It was about 9.925 years ago that I turned 40, and made a determined proclamation:
When I turn 50, I will either be traipsing nonchalantly in Italian wine country, or lounging decadently on an exotic beach, surrounded by loved ones and celebrating life!
This week, on the cusp of my grand debut as a quenquagenarian, I have no bags packed and no passport ready for stamping. It just didn’t work out the way I planned. My big birthday celebration will consist of a smallish, self-initiated gathering of close friends at a local bar, and I’m really okay with that. Truly. I will be. Just give me a minute.
Turning 50 is a strange experience. It’s like you’re moving from one science-fiction-inspired universe into another, without complete control of your own destination, while helpless observers standby and offer advice, support … snide comments and black balloons. There’s no turning back. Ever.
One of the most vocal types of observer is, of course, Those Who Have Gone Before Me – a well-meaning lot who have already survived this milestone. And so they love to administer advice: “It’s just a number,” they tell me. Yes, I know. “You’re only as old as you feel.” Again, I’m aware, and thank you very much. Really.
I’m going to be okay with this transition soon. Very soon. But let me have my moment, will you? I need time to reflect and fully comprehend that, in fact, the inevitable AARP membership invitation that came in the mail (which enticed me with a nifty, free travel bag upon joining) wasn’t all just a simple mailing-list mistake.
This day has been building up for some time, you know. Even if I wasn’t exactly aware of all the aging foreplay going on right underneath my nose and skin. But I can see it all now very clearly. I should have noticed the signs. Which is partly why I’m having such a hard time.
What I don’t like about turning 50
Most women will tell you that the years leading up to 50 consist of regular and private conversations with ourselves in whispered disbelief. “Where did that come from?” we say to the new tiny bumps or brown age spots. “What’s happening here?” we mumble to the ever-changing shape of our arms. “My God,” we gasp to our reflection, “Who the hell are you and what did you do with my former self?”
We see droopy body parts scrambling to make contact with the floor. And we poke them. Often. Just to see if they’re real. We study the new crinkles – like used tin foil – that sprout and spread over unsuspecting areas … revealing the kind of patterns often seen in topographical maps or rugged terrain. Hormones engage their evil trickery, and we suffer symptoms akin to puberty and, dare I say, pregnancy.
We lose control of our bodily functions and swell, bloat and store fat in new and exotic places. Like our knuckles. We no longer do jumping jacks. We buy sturdier bras with wider straps, and don’t care what anyone else has to say about it.
This isn’t self-loathing, per se. It’s more like getting used to a new version of ourselves. Will I come around? I’m sure of it. Will I be able to spot the silver lining that everyone keeps telling me to find? Of course … now more than ever. I just happen to believe that acknowledging my pain and suffering will help me get in a better place much faster. So let me have that, okay?
What I like about turning 50
I’ll let you know when I get there. And I will get there. So while I appreciate all the sweet attempts to cheer me up, I’m really not that grumpy. I will embrace this transition soon. I do feel beautiful and confident … in ways that are empowering. And sexy. And awesome.
And I have already experienced the phenomenon best explained by Those That Have Gone Before Me as a new and improved I-just-don’t-give-a-shit perspective. It’s not only quite liberating, it also feels really, really good. I don’t even mind my somewhat surprising but slightly alarming interest in Chico’s catalogs, and my heightened desire for comfortable shoes.
I just need a little bit of time to adjust my thinking, and realize that just because I’m not exactly where I expected to be in life – literally and figuratively – it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Once I catch my breath, I know my heart will catch up with my brain. And then I’ll be fine, I promise. Just give me a minute.
© 2015 Michelle Freed