how did you feel when you turned 40?
May 24, 2009 2:35 PM   Subscribe

How did you feel when you turned 40?

I am a woman, just turned 40 a few months ago. I am single, no children. Been divorced for 15 years. Been trying to find a good man to settle down with and make a family but sadly, that has not occurred as of yet.

I have found that recently, I am beginning to feel strangly empty, somewhat lonely, and although age is always relative to the person who is older/younger, I am beginning to feel some sadness that I am now 40 and still alone.

Although I have worked hard to finish school and start a new job, getting modest financial success, I am feeling sad.

Before anyone quickly states "It could be worse" or the like, put yourself in my shoes and see the world from here first. (no kids, over 40 in a world that sees female value in her youth, oh and so much more...)

I would like to hear both thoughtful, compassionate advice as well as any feelings and thoughts of others who have recently turned 40.
posted by bananaskin to Human Relations (30 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
40 was the only dreadful milestone birthday for me because of my preconceptions. I felt like I was no longer "young", that I'd hit the downhill slide towards decreptitude and death. That lasted about six months before I finally realised that there was absolutely nothing different in my life as a result of a calendar page turning.

I don't have the issue of the bio clock ticking (I have teenagers), and I'm not alone so our circumstances are not the same. Perhaps it's not so much the age that is the issue as the other things, goals and dreams unfulfilled.

In terms of the value of women in their looks, I've never been pretty, so I didn't have so much to lose with age, and I have gained so much more: compassion, understanding, patience - I like who I am, for the most part, and I value myself as a person. The world and it's twisted ideals based on a media representation that I reject - Phhht to that. I do what I want, and fuck 'em if they think it's not appropriate.

Take some time to reframe your view, not from the outside looking in, but the inside looking out. You're a hard worker, and are achieving financial success. Good for you, lady! You're independent and intelligent. You do what you want, when you want. It's not about age.

(But like I said before, loneliness and the bio-clock, I can see that they are big issues, and I wish I had something helpful for you there.)
posted by b33j at 2:56 PM on May 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

...way better than when I turned 50, and infinitely better than when I turned 55.

40 is the new 30.

All of the hottest women I know, including (and most especially) my 55 year old wife, have more grace, beauty, and charm than the "mere kids" in their 20's and 30's.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:59 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 43 and married though we are child free. I understand what you're saying though as we both experience what you have described. Over the last three years I've largely let my old group of friends go and have replaced them. My job is stupid and we have no real social circle we hang out with.

My advice is to do the same thing I need to do. Get involved in some organizations that interest you. Volunteer wherever. Be a big sister. Work at a soup kitchen. Join a book club. Fill your life with things that may seem like they could be enjoyable and satisfying.

Do this, quit worrying about the dudes and one will show up some day.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 3:01 PM on May 24, 2009

I went surfing for the first time on my 40th birthday. Saw some dolphins.
Thus far my 40s have been great. I no longer care about impressing other people and I'm much happier as a result.

No kids, but I don't want any.
posted by bink at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't feel like I'm as old as I am, so I just tend to forget about my actual age and disregard it. It helps a lot. The unfortunate thing about a birthday is that it reminds you of how old you are (or aren't). imjustsaying is really right. I know so many women in their 40s and 50s who just seem attractive and full of life and who don't strike me as "old" at all. It isn't that they're naturally good looking or that they've had surgery or regular botex, but they just take care of themselves. If you don't already take care of yourself (via exercise, diet, health, hobbies, etc.), then that is a good place to start for anyone who isn't feeling great about where they are in life. This is something you have direct control over and can change. You don't really have any control over not having a family; however, if you do prioritize having a family above all, regardless of whether or not you have a husband, you might look into adoption or being a foster parent.

