Is Turning 40 Something To Celebrate?

Generation X is hitting a milestone: 40 years old. And the ladies of this generation are marking the birthday by celebrating. And. I can't believe I am about to type this, but I am going to be forty. Not "someday," not in ten years, not in five years. Next year. Just thinking about it makes me feel panicky. No, seriously, I feel like throwing up.

But according to USA Today, a lady my age should party:

Many of today's Gen X women see the Big 4-0 as the midpoint of their lives, and are embracing it with a new zest. They're celebrating with girlfriend getaways or exotic no-kids vacations with spouses, or making special family memories.
In many cases, it's a party. Whether a lavish spread or a gathering at home, these soirees are almost like a new Sweet 16. But rather than a coming-of-age statement, the 40th party is a way to proclaim they're healthy, they're sexy and they haven't lost their mojo.

Well, duh! No mojo lost here. I don't feel old. Or, I should say, that I don't know what old feels like, but I feel healthy and sexy, sure. And vibrant, and relatively happy. And yet: I associate 40 with "older" people. Part of me has absorbed the messages our society has emitted for years: That 40 means boring, sad, old, undesirable, spinsterly, pathetic, waiting to die. I do not feel that way about myself. I am a fun, upbeat woman who, until very recently, had a Hello Kitty bicycle. I write about Justin Bieber from time to time and I watch Teen Wolf.

But I am fully aware I am not the person I was in my twenties. I spent time a lot of time depressed, drunk, broke, floundering, trying to figure out how to be a writer, trying to make fucked up relationships work, trying to be the person I desperately wanted to be. Now, it's not that I've "made it" — is there really such a thing? — but I feel a lot calmer, more experienced, more successful. I don't know if I am where I am "supposed" to be — I've got no husband and no kids, unlike most of the ladies quoted in the USA Today piece — but I'm happy. The twenty-something me worked as a receptionist at a photo agency and was just dying for a magazine job. Then I worked at a magazine but really wanted to work at an entertainment mag. Then I worked at an entertainment mag but didn't have a byline. I lived with a lot of stress (and distress), most of it career-oriented, and I'm finally in a job that I love. And I'm in therapy. So gradually, little by little, year by year, things have gotten better. I have a shrink and a dog and a posse of awesome friends.

Still, I find myself reluctant to tell people my age. A gentleman never asks and a lady never tells. And I feel like, in a world of Judgy McJudgersons, my age will get used against me somehow. Someone will think, I didn't know she was so OLD and write me off as irrelevant. At work and in my dating life, I'm plagued by the secret fear that younger is more attractive (not to mention cheaper) and my age is a liability. So what is there to celebrate?

Economist John Shoven of Stanford University is quoted in the paper as saying that perceptions about four-zero have changed:

"Forty doesn't mean what it did a generation or two ago," he says. "When a woman turns 40, she is not the same age as when her mother turned 40. She's in better health. She has a lower mortality risk. She has more healthy years to look forward to. A 40-year-old today, relative to, say, a 40-year-old in 1960, is going to live approximately five or six years longer."

It all sounds pretty good. But on celebrating, I go back and forth. One the one hand, if there's one thing I love, it's a party. Especially when it's all about me. I have visions of a destination birthday — renting out a cheesy Airstream trailer motel in Arizona, so that all my friends and family can gather and hang out. But! If you make turning 40 a big deal, it becomes a big deal, right? Maybe it's best not to talk about it, not to tell anyone, not to celebrate. It's just a number, nothing really changes, I'm so much more than the years I have lived, blah blah blah. In fact, maybe I shouldn't even be writing this.

But you know, if there's one thing I have learned by living so damn long, it's that you have to be you. Rock what you got, don't apologize, live out loud and some other clichés that are actually totally true. Being open and honest with yourself and others feels good, and I feel great, so fuck yeah, I'm going to have a party. For sure. But, uh, not until next year. I'm not 40 yet. Jeez.

Among Generation X Women, Age 40 Is Party Time [USA Today]