My so called midlife

November 22nd, 2013

I have a birthday tomorrow. I’m very happy about this. Keep ’em coming, please and thank you. 

And yet.

They keep coming.  

Turning 40, four years ago, was great. But I’m struggling a little bit with being in my forties. Still. All the issues I grappled with at the end of my book as I approached my fortieth birthday are as present as ever. Maybe more so. I don’t write about them much, because I feel like I should be over it  already. Because it will make me seem like a shallow person, preoccupied with the loss of youth, attached to all the wrong things.

I’m not preoccupied. But I’m not over it either. I grieve sometimes. I get hot pangs of jealousy toward people in their thirties. Never twenty-somethings or teens. Just the thirties. I’m jealous that they still have their full share of time, and mine is dwindling. I’m the regretful gambler, watching players with fresh chips stepping up to the table. 

This is nonsense. I know that. Intellectually. I do. It’s emotionally immature and spiritually unenlightened. Nobody is going to pin “getting older is complicated, and it’s hard sometimes” as an inspirational quote. 

I don’t nurse these feelings. But they arise.

This the other side of the Other Side of Angst that I wrote about the other day. I was trying to work it into that reflection, but I couldn’t reconcile these two truths: 1) I’m past angst. 2) I’m experiencing some angst.

My Jungian friend Susan always said that the deepest truth resides in the tension between opposites. In paradox. 

Midlife is full of paradox. 

When I wrote about coming up on 40 in my memoir, I could see the parallels between adolescence and midlife, but I didn’t grasp how far the analogy would carry. The transition between childhood and young adulthood doesn’t happen in a single milestone year, and the passage between young adulthood and late adulthood doesn’t either. I was so focused on that one birthday. If I could meet the big four-oh with enough gusto, I’d be magically launched into the next phase of life. 

But after 40, there’s 41. And after that, 42. And it starts to register that this has been a one way ticket all along. 

Maybe other people come to terms with that easily and swiftly. It’s taking me a little while.

So my birthday gift to myself is to extend to myself the same acceptance that’s so easy to give my child as he sheds one way of being for another. To not diminish my experience by dismissing the uncomfortable parts. Life after forty is as vibrant and varied as ever, and I look forward to all that’s still to come. And some days I feel the loss of what was, and what will never be, and I grieve. 

If I may ask for a birthday gift from you, it would be some reassurance that I’m not alone in this mixed bag of feelings. More than bold slogans and inspirational quotes about life beginning at 40 (I collect plenty of those), I’d like to also know that it’s normal to feel a sense of loss as I shed my younger skin. If you’re experiencing that, or are on the other side of it, I would love to hear about it. 


29 Responses to “My so called midlife”

  1. Alexandra says:

    Confession: sometimes, I’m in my house, and it doesn’t even feel like mine.

  2. Doe says:

    I turned 47 this year. The angst still comes. I don’t feel as old as I am and so on angst days it seems very unfair that I’m stuck here facing down 50. I don’t see this ever being resolved in myself. I think its just part of my personality. Maybe it has something to do with the creative heart. It yearns for more time to do all the things we haven’t gotten to yet and feel that time is running out to do them.

  3. Tanis Miller says:

    I was just having this conversation with my husband. My daughter is at the cusp of entering adulthood/early woman hood just as I am teetering on the last edges of youth myself. Middle age is a blink away and I’m struggling with the loss of my youth and how that affects everything from my outer beauty to the way I think of myself.

    You are not alone in this experience, I’m a few years behind but here all the same, wondering when the acceptance will come and what will I do with myself when it gets here.

  4. Lela says:

    Skin, literally, especially the stuff around my jaw that sort of… collects. Seriously though, I’ve had to come to some serious terms with all of this since putting myself in an environment where I am the oldest one. Every day. And no one thinks my outfit is cute. Like— EVER. Happy birthday friend, from your equally grateful and angsty Birthday Sister. We can do 44.

  5. Corrine says:

    You are I share a birthday! 🙂
    We also share the same feelings about being in our 40’s. You are not alone.

    “And some days I feel the loss of what was, and what will never be, and I grieve.”

    ^This….I feel like this all too often I’m afraid that I may never stop feeling this way.

    I’m trying to accept the passage of time so as not to waste the time I have wishing for something that can never be…but it’s hard sometimes.

    I hope you have a great birthday…and I will think of you.

  6. Jennifer says:

    You have eloquently put into words what I’ve been feeling recently. I choose public radio over Alice 107.7, while struggling with the feeling that I really should be blaring the latest “cool” hip hop or pop artist like I used to when I was in the car. I’ve marveled at this “me” who forgoes wine on a Friday night for a respectable bedtime and a clear-headed Saturday, while at the same time longing for the luxury of being able to stay up all night and enjoy an entire bottle of cheap red wine. My mini-high-school reunion consisted not of a raucous night at White Water Tavern, but a relaxed night of good food, good conversation and a nightcap at By the Glass. It’s been a process – it still is – but at age 42, on the cusp of 43, I can palpably feel myself maturing. Some days I own it. Some days it makes be sad. Glad I’m not alone.