I also have the impression that society ties a woman's value in very closely with her youth (and, in turn, her attractiveness, the rub being that youth = attractiveness) and I absolutely hate it. The only way I know of to overcome that (and not be impossibly dragged down) is to ignore it and be your wonderful self. For example, I feel generally good about myself, but if I flip through a magazine or the tv, I can instantly feel absolutely worthless, so sometimes this means I can't look at any magazines or television for lengthy periods of time (the repeated exposure to 20something models really grates on me; for you it might be repeated exposure to happy families or couples, so find your primary exposure to this and see if you can't limit it).
posted by Polychrome at 3:30 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm seconding b33j. Time to take control, realise that you have many good years left, stop fretting about a number. I hated being 39: I had an "Uh-oh!" feeling that I'd entered the final furlong and this was it. Now at 42 I find I'm happier than ever, much less concerned about what people think of me, looking forward to doing new things I couldn't afford (and didn't have time for) when I was in my 20s and 30s. I found out a couple of years ago I have chronic hypertension and a heart defect which underlined for me that (contrary to what I'd been telling myself) I'm just a weak mortal like everyone else. But now I'm over the shock of it and feel like I have no time to lose. I plan to live until I'm 80 but who knows? Maybe this thing will get me first.

I have no idea what to suggest about the relationship thing. But surely it can't hurt to get out more, do more things, take on more interests, meet people. If you have a bit more money now, find some interesting fun ways to spend it. Don't go looking for a lover, head out there looking for new friends and maybe something spectacular will happen. Being alone is one of the most painful things we ever have to endure: I've been there and I know how much it stings. Don't let it beat you, get up and take control of your life.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 3:33 PM on May 24, 2009

Well, it's been a few years since I turned 40 (let's put it this way - it won't be long before AARP starts sending me membership mailings). To be honest, 30 was more of a milestone in my mind than 40. At 30 I was single, no serious boyfriend, yada yada. I did have a good job that paid well, and a girl friend and I (her birthday was within five days of mine) took a weekend trip to Toronto (we lived in metro Detroit and could catch the VIA train in Windsor) for a 30th birthday bash. What really slapped me upside the head that weekend was that after we went out and had a very large, multi-course Italian dinner, neither one of us felt like going out to Yuk-Yuks (comedy club) or the local male strip club. We both wanted to go back to the hotel and turn in for the night. The next morning I felt sort of ancient, asking her "Are we already too old to have fun?"

Anyway, 30 was more my "coming of age" milestone - I wasn't so interested in hitting the clubs until closing time. I'd join some friends or co-workers for a drink or two right after work, but then head home before nine o'clock. I was 32 when I started seriously dating the future Mr. Adams, and we got married two years later. We've never had children, and he is eight years younger than I, so he enjoyed poking fun at me when I turned 40, but to me it wasn't as "life pondering" for me as 30 was. (For whatever reason, to my mind 30 and 50 are the big milestones.) I used to get comments (starting back in my late 20s) from co-workers and even my boss (since I was very dedicated to my job and was able to advance financially/position-wise because I wasn't married or dating at that time and could work many extra hours) about "why are you still single? Why don't you have a boyfriend?". My boss even asked me once if I wasn't being too picky when it came to finding a spouse. But he didn't seem to notice how I was privy to the intimate details of his 50-year marriage, and how he was more or less forced to get married by a certain age by his parents (as was his wife), and how they lived virtually separate lives (I often went to their home as part of business responsibilities, and I noted that they had separate bedrooms.) My own Mom and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year, but my Mom has been unhappy for a long time, saying that Dad is lucky she doesn't put ground glass in his salad, etc. It just happens that they dated for a long time in the late 1950s, and when he proposed, she accepted, as that was the norm. I urge you to NOT just settle or plunge into a relationship because you're lonely. Lonliness is rough and emotionally brutal, but not so harsh as a relationship borne out of desperation.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:33 PM on May 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

I hit 40 in a very similar situation. Single, no kids, no job at the time, little to get excited about in the future. I'm 46 now and the past six years have been some of the most personally productive in my life. Don't fear your forties. This is the time you can really come into yourself and create the person you want to be for the next forty years.
posted by Kerasia at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2009

Forty was a rough birthday for me, and I had a husband and kids. I'm now fifty (and so far ignoring the AARP mailings-they are multiple) and I have to say that the forties were a fantastic decade.

(Fifty is okay so far too, fwiw.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2009

I turned 40 a couple of months ago, and I have been shocked at the intensity of what I've been feeling: relief.

