This is it folks. The end is nigh. Destruction and terror shall rain forth upon the earth. The rivers shall turn to blood, plagues of locusts shall devour everything in their path, and zombies shall rise from the dead. Life as we know it shall cease and die.
Lucy is turning 40.
OK, so it might not be quite as dramatic as that, but for Lucy, entering her 40s is a pretty fucking terrifying prospect. And while it might not be the end of days, it certainly does feel like the end of something big. Her youth. Her moderately-acceptable looks. Her reasonably gym-toned arse (which is NOT the ‘something big’, before you go getting any ideas). Maybe her hope.
A woman under 40 has prospects. She’s still young, she can still start a family, still say she’s 30-something and people might give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s 35. Random French men might still call her mademoiselle – not that Lucy ever goes to France, but it’s nice to know they would, if she went there.
But over 40. Well, that’s halfway to 80. That’s middle aged. That’s fucking hideous.
According to various bullshit articles, by the age of 40, a woman is supposed to have accomplished a wide range of achievements, including having built a stylish capsule wardrobe, learned how to make a Masterchef-standard three-course meal without using recipes, discovered a love of trips to the garden centre, found her signature lipstick, and efficiently tidied her Tupperware collection.
Not to mention of course, she must also have become CEO of a FTSE 100 company, had a £30k wedding with at least one celebrity in attendance, had two or three adorable kids, established a meaningful anti-ageing skincare regime, become a black-belt in yoga and mindfulness, bought a stylish home and decorated it with Farrow and Ball colours and tasteful pieces from Ercol, saved twice her salary in an intelligent investment plan, and written a bestselling novel.
Despite not having achieved any of those things, Lucy doesn’t actually feel like she’s doing too badly. She has regular employment, even though most of the feckless 20-year old interns who were terrified of her ten years ago are now the ones hiring her. She earns enough to allow her to shop frequently in M&S Food Halls and go on the occasional foreign holiday (though she still flies economy like a fucking animal). She owns her own place, though her furniture is mostly wobbly and scratched 12-year-old IKEA flatpack and her four wardrobes are stuffed to the gills with nothing but Boden jersey dresses in every available colour and GAP basic jeans and t-shirts. She knows how to cook a meal without poisoning anyone, even if she’s unable to prove it because none of her friends can be fucking arsed to schlep all the way to the far reaches of West London to find out. She even has some savings, though certainly not enough for her to be able to retire at 50 and spend the rest of her life travelling the world in luxury as she’d like.
So yeah, seconds away from 40, life really isn’t too bad at all but for one thing: Lucy, as you cannot have failed to have noticed, is single. Deeply, perpetually, terminally single. And to turn 40 and still be single… well, in spite of her moderate achievements, that just makes her feel like a fucking failure.
It’s not just that, even in an age when there are more single people than ever before, and far more acceptance of those without partners and kids, society is still very much built around couples. It’s also that Lucy has been searching for The One since about 1685, and she’s fucking exhausted.
As a geek and a high-achiever, getting what she wants has always come relatively easily. Want good exam grades? Just turn up to class, pay attention, and revise hard. Want to work in an interesting industry doing what you love? Just be persistent and passionate, make contacts, and you’ll get there. Want to be able to afford adventurous holidays? Be careful with money, don’t splurge on unnecessary things like drugs and designer shoes and Swarovski crystal ornaments (who BUYS those?!) and that dream African safari will be yours.
But the one thing Lucy has always wanted, infinitely more than any of these things, is Her Person, and yet it seems that no matter how hard she works, how many approaches she tries, how fiercely she perseveres, she just can’t do it. And that makes her frustrated and sad. Especially when, quite frankly, plenty of people who appear to be either outrageously dull or total cunts seem to manage it just fine with no struggle at all.
Of course, turning 40 is not the end. Statistically she could have another 50 years on this planet, which is still more than enough time to find someone so she won’t have to die alone surrounded by houseplants (cats are too much effort). But 40 definitely feels like the end of a chapter, the end of possibilities, maybe the end of her desirability. Just a cursory glance at the age preferences of men on dating apps confirms this: a large proportion of them set their upper age limit at 39, and Lucy suspects that those who say they’re willing to go higher only do so for appearances’ sake, and actually they’re swiping left on anyone over 40 just as quickly as the rest.
And why wouldn’t they? Men Lucy’s age seem to have no trouble pulling women ten years younger, many of whom actively prefer a more mature man. How is Lucy supposed to compete? She’s started finding the odd white hair sprouting in her lady garden, the creases around her eyes are less ‘laughter lines’ and more ‘sobbing uncontrollably lines’, and her skin is starting to resemble the wrapper of a Big Mac after the burger’s been eaten. Complete with the yellow grease stains.
So where does that leave her? On the shelf? Alone, unloved? A dried up old spinster?