  7. Dee says:

    I hit the 50 mark this year and it seems to be getting easier, at least for me it is. From what I can tell from most of my friends it’s the women who value their looks the highest that have the roughest time getting older. For those of us who never were good looking getting older is the equalizer and it’s kind of liberating.
    I call perimenopause the time when we get to go through puberty backwards. It’s not nearly as fun the second time as it was the first but at least we don’t have parents telling use what to do during it.

  8. Ann says:

    That’s a big one for me– letting myself have the feelings even if/when I know better. Because insight can become just another tool for self-flagellation.

  9. Jennifer Kent says:

    I feel the same way, I felt settled in my thirties it was as if my mind, body and soul matched up finally. Now in my forties it feels out of alignment again so I just try to stay open to evolving and letting things unfold as they may however I am never as graceful as I would like to be but I just keep moving forward.

  10. You aren’t alone. I grieve for my forties!

  11. Amanda says:

    Since they let me drive home with my first baby to turning forty in July, it all feels unreal. I mourn so many things all the while trying to honor the gift that is each year. You are not alone, I think you are admirably frank. And to be honest, I don’t think I want to have the angst go completely away. Sure, it’s kind of awkward and shame inducing, but it also reminds me that I am alive. So grateful to Ann for leading me here.

  12. janewilk says:

    I’m 44. I think my forties are harder than my thirties were, and I agree with the commenter who said aging is harder for prettier women. It’s shallow, but it’s mild-to-moderately distressing to not be given a second glance when once you attracted attention. (I know! I said it was shallow!) But more than that, I find the other physical changes unpalatable – all the perimenopausal crap, insomnia, not being able to drink like I used to. I’m sure there are positives: I must be wiser than ever, yes? But it’s depressing to think my life is likely half over and here’s where I sit. (Don’t read this comment if you’re standing on a bridge, maybe.)

  13. Susan says:

    It was the topic for my thesis: Intermission. So, yeah, I’ve thought about it for a minute.

  14. Patty says:

    I love this! These are some feelings I’ve also had but not shared with anyone. I’m actually close to 50 than 40 now and starting to grapple with becoming 50. It’s hard to even type that sentence. Instead, I try to focus on the freedoms that come with my kids getting older, the extra motivation of aging to eat well and exercise, the mentorship role I play with younger colleagues at work, and the joy of sharing these growing years with my spouse (who is 5 years older). I’m working on it, working on it…but wish I could turn 40 again instead of 50, no lie.

  15. Shell says:

    I’ve never fretted over birthdays, but I’ll admit being pregnant at almost 43 is making me worry a bit. I’ll have a senior in hs and a baby! Talk about being betwix and between… I was told be a friend not to do the math because I’d start freaking out. Yeah, that made me do the math and I’m freaking just a bit.

  16. Darcy says:

    I have been feeling this for months now (even though my birthday is a couple weeks away). I’ve been not only lamenting little hairs in my chin, but the fact that some are turning WHITE. And everyone around me feels so young …

  17. The good news – once you get to 50 (I’m 51) you don’t care anymore about not being in your 30s. You realize that being older has a lot of benefits (minus menopause, of course). And if you’re an empty-nester, like I am, it’s a bonus.

  18. Meghan says:

    I turned 37 this year and not gracefully. When a friend asked me why I was struggling so much with 37, I was surprised to realize it wasn’t my age that was bothering me. It bothered me most that everyone I love is getting older, too.

  19. Marie says:

    Interesting that I wrote about this earlier this week.

    I’m a few years ahead of you, but it’s an ongoing adjustment. In my early forties, I didn’t care so much, but in my late ones, errr. Can I go back, please, when my face wasn’t slowly sagging? I hate it. But I’m never going to do body work of any kind. What I try to do is embrace my current state, like revamping my hairstyle or getting new glasses or ways of dressing (okay, so my eyes forced the issue, but new frames are awesome) that express more of the me I’ve become. I like that me, mostly. It’s nice to not get stuck in the old me style.
    Still, it’s awfully nice, if rare, to get flustered appreciative glances from men younger than myself. (Whaaa? That never happens any more. Except now I’ve been running again and apparently taking a little weight off my face.)
    One dilemma for me is that I’ve always looked young for my age. It’s all that unseemly enthusiasm, I’m guessing. After years of being “lucky” to look young, I’m now hitting the slow slide awfully fast, it seems to me. On top of that, I have a young chid, so I am out of sync with people both younger and older than myself. There’s always this weird dance around other people of feeling ancient, but still in “young mom” mode.
    Oh, and then there is my memory and peri-menopausal symptoms. Don’t care about the latter, but the first scares me a bit. I can’t just keep blaming it on lack of sleep. But *anyway* there’s a lot to say about it, obviously. Tell us more. 🙂

  20. erniebufflo says:

    I’m not at midlife (I don’t think? Who knows, especially with my medical history?), but I feel like I’m in a similar place after my near brush with death. I know part of it is very real PTSD, but a lot of it is, I just don’t feel like my hyper-awareness of my own mortality is normal for most folks my age. I guess I was plunged into that thinking about this one-way ticket thing a little early thanks to the whole ordeal. There are some perks to my hyper-awareness of the reality of my mortality, like a strange fearlessness, and a zen-like tendency to focus on the moment, but it can also be lonely and paralyzing, too.

