In life, there are milestones. Sometimes they hit you when you least expect it. Others you can see coming from a long way away. I’m about to hit one of those very soon, or rather, it’s going to hit me.
Next week, I turn 40.
I’m going to be 40, and I don’t feel it. I still feel like… well, like I always have. I don’t feel particularly old or mature. In fact, there are people I work with who are much younger than me, and they’re more adult than I am. 40 is one of those supposedly dreadful ages, and I’m supposed to be miserable about it. It’s the doorway to middle-age. It’s the end of youth. It’s the point at which your body begins to pack up. It’s when you really start aging physically. God, so much negativity!
And then you get patronised with the “Life! Begins! At! 40! HAHAHAtweedle-weedle-weeeee” bullshit. I don’t know which is worse, frankly.
There’s no shame in being older. What have young people got these days? Technological superiority, elastic bodies, freedom from hangovers, crippling debts, poor life expectations, and an inability to get on the housing market.
I suppose what I’m dreading is my oncoming mid-life crisis. I’ve been expecting it for many years now. Sarah wonders why I am making such a fuss about it, but the reason is that my father had a motherfucker of a classic mid-life crisis. He did the lot: The failed business venture (a jazz restaurant?? Really?), the affair with his secretary, the divorce, the younger girlfriend, buying a sports car (typical of my Dad, he didn’t have the full courage of his convictions, he didn’t go the full Porsche; he wussed out and bought a Volvo with ‘Turbo’ written on it), and the heart bypass operation that gave him a terrifying sense of his own mortality.
That’s what I’m scared of. It sort of made my dear old Dad a bit of a prick, or at least, anyone who glanced at his life from the outside might conclude he was a bit prickish, bless him. I don’t want that. And as Sarah points out, I probably won’t do it. How come?
Well, for one thing, I quite like getting older. I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I hit 30 (Christ, a decade ago??). Getting middle-aged is turning out to be my “time”. I was never comfortable in my own skin as a teenager, and was pretty convinced of my appearance being grotesque and vile. I loathed myself in my twenties, sort of came to terms with myself in my thirties, and knocking on 40 seems right to me. Strangely, as I get older, I think I look better and better. This flies in the face of everything I’m told by the media. I’m happy to disappoint society in that case. I am peaking. I am in my prime.
You know something they don’t tell you? All the things that are supposed to be shit about ageing are not. Fucking liars! Well some of the things aren’t shit anyway…
Grey Hair. I like my grey hair. At first I didn’t. And I hated it when Sarah would tell me in a distracted voice (usually when I was driving), “ooh, more grey hair”. It bugged me. But now it has become an obvious thing, and I like the streaks at my temples, and the grey in my beard. I look less like an obtuse thirty-something who is determined to look like a weirdo, and more and more like a wizard of the Wyld Woode. I’m totally fine with it. And Sarah likes it too. And Alice says I look like Benedoodle Cumbersnatch in Doctor Strange. Oh deary-dear. What a shame. Looking like the Cumbers? How awful.
Old Skin. My skin is, to my eyes, quite youthful. I could do with more wrinkles, frankly. I think I should look a bit more weatherbeaten, with walnut skin, and deep lines. Not necessarily tanned or leathery, just that I should look as if I’ve been roaming the Welsh Mountains for three years, and all the sun, rain, wind, and snow has hardened the skin and matured it.
Not Going Out Partying. I hated “partying” anyway, at least in the traditional sense of going somewhere crowded, where I don’t know anyone, where other people seem a lot more clued-up about social interaction, where it is far too noisy, feeling out of place, not really talking to anyone, really feeling awkward, nursing one single drink, giving off my traditional “wwweeeeeuuurggggh” vibes, and ultimately fucking off home. I like staying in. Going out is such hard fucking work, isn’t it? Drinking. Talking to people. Meeting people. Interacting with bloody people. Having to do this again and again. If I were single, I think I’d feel somehow more obliged to do this.
OK, so I don’t see my friends much these days. I don’t hang out with people as a rule anymore. I stay in with the wife. That’s sad, apparently. 22-year-old me would probably roll my eyes at that and then feel obliged to go out somewhere and feel awkward again and convince myself that I was having fun. Well, fuck sad. Sad’s OK. Being comfortable is far preferable to being awkward. 22-year-old me was a dick anyway.
On the other hand, I stay in with my best friend, the person I want to see above everyone else, and the person I like to talk to most of all. Yes, I miss my friends. I don’t see enough of them. I miss the convivial and the raucous, and the adventure, and the hanging out, and the going out…
…and here I pause, because I don’t know what to write. I worry I’d upset someone I know personally. I don’t want to upset my lovely friends by saying I’d rather not see them, or that Sarah is better than all of them, or that going to see them takes ‘effort’, or that they are hard work and I can’t be bothered. No, none of that is true…
…but I am enjoying staying in at night.
“Sex and Drugs and Rock n’ Roll…”
Oh, stop it. I’ve probably done more hard living than some, not as much as others. Sex? Well, I didn’t exactly sow my wild oats before settling down, but that was more down to my own lack of self-confidence with the opposite gender. I can only blame myself. Besides, still doin’ it, unlike some married couples of the same age and anniversary years, I’m sure.
