After all this pretense and buildup with Extraordinary 40, last month when I finally turned forty, I wrote what I thought was a pretty freakin’ fantastic article called Midlife Crisis: Denied. You probably didn’t read it because it came out during the national conventions and, I ask you, who in the world could compete with all that noise?
So here it is again if ya want a big fat dose of my 40-year-old realness.
In a nutshell (pistachio, if you will, because I like idiomatic specificity), I discovered last month that I am as relevant now as I ever was and that my time is better spent listening to and helping people who have never been given relevance to lose. So, yes, I’ve been listening and educating myself and that is a work in progress that I’ll keep you posted on.
What I want to talk about is the term “middle-aged.” Actually, what I really want to do is put a few thousand sticks of cartoon dynamite in it and watch it go KA-PLOW!
I’ve recently used this term myself to describe, well, myself. I’ve tried it on to see if it fit, but saying it feels like full-on gag wrong wrong wrong. How can I be middle-aged? What even IS middle-aged? Middle of what; an average lifetime? Even the Google definition is ridiculous. (No offense, Google.)
Middle Age (noun): the period between early adulthood and old age, usually considered as the years from about 45 to 65.
So according to this definition, I’m not only not “middle-aged” yet, but I’ve not even entered early adulthood. This is a bunch of poop. Poop, malarkey and nonsense!
Middle-aged is a way to classify a huge group of people who are neither considered young nor old. It’s lazy. It also forces comparison which is a big no no in the pursuit of happiness. Compared to that twenty-two year old you look pretty used up, but compared to that sixty-five year old, you are looking quite springy. YUCK!
It also, by definition, omits all of the expectations that society places on said “middle-aged” people; perhaps by this “early adulthood” at 45 (for crying out loud), you have achieved some lifetime goals like starting a family, buying a home, advancing in the workplace, starting a nest egg, etc.
I haven’t done a one of those things!
If you remove averages, comparison and expectations from the equation, you’re left with individuals. I’m an individual who has been alive on this planet for 481 months. I feel pretty fantastic, I’m having a wonderful time, I’m smarter than I was yesterday, I have great relationships and get to do fulfilling work. I have not done any of the things I think society might have expected me to do by now and I feel really okay with that.
There’s a stinky stigma that is attached to the term middle-aged and I don’t like it one bit. I’m not saying I don’t like being 40. So far I love being 40. A few months ago when I was 39 I was playing a feisty and grubby widow while understudying all of the matronly roles in My Fair Lady in China. A few months later at age 40, I’m in New York playing love scenes opposite a gorgeous twenty-something actor in The Wild Party. I’d say 40 is a dramatic improvement!
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to lump myself into a group of people merely based on not being young and not being old. I’m me! You can look at me and guess my age all you like, but to know me is to know that I can not be defined by norms. I am not the rose, but the whole glorious bush. My flowers bud, blossom, bloom and die, but the bush with her thorns lives on in ever evolving phases of beauty.
I don’t expect society to stop using the term middle-aged, but I will no longer be using it to describe myself. No one will know what my middle age was until I leave this planet; could be twenty or thirty-two, but I’m kind of hoping for at least forty-five.
Art by Anna Di Mezza