finding my forty

I've always liked the year I was born, 1975. It's always struck me as a clean, solid date. Easily calculable, vaguely nostalgic. Retro cool, even. Something you'd see on a vintage gym class t-shirt. I lean on the likability of that number when my age feels a little heavy, which it does from time to time.

Forty hit me hard. Rather, I hit forty hard. It was just standing there, minding its own business, when I careened into it with no seatbelt on. I don't know what I expected, though, or what such a seatbelt would even be. Some form of emotional security, I suppose, born of other, more pragmatically measurable ones. Financial? Professional? Who knows, and no use peering in the rearview mirror. I can't back up now.

Forty offers certain pleasures and presents certain challenges, and I am becoming familiar with all of them. The pleasures are largely along the lines of what you'd expect. Greater self-awareness (I hope, anyway). Intolerance for bullshit. My clubhouse is permanently closed to shitty people; there simply isn't enough time for them. And whereas dispensing with drama would once leave noticeable, uncomfortable holes in my life, now it is just a relief. I gobble up the solitude in between time with Terence, or friends. And I'm grateful for every minute of it.

But in other ways, forty has been like a new pair of shoes that I'm still breaking in. Conflicting ideas about what a forty year-old woman "does" or "doesn't do" bump around in my head, arguing with one another and exhausting me in the process. I shush these shoulds as best I can, knowing that the only version of myself I need to be is the one I already am. The problem is, some of my personality traits don't necessarily fit into forty, in all circumstances.

Example: I love being silly and making my friends laugh, but a twenty or even thirty-something goofing around on the dance floor is different than a forty-something doing it. I learned this the hard way in Vegas. Story time...

A couple of younger, very attractive women from our party pulled me up onto a small stage in the nightclub we were at. One of the girls was a visiting foreigner, extremely shy and giggly, and just drunk enough to want to get on the stage and tease her boyfriend...provided she had a cohort. Another was, well, a professional dancer, who was clearly most enjoying herself doing her thing up in the spotlight. She and I clicked and as she seemed bored and a little lonely otherwise, I gamely joined her so she'd have company and look a little less attention-grabby. In other words, I wouldn't have gotten on this stage (which was lit and had, you guessed it, a POLE) in a million years, if not to be social and a good sport for the sake of these two girls.

So. There I am, screwing around on a tiny little elevated stage, surrounded by friends and a few gawking strangers. Ten or fifteen years ago I would have been the cat's pajamas up there. Not because I'm any great shakes, but because it's what I did for a living, for a very long time. Now? Now I'm an older chick. I know I look decent, I know I'm not causing anyone to grab for their barf bags...but I'm still an older chick. So rather than make myself look absurd trying to be sexy, trying to compete with girls young enough to be my daughters, I ham it up. Act the fool. Stupid shit like patting my head and rubbing my tummy while the younger girls slinked around me eye-fucking the men who watched them from below. Some classy dude was handing out singles and I did an over-the-top pantomime of being floored by his generosity. For me??? A whole DOLLAR?? I mouthed. (His friends were dying; him, not so much.)

Every so often I'd need to take a break (I'm old, remember), so I'd climb back down the stage's ridiculous little circular staircase to rejoin my party. And this is where things got interesting. Guys would stop me, or approach me when I was alone for a second, catching my breath - but not to hit on me. To ask me, wide-eyed, how old I was. LOL.

Now, these weren't exactly insulting encounters. At least I tried not to take them that way. I'd smile or laugh and raise my hand. Hold up four fingers, then form a zero with them. I won't lie; the looks on their faces were a compliment in themselves. One guy high fived me. Another wanted to hug me, as if I was a ninety year-old who'd just completed a marathon. It was simultaneously gratifying and totally patronizing; a really weird thing. A new thing. A forty thing, I guess.

Clothes are a whole other issue. I want to dress appropriately, but still thumb my sun-damaged nose at convention. And I still want to be sexy, of course. But I don't always know what that looks like, especially for nights out. Form-fitting sheaths? Wide leg pants and button downs? More skin or less? Festivals have become a whole other, mystifying subset. At my age bohemian chic starts to edge towards witch/art teacher, so lately I've been doing a 180 and taking a swing at "sporty". Which in turns ramps up the pressure I already put on myself to be fit. I feel like I'm supposed to pick a lane and stick with it. Work it. But I don't want to. I like swerving all over the road.

I cringe, reading over what I've written. I know how utterly superficial and stupid all of this is. That if these are my biggest problems in life, then I have no problems. (I do have real problems.) But I'm gonna go ahead and publish this in case you, too, have had trouble finding your forty in some way. And if you're not there yet, fuck you, don't worry. I'll meet you on the dance floor and show you how not to do it.