Drugs? I wasn’t Keith Richards, but I wasn’t exactly Cliff Richard either. I went to a pretentious Arts College, studying for a pretentious Degree in The Arts, in the mid 1990s. We made our own entertainment, OK? I don’t do it anymore, but yeah…
Rock n’ Roll? I have been in bands since I was 13 years old. The longest I’ve gone without being a permanent member of a band since I was 15 is 48 hours. I’m not about to stop now. Besides, being in bands certainly keeps the spirit young, even though I probably look increasingly tragic prancing around pub venues and small-stage festivals wanging a Stratocaster. And I have to be careful carrying my amplifier these days. Bad back, you know.
Affair? No fucking chance. I say that with a joyful chuckle rather than a weary shake of the head, by the way. Cheat on Sarah? Are you out of your fucking mind?? What for? She looks and sounds like a mixture of Janet Ellis and Victoria Coren, you daft prick. Have an affair with someone who is going to be less attractive?? (Sarah is more attractive than anyone in the world, in case you’re wondering).
Besides, why would I betray the love of someone who has stuck by me, put up with me, tolerated me, endured me, dug in and coped with me, and suffered me? I could not do that and come out with any dignity or integrity at all. Only an arsehole would do that to such a woman. I strive to not be an arsehole. I remember what I thought of my Dad’s infantile philandering. I don’t want Alice to think that of me.
And anyway, having an affair seems like a lot of fucking effort, and I really cannot be arsed with any of it.
Sports Car. OK, I admit that it would be nice to roar around in an expensive-to-maintain car that looks like a wedge of cheese has its appeal. Maybe one day. I’d probably give in to that. But I drive an estate car, and surely that’s even more of a sign of tragic middle age, isn’t it?
The Paunch. *sigh*. Yeah, I got one. I don’t like it. I don’t like the way I can’t see my belt buckle, and haven’t for years. I don’t like the way my stomach reacts like a liquid in motion. I don’t like the fact that I’m actually the weight of two skinny people. And I’m getting really fed up of people coming up to me, poking my belly, and asking sarcastically when it’s due.
But I can do something about it. I stopped smoking after all. It’s just willpower, and not eating as much. It’ll be easy once I start. It’s certainly easy enough to talk about it for nigh-on 20 years, anyway.
The Aches. Oh yeah. I could do without the aches. And the twinges. That, and whenever I stand up/sit down/move after a long time of sitting/lying still, I make an involuntary noise.
But then, when I was younger, I just didn’t appreciate sitting down after a hard day. That feeling of “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah…”. It’s not as good as sex, but it’s as satisfying as a cup of coffee. Or a profound nose blowing. Or a really good, firm poo.
Job. Yeah, you got me there again. I work in a place where I am very visibly one of the oldest people. What’s more, a couple of years ago, I changed career. I came into where I work at the lowest level, and I’m still amongst the part-timers and the recently-graduated. I should be middle-management by now, and I’m very much not. I am the oldest in my department by many years, a decade older than my line manager. I’ll admit it, it’s not good for my self-esteem. And I’ve discovered the hard way that I can’t expect to relate to the younger people I work with, and it’s not been fun finding that out.
But compared to my old job, where I was constantly unhappy, unrewarded, lonely, shat upon, had no chance of promotion, and ignored, I’m doing much better. Even in my lowly position. I like where I work. I like the people I work with. There’s room for expansion and upward mobility. They’ve given me opportunities and interesting projects to work on. They listen to my opinion. And, most importantly – and I’m not saying this because I know at least one team leader and a few colleagues are probably reading this right now – the company I work for is thankfully not a bag of cunts.
So all I’m worried about now is the humiliation of having a mid-life crisis. And maybe that’s what a mid-life crisis can be? It’s not necessarily a last-gasp attempt to recapture a youth (that probably never existed for most people). And as I get older, I’ve discovered many people my age, or even 5/10/15/20+ years older who are still immature, and do drugs, and dress like 20-year olds, and listen to bleepy beaty music, and “party” even though they look like wrinkly goons stuck in a time-warp, and behave atrociously…
So I’m not the only one who cannot ‘adult’.
I think that maybe a mid-life crisis is a petulant act, an attempt to avoid embarrassment? A denial, a refusal to accept the inevitable? A reconfiguration of self, where confidence is reasserted? An attempt to discover the true meaning of oneself? Yes to all of those, probably, but also an attempt to expand and enhance the life we have.
I know that as a 40-something, I’ll have less “new” experiences than a 20- or 30-something. My life will settle down into more of a routine, although more likely to be punctuated by terrifying health scares. Maybe a mid-life crisis is an attempt to have new experiences? Maybe it’s to reignite the childish wonder of new things that can get lost as we get older? Maybe that’s why parents increasingly live vicariously through their kids? In any case, I’m not my father, and I’m not going to be the idiot he was. I’m pretty sure I can discover new ways of being an absolute fucking idiot all on my own.
Life begins at 40, eh? Well, the waiting room hasn’t been too bad. The entertainment is mostly self-produced, and is often quite fun, but the walls have been drab for some time now.
I’m so going to learn how to become a DJ.