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Is it just me, or is 40 really the new 30?

I graduated from high school 25 years ago this month, which makes me 7 in 40-is-the-new-30 blog years. I remember hearing about people who went to their 25-year high school reunions and thinking, boy, am I glad that’s a long way from now! And yet, here I am. My high school is turning 50 this year, so my 25 years of not being in high school is equal to half of my high school’s existence. How is that even possible? Good God, I am now older than the characters on thirtysomething.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not married, and I don’t have children, and I only bought my first home, a condo, 4 years ago, but I swear I don’t feel all that grown up. I went to a business networking meeting for the first time a few weeks ago. Each person stood and gave a 30 second commercial about his or her business. When it was my turn, I told the group I was an Independent Stylist for Stella & Dot, a boutique-style line of jewelry sold only at in-home trunk shows and online. That sounds like an important job, doesn’t it? I felt like an impostor, a little kid sitting at the grown-ups’ table. I am literally still playing with jewelry.

Facebook has really messed with my psyche on this whole getting older thing. Before Facebook, I knew that my high school and college friends had children – I’d even met some of them – but their growing up took place largely off my radar. Now I’m seeing prom pictures and graduation pictures and pictures of darling daughters in their first cars, and I wonder how people so young can have children that old? Facebook photo albums are like Dorian Gray in reverse; my friends’ children keep getting older while my friends never change.

When, exactly, did 40 become the new 30? When I was about 8, my father played a joke on his sister-in-law, my Aunt Susie. He made bumper stickers that said Susie Gartner was 30 years old last year, and he put them on all the family cars and in the elevators and hallways of her office building. Once she got over the shock of everyone in Houston knowing she was 31, she realized that always being 30 last year did have its advantages. (She still has one of the stickers in her garage!)

Remember the Over the Hill parties people used to have when they turned 40? Black streamers and cakes with gravestones on them? When was the last time you went to one of those? Nowadays, we celebrate 40th birthdays with a spa weekend for the girls and a bass fishing trip for the guys. For my 40th birthday, I went to Paris for the first time. That’s a grown-up thing to do, right?

I don’t think this phenomenon exists solely in my head. The average age at first marriage was 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women in 2010, an increase from 26.8 and 25.1 in 2000. (In 1970, the average age for men was 23.2. It was 20.8 for women. Yes, you read that correctly.) The average age of women at first childbirth went from 21.4 in 1970 to 25.0 in 2006, an increase of 3.6 years. The proportion of first births among women age 35 and older increased from one out of 100 in 1970 to one out of 12 in 2006. Without doing any further research, my guess is that this is due primarily to greater access to oral contraception; advances in medicine and technology; and the number of women getting college degrees and entering the professional workforce. My sister had her first baby at 36. When women are doing things at 36 that they used to do at 26, it makes them look and feel younger, no?

I think women look better than ever because fitness and sports are no longer the exclusive domains of the male gender. My friends go to spinning and run marathons in their spare time, a far cry from the days of feeling the burn with Jane Fonda in our living rooms. (Speaking of Jane – clearly, 74 is the new 50!) Thanks to the passage of Title IX 1972, girls growing up in the ’70s and ’80s  had unprecedented access to high school and college athletics, although the original statute did not explicitly refer to sports. (Did you know that Title IX was passed to prevent discrimination in hiring and employment practices, not to provide parity in play? I didn’t until I Wikipediaed it.) These girls are now in their fabulous forties, reading 50 Shades of Grey on their Kindles and working their skinny jeans better than most 20 year olds. Surely this is a new stop on the aging train?

When I started this blog, I was 40 1/2. The tagline was

It’s never too late to be who you might have been. ~ George Eliot

I wanted to explore the possibilities: who could I have been? Someone’s wife or mother? A principal or an educational consultant? An interior designer or a writer? And was it really not too late?

I framed a poster with this quote in French; it’s propped up against a wall in my living room. I see it every day when I walk from the kitchen – my kitchen – down the hall to my bedroom: Il n’est jamais trop tard pour être qui vous aurait pu être. I often glance at it as I walk by, a reminder that I’m not over the hill yet, not by a long shot. I’m 42 and a half, living my “do-over decade,” and restyling my life, one necklace at a time.

So, is 40 the new 30?

What do you think?

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