But maybe that’s not how it has to be. Maybe, actually, it leaves her in a better place: finally able to accept defeat, move on, and focus on other things instead.
Because here’s the thing about your 30s. All around you, people are falling in love, getting married and having kids. The race is on, and if you’re at the back, tripping and stumbling, gasping for breath, struggling to keep up with the pack, it’s no surprise you’re probably going to have a heart attack at some point. But what happens once the race is over?
Finally, you can stop running. You can be gracious in defeat, congratulate the winners, catch your breath, have a nice hot bath, and then look around for something else to do.
They say life begins at 40. Historically that was because most people had their kids at age 20, so by 40 the little bastards had finally grown up and their poor knackered parents could finally get some sleep and leave the house. For today’s single woman, however, it means something different. It means she can finally throw off the terror of her ticking clock, enjoy the fact that Auntie Joan no longer asks her if she’s met someone yet, and say Fuck You to society’s expectations.
Liberated from the burden of racing to achieve that impossible list, now she can do whatever the fuck she wants – and without kids draining her salary and her energy she’s got the cash to splurge. Suddenly it’s OK to spend £60 on a jar of posh face cream – because why not treat yourself? Or skip the gym – who cares if you gets fat now? Or date inappropriate men who will never be The One, simply because they’re hot. Or spend an entire weekend binge-watching old episodes of Sex and the City, free from the FOMO that you ought to be going out, because you never know who you might meet. Lucy’s wiser now, and experience has taught her that’s even less likely than the chances of Tom Hiddleston finally calling her to confess his undying love. So she might as well just focus on doing things she actually wants to do, not things she thinks she should do.
Looking around her at her friends who are married and have kids, Lucy’s not sure she even wants their life anyway. Sure, she’d kill for someone to veg on the sofa with, or go on holiday with, but the rest of it? The sleepless nights, the cleaning up shit and vomit, the long drives with your spawn beating the crap out of each other in the back seat, the ferrying of ungrateful little twats from school to football to violin lesson, the horrors of cyber-bullying and teenage pregnancy and snapchat porn. Without offspring, Lucy doesn’t have to worry about any of that bollocks.
When you consider all of that, making it through the 30s race without having accidentally tripped over, fallen on someone’s cock, and getting knocked up could actually be classed as an achievement.
That’s not to say that Lucy’s done with dating though – far from it! Dating in your 40s could actually turn out to be way better than in your late 30s, because it’s an actual fact* that NO ONE meets anyone between the ages of 35 and 40. After 35 all the good men have been snapped up, and the ones who are left after 35 are either fuckboys, losers, or just downright weird. But after 40, well, that’s when the divorces start happening. The good ones finally start coming round again, and who better to console them after their difficult breakup than an experienced, slightly older woman, who isn’t going to ask them to have more kids, who has the freedom and cash to have fun, and who, thanks to a decade of extra sleep and gym visits, can still just about pass for 35 (in the right light)?
*I can’t prove this
When Lucy thinks about it, every decade has actually seen her love life improve. From 0-10, she thought boys were gross and the feeling was probably mutual. In her teens she pined for guys who didn’t even know she existed, but she had her first kiss and managed to squeeze in losing her virginity just before the end of the decade. Her twenties were most notable for excessively long periods of man drought, but they did also bring her first proper boyfriend. In her 30s she met The Ex, and for five full years she lived the loved-up dream until, well, you know the rest.
So maybe, who knows, her 40s will take her up the next rung of the love ladder?
But if it doesn’t, well, it won’t be a total disaster. Right now Lucy feels like she’s in her prime. She may look a bit more knackered, and she may be a bit more jaded and fed up with the world, but she’s also more confident, she knows what she wants, and she gives way fewer fucks. As a result, she’s had more and better sex in the last few years than in all the rest of her life put together. And while she’d still love to find Her Person, she’s learning how to focus on enjoying all the wonderful things she does have: her friends and family, adventures, her home, and even, sometimes, the occasional man who, while not Mr Right, can definitely be Mr Right Now.
So here’s to being 40: to freedom, to confidence, to wine, travel, nice dinners, good friendship, great sex, and to everything else that the next 40 years may bring.
Now, can I ask a favour please?
I know it’s cheeky, but if a girl can’t ask on the occasion of her 40th birthday, when can she?!
Don’t worry though, it’s not for me. I’d never be that rude! I’m asking on behalf of homelessness charity, Shelter, for whom I’ve set up a JustGiving page. I figure if one good thing can come out of me turning 40, that’ll make it all a lot harder to bear.
If you’ve enjoyed all my hard work on the blog, or if you just want to shut up my whining about turning 40, please consider throwing a few quid their way. If every one of my followers gave just £5 (ie. what you might spend if this blog were a book), we’d raise over £20k!
And a HUGE thank you to the AMAZING people who’ve already donated! You’ve already made turning 40 a lot easier to stomach!