Turning 40 is no big deal, but I’m glad I have time to prepare

This is the decade when life seems to settle down, while relationships often get better with age

For many, the big four-oh seems a more intimidating birthday than any previously celebrated. Photo: Adrian Greaves / Unsplash
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My husband of 13 years, who I’ve known since we were both 13, is turning 40 this month. And, boy, does he hear jokes about his “old age” from me at any given opportunity, even though I’ll follow suit in about six months.

I fully subscribe to the “age is just a number” philosophy, which is often dished out alongside that other nugget, “Life begins at 40”. And yet, the big four-oh seems like a more intimidating number than I’ve yet been confronted with.

Glass half-empty

Perhaps it’s because there’s no denying the physical changes that many people, especially women, are likely to face in their forties. From depleted muscle mass and less bone density (cue batwing arms), to lowered fertility, reduced collagen and chances of perimenopause, is it any wonder that Jane Austen’s female characters were already considered “old maids” when in their thirties?

Even in the 21st century, the pregnancy of a woman aged 35 or above is deemed “geriatric”, a term usually reserved for those over 65.

Tellingly, when I spoke to friends who are in and around the 40-year-old bracket, it was the women who were most vocal. There was chatter about “foods that pass through the lips and stay forever on the hips”, laments about aches and pains in “joints I never knew I had”, and observations about more relationships crashing and burning than ever before.

Mortality obviously has something to do with it. “At 40, one often begins to sense they’ve passed the halfway mark of their lifespan,” one friend said. Rather than looking at it as all doom and gloom, however, she said this prompted a heightened awareness of the need for “balance between responsibility and accomplishment … to look back at what I have already done and what more still needs doing”.

Another, who braved “geriatric pregnancies” twice over, said her children were a constant reminder of her mortality – “they’re my little time-keepers”.

Despite their stoic silence, I'm sure not all of my male friends have it easy, either. Testosterone levels fall and hairlines retreat; cardiac arrests and cancer scares become more common; and, like women, loss of muscle mass is accelerated with age.

The one guy friend who deigned to reply (full disclosure: he’s the German fitness trainer you see in the picture below with excellent genes) offered two simple words: resistance training. Oh, and less whinging.

Glass half-full

Despite all the hype attached to reaching your forties, there is no denying the angst of previous decades. In the teen years, it’s all acne and unrequited love. In the twenties, there are degrees to master and careers to mould.

In the thirties, money matters. Making it, saving it, spending it, fighting over spending it …

It's also in that decade that, increasingly, children arrive and the roller-coaster ride that is early parenthood makes every other challenge feel elementary in comparison.

By your forties, however, things seem suddenly to settle down. Relationships mature as do investments; careers soar more than they ebb; and real friendships take the place of forced social niceties.

At least, that’s the mindset I’d like to channel when my own 40th rolls around.

After all, I’ve never been one for hiding at home, burrowed under a blanket, thoughts ranging from morose to morbid, when a birthday – any birthday – comes along. I celebrated my 39th last August with as much gusto as I did my 19th way back when.

The big difference between my 19th and 39th celebrations? The latter was a far richer experience, literally and figuratively speaking.

I was no longer a perpetually broke student filled with teenage trepidation, awkwardly shuffling my two left feet to music from the tinny radio.

I could actually afford a venue, new dress, DJ and full cake (rather than the pity pastry I “cut” in 2003 amid other perpetually broke students, half of whom I barely knew).

More importantly, I celebrated the run-up to the big four-oh surrounded by beloved friends, having meaningful conversations, making vivid memories and, admittedly, still pulling out questionable dance moves, because some things don’t change.

Updated: February 03, 2024, 6:21 AM