Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Forty, it's not the new thirty they promised you. Thank God!

A while ago, I went to dinner with four friends whom I dearly love, all of whom I've written about at one point or another. And - as I sat there, it dawned on me why Steve Jobs genuinely enjoyed people his own age. Of the five women at our table, all of us are in our forties... at varying stages of our careers.. and marriages... with children who are ours and/or our partners'... and we have all lost at least one parent. We have laugh lines and wrinkles. Highlights and gray hair. Personal trainers and nagging ailments. Retirement accounts and college funds. And stories that make us interesting. Really interesting, actually.

Ironically, next to us was a table that also had five women, all of whom were in their mid-twenties to early-thirties. Beautiful women who were young and athletic and who had not yet looked at their budgets or their consciences and wondered about Botox. I mean really wondered. Women who, more-than-likely, had just finished graduate school... landed their first real jobs... gotten married... and maybe had their first child.

When I pointed them out, one of my girlfriends laughed and said, "Those poor souls have absolutely no idea what's about to hit them." And she's right. We should know. When we met fifteen years ago, we were those women. So, we played a game. Which one of them would end up like each one of us? Which one would end her marriage because she was actually a lesbian? Which one would make Senior Partner at her firm, only to quit and be a stay-at-home mom? Which one would simultaneously have a child in college and a child in pre-school, both from the same husband? Which one would make CEO one week and watch her oldest child go off to war the next? And which one of them would go through a devastating divorce?

As we did our round-robin, my friends unanimously picked the woman who reminded them the most of me at that age. She had a pixie haircut, wore a cashmere turtleneck, and had a boisterous laugh that you either loved or you hated. There was no middle ground. Judging by the ring on her finger, she was married. And, although everyone else at the table was having a glass of wine, she was drinking a beer. I instantly adored her. She had the exuberance of youth and more than that... she was still innocent. Sure, she was probably sarcastic but she wasn't cynical yet, and I silently prayed that she'd stay that way... that, regardless of what life threw at her, she would always like her life like she liked her music, "louder than everything else."

At any rate, after we said good-night, I called my mother on the drive home and asked her what I was like at twenty-five. To which she replied, "Thankfully, you weren't experienced enough to know that you couldn't possibly do the things that you were actually doing."When I figured out what she meant, I realized that she was right. I was unsustainably over-the-top in everything I touched. I wanted to change the world, and I actually tried... one cause at a time. I not only said, "til death do we part," I genuinely believed that I would die without the man I'd married. I idolized Geraldine Ferraro and wondered if George Stephanopoulos ever debated in the nude... and, more importantly, if I'd ever get to see it.

Now... I still want to change the world, but I daydream about decorating it with environmentally-friendly Pottery Barn furniture, too. I love my partner. I love him immeasurably - more than I ever knew I could, but I cannot ever love someone with everything in me ever again. There's a part of me that's reserved only for me, and I accept that it's the tragic collateral damage caused by a terrible divorce, but that doesn't make it less true. And though I miss Geraldine Ferraro, these days I fantasize more about picking Lawrence O'Donnell's brain than playing the spoons on George Stephanopoulos' abs. OK, that last one's a lie. Why choose?

Anyway, where does that leave me and where does it leave that beautiful young woman from the other table? 

At forty, I've figured out that I want to write and I'm trying to get published. I've fallen apart, looked at the pieces of myself, and taken inventory of the parts I want to keep and the parts I need to toss. And I've tried to do it. As for her? I want to give her some great advice that Baz Lurhman gave to the Graduating Classes of 1997 - the year that I was out of graduate school... had that first real job... and first marriage... when I was her. Here it is, "If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind, you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in twenty years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked... You’re not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind. The kind that blindside you at 4pm on a random Tuesday. Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. Floss! Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead. Sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive. Forget the insults... If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old love letters, but throw away your old bank statements. Stretch! Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at twenty-five what they wanted to do with their lives, and some of the most interesting forty year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium, and be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40. Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance, but so are everybody elses.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own. Dance... even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room. Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them. DO NOT READ BEAUTY MAGAZINES. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You’ll never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go but for the precious few you should hold on to. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography in lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young. Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: price will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders!

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out. Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time its forty, it will look eighty-five.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen.

I know we’re all probably old enough to remember the speech, but it’s honestly the only advice I’d give to her – or anyone else. I'd also tell the women my age to visit this great new blog that I've fallen in love with. It's called womenatforty. It's not the womenatfortyisthenewthirty either. It's a forum of women for women by women our age, and it's fabulous. I hope you check it out, and not just because I might be a guest writer (keep your fingers crossed), but because it's just a really great blog.

Talk to you later.

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