6 Things That Happen When You Turn 40
I keep seeing someone's old lady hands sticking out of my sleeves. There I am, just going about my work, and Bam! Old lady hands typing. Reaching for my dishes and Kapow! Old lady hands cooking. These hands are quite confusing, with their veins and sunspots and loose skin. What in the actual heck? Whose grandma is wearing my jewelry?
I turned 40 this year.
Forty! Which is so weird because I've always been young. I've been young my whole life, as a matter of fact. No matter how I dissect this, I've aged out of the "young" category and graduated to the "middle" group. My brain feels confused because I was just in college a minute ago. But much like Shakira: These hands don't lie. And they're not the only harbingers of change.
Through extremely scientific research like looking in a mirror and talking to my friends over wine, I've come up with a few telltale signs you've entered your forties—and no, not all of them are bad news.
You can no longer quit eating bread for a day and lose six pounds
Once upon a time, I could make some minor adjustment, maybe go for a jog, and my too-snug jeans would fit by Tuesday. Apparently, a body gets over this by 40. It just wants to be fat and happy.
After you turn 40, you can eat 400 calories a day for six weeks and your body will release three pounds. The next day you eat half a tortilla and gain 17. Your body isn't interested in your diet or those jeans. It wants yoga pants and your husband's stretched out T-shirts, and it will have them.
I should've enjoyed my young body more. I would have worn my bikini to the grocery store had I known my days with those smooth thighs were numbered.
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But you finally get a decent handle on who you are
Once you turn 40, you shed the skin of the existential dread. You know what you are good at, what you love, what you value, and how you want to live, and you don't worry about anything else.
These questions used to keep me up at night. I once worried endlessly about purpose and trajectory, identity and worth, but 40 brought me security I couldn't imagine. I know what I am good at now and I do it. I'm not apologetic and uncertain and aw-shucks about running my race. I no longer tiptoe through my own life, doubting my gifts and my place, too scared to go for it, seize it, pray for it, dream it. When you're 40, you no longer wait for permission to live. As Maya Angelou said, "Life loves the liver of it."
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Something weird happens to your brain
This brain has served you well for so long, but it starts punking you when you turn 40. You can't remember directions. You forget why you walked into a room. And for the life of you, you can't recall your third kid's name ("Take out the trash...Um, you!"). You will talk on your cell phone while looking around your house for your cell phone. This is unfortunate because about this time you go back to middle and high school with your spawn. You are expected to help with algebra and chemistry and the remembering of All The Things, but your brain resembles the bottom of your purse: lost pen caps and congealed, undefined filth. It will take a nap while those children work their own stuff out. Your brain already completed 11th grade. It has done its time.
But you also develop resiliency
I used to desperately need approval. Criticism crushed me. Conflict paralyzed me. Consequently, I took the safest path through every scenario to avoid reproach. As an approval addict, the younger me would have been shocked to find that once I hit 40, I would quit caring so much what others think of me, my parenting, my marriage, my career, my politics, my house, my hair, my church, my dog, my new red front door, my comfortable flats, my stretchy pants, my daughter's hair, my son's weird interest in vintage ska, my new resolve to go vegan, my consistent purchase of Lunchables, my decision to work, my decision to quit, and so on.
If people don't like it, well, whatever. It's not that you become set in your ways. Differing opinions just stop shaking every decision. And critical words won't send you to bed. You develop chops.
Your skin... changes
When you see a picture of yourself, this is the thought process: "That was terrible lighting, and also the angle is tragic. Plus the shadows made my neck look weird, and do my friends not know how to use Instagram filters?!"
Sometimes I baby-talk parts of my body into resisting gravity's charms: "Come on, shins. I'm counting on you. You've always been good to me. You don't want to be like Neck and Eyelids and Chest, those loose floozies. Hang in there, baby, and you'll be the last part of me to see the light of day."
But you also learn what's important
These kids, this husband, this little life I've built, that's what matters.
After 40, you are slower to tell everyone how wrong they are, and quicker to gather your folks and take deep breaths of gratitude. This is your place. These are your people. This is your beautiful, precious life. Probably about halfway through your time here on earth, you lay down angst and pick up contentment.
Annie Dillard was right: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." You realize insecurity, striving, jealousy, and living in comparison will eventually define your entire life, and that is not the legacy you want. You decide your days should contain laughter and grace, strength and security.
So sure, our bodies and minds get whack, but we wouldn't return to our twenties for all the unwrinkled skin on earth. At our age, we love better, stand taller, laugh louder. Real life has tempered our arrogance and fear, and this is the best version of us yet.
But damnit, I wish I had worn more sunscreen in my 20s.
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