you’re just going to criticize it. Get yourself what you want. I will never understand this dropping-a-hint thing that women do to try to wrangle what they want out of a man, or whoever. Never expect anyone to read your mind. Provide for yourself. Everything else is icing on the cake.
There’s a big difference between someone who has bad manners because his or her parents just didn’t raise him/her right and someone who should know better and chooses to be a boor. Forgive the former, avoid the latter.
The more someone evidently worships you, the more they are likely to betray you, emotionally or physically abuse you or psychically slime you. The reason for that is that they weren’t worshiping you in the first place, but a projection. Keep your distance.
You can throw away cheap milk chocolate. No one’s looking, and you don’t want it in the house when you get a craving. Because what’s worse than bad chocolate when you’re really craving chocolate?
Women who have been financially supported by men all their lives have to work pretty hard to understand women who are financially responsible for themselves.
A good flirtation is much more fun than a dull fling that can’t end fast enough.
Don’t over-edit. Get it out there. That includes the essential you.
Don’t ever expect to be thanked, but do speak up if you feel chronically unappreciated or exploited.
If you can’t argue productively just keep your mouth shut and plan an escape route.
Just because someone has college degrees does not mean that they’re educated.
There are people who want to learn, and there are people who want to remain comfortably undisturbed. The intellectually lazy are fun to invite to dinner parties but should not to be relied on for more sustained relationships. Keep your expectations accordingly low for those folks or prepare to be disappointed.
If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. That said, it is entirely possible to be angry at injustice and rampant stupidity while remaining quite happy with life in general.
Try to have a dog and a cat.
Have an art form. Devote yourself to it.
Jealousy is something we all should have completely outgrown in our 20’s. Seriously.
If you don’t know how to sew a button on, shine your own shoes, or fix a broken chair by 45, you’re going to have to pay someone to do it for you. Don’t be ashamed, just put it in your household budget. Think of this way: someone else needs that work.
Resist pathologies: maybe you do have allergies, or maybe your eyes just itch when you clean the house. Maybe you do have seasonal asthma, or maybe you just wheeze when ragweed’s in bloom. How much more power do we give things when they have serious-sounding names?
If you want to be a good cook, get in the kitchen and cook.
However : If you don’t love food, you will never become a good cook.
These are words I think we throw around too easily: hero; addicted; tragedy; love; literally; constantly; starving.
Remember: Jesus was bitchy on occasion, too.
If you have the profound good fortune to work among people you admire and respect, you are almost guaranteed to be psyched about your life.
Decorate your study with photographs of flowers taken during your travels (even if your travels are back and forth to work). They will never fail to delight you.
Of course there’s more, but part of getting older is knowing when to stop.
Interesting how much this list has in common with the list I published when I turned 42! Thanks for being part of my life, pigeons!
Little baby PeaceBang. Carl and Shirley’s second daughter.
Something about the expression really hasn’t changed.