  21. Newfie_girl says:

    You are definitely NOT “alone in this mixed bag of feelings”. I love how you can put into words what many of us cannot express, but certainly feel…

  22. Schmutzie says:

    You are definitely not alone. I struggle with my face, the rearranging of my parts, the sense of loss I can’t quite pin down. Still, though, this struggle is a better struggle than I’ve had in the past. It feels more meaningful, and I believe it IS more meaningful. When I was 20 I wailed that I felt fat and lived on grapefruit for three days. There was little depth to it. Now I have whole stories unfolding around this life I am living, whole histories. I am learning harder and faster than I did in my youth.

    Do I love it? No. But I like it.

  23. OTsMom says:

    If you only knew how far from alone you are! You are the voice that the rest of us wish we had to describe the sad like nostalgia we feel for our lost youth, that seems to have happened when we were too busy worrying about the wrong things. Thank you for validating all of us.

  24. Kat says:

    So I just turned 40 last week. And it wasn’t terrible. I was in Joshua Tree and I climbed a 5.8 crack. Badly. But I did it. Still, I’m alarmed that in the last 3 months, after a painful breakup just on the heels of a divorce, I suddenly look old and tired. I’m a little depressed about it because I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

    But then I also feel energized because now, this is the show. There is no more preparing. This is it and it’s all up to me. A little like how I felt when I started college: liberated, intimidated, ready.

    So I can’t offer you what you asked for, and maybe this won’t help you feel any better, but I do want to thank you for again being the example of grace and authenticity that I so admire.

  25. Two things have struck me about 40 that I did not anticipate:
    1) I am still so childish that I rant and wail and gnash my teeth at the “should have”s and act as though they’re still “could”s. I’m still talking ridiculously about “maybe law school and maybe a PhD and then med school…” as though I have several careers ahead of me. I am not handling the dwindling of opportunities gracefully.

    2) The wallop of 40, as I see it is the sea change from friends marrying and graduating and having children to friends divorcing and dying. I am not handling that gracefully.

    Maybe we should open a salon/saloon for sometimes-petulant forty-somethings. I need a place for a bang trim and a whiskey.

  26. Amy says:

    I don’t grieve (never felt particularly pretty, living in Los Angeles will do that to a person) but I don’t know how I feel about any of it. I feel more like myself than I ever have, and yet I am utterly clueless about who I want to be when I grow up, or even what I like to do. I need and want new things in my life, for me alone, now that my kids are older, but don’t know where to begin. I will say, though, that I work with several fifty-something women with deep, rich lives and I relish looking up to them. Because of them, I’m hoping and mostly believing it will all work itself out.

  27. Kelly says:

    I think I’m having a harder time with turning 45 in a couple weeks than I did with 40. It feels bad. Wrong. Like sitting atop a steep slide. On the other hand, I was looking at some photos of myself from about 10 years ago — and I like myself, my style, my body weight (9 years post my youngest), so much better now. And the same goes for my inner person, too. So.

    Happy Birthday (belated).

  28. Alison Chino says:

    I turned 40 this year and I felt that same thing about hitting 40 hard with a whole lot of LIVE MY DREAM gusto, but in the months since, I have been finding that part of moving ahead (for me) is taking the time to let go of what has past, and I have been more than a little “angsty” in being willing to do that. I don’t wish for the past of seasons of my life back, but I do grieve that they are over. Like with real tears (read: sobs). And while it feels a little bit silly to spend so much time crying over the past, I think that (for now) it is the only way forward.

    Happy Belated Birthday friend!

  29. Leigh says:

    I’ll turn 43 in January, and I told my husband recently that I really do love being in my 40s. I feel a sense of freedom that I never had before–I don’t care what others think of how I look or how I parent or what I wear, etc. I’m accepting my wrinkles and gray hairs and just don’t worry too much about getting old.

    But at the same time, my older daughter is fifteen and THAT is hard for me to deal with. I feel like I was JUST a teenager myself not long ago, and it’s tough for me to watch her learn to flirt and hang out with her friends while remembering how *I* used to do those things, and my youth is past now. (And I’m trying hard not to be THAT MOM, the one trying to look/act like her daughter!) So . . . yes, I very much understand your paradox.

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