Seriously, I'm completely relieved to be 40. I love it. I feel like being free of my 30s has freed me of the shackles of trying to hang on to my 20s, which were actually rather tumultuous and difficult most of the time, but I Was So Young and isn't that what we're all supposed to want?

Well, screw that. In the words of Tom Stoppard, "there's only one direction, and time is its only measure." We're all aging at exactly the same rate, it's just that some of us showed up sooner (or later) than the others around us. Being 40 has allowed me to shake off the dead weight of external expectations of what I'm supposed to want/be/look like as a woman. For example, I have no kids. Everyone seems to suspect that I'm feeling a bit tragic or frantic about this -- and, if you'd asked me 5 years ago if I would feel tragic and frantic about being childless at 40, I would have probably expected that I would.

But, surprisingly and delightfully, I don't. And even if it turns out my boyfriend and I want to have kids eventually and it's a problem to do it the old-fashioned way (as is increasingly likely), we can adopt. And so can you, as a matter of fact, if you discover that's what you really want -- one of my coworkers adopted a child as a single mom in her 40s about 8 years ago. They have a great relationship, and my coworker has said so often that she's so glad she didn't bother waiting around for a husband before she become a mother, because both she and her daughter would have never been together.

A couple of months ago, I met up with a friend of mine who I hadn't seen since high school. She had just turned 40 as well, and she had the same surprising sense of relief that I had. I remember her saying "it's so liberating, because I suddenly realized that I could choose to be DONE with everything society says I'm supposed to feel bad about -- my looks, or my weight, or my career, or my family. I'm done with that. I like myself. I like my life. I like the people in my life. Those are the only criteria that matter now."

She's absolutely right. And you can like yourself, your life, and the people around you, too, no matter if you meet society's impossible standard of beauty and no matter if you're in a relationship or not. Living a full life does not require smooth skin or a boyfriend. This is not to say that you shouldn't take care of yourself (sunscreen, my dear!) or that you should just forget about relationships because you're 40 (I didn't meet my boyfriend till my late 30s, and I know several women who didn't meet their partners till their 40s and beyond). But it is to say that you can create a full and satisfying life from the inside out. Think about the qualities you care about in others and in yourself (things like creativity, kindness, adventurousness, humor, etc.) and then think of ways you can specifically cultivate them in your own life (through travel, volunteer work, art, etc.). The enjoyment will come. The rest will follow. Embrace it!
posted by scody at 3:59 PM on May 24, 2009 [24 favorites]

I hit age 40 much like you -- divorced (for 6 years), no kids, and was just starting to build my own home-based consulting business. Lonesome did not even begin to describe my life!

But the other side of all this was that my life was totally under my own control; I could make of it whatever I wanted. So I threw myself into growing the business, bought a midlife crisis car that I still enjoy driving, started saving in earnest for retirement, and did a little dating through personal ads.

For me, the key was to recognize that while I didn't have anyone to lean on (except my normal support system), I also didn't have anyone dragging me down or pissing on my parade. Turning 40 was a time of greatly mixed emotions, but it turned out to be the kick in the a** I needed to get serious about my life.

I finally did meet and marry a wonderful man, once I decided that I could quite happily spend the rest of my life single. We've been married almost 12 years now.

So my message to you is: forget about the sadness rooted in what you don't (or can't) have. Focus instead on creating the life you want.
posted by DrGail at 3:59 PM on May 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sixteen years ago when I turned 40, I began my recovery from alcoholism. I am happy to say that recovery continues; I have been clean and sober ever since. And, as a result, I can say without hesitation these past 16 years have been the best of my life.

Sure there has been turmoil. I was laid off from my career job and got divorced after 18 years of marriage. But if I had tried to handle those situations the way I used to be, it's hard to imagine where, or what my life would be like today.

The old saying "life begins at 40" is a lot more than just a cliché for me. My second life truly did. I don't regret the loss of my young adult years to alcoholism. Instead I celebrate my life now. I always try to look forward... to embrace optimism. I am genuinely happy, joyous, and most of all, free of the stranglehold that alcohol had me in.

You are who you are; whether you're 20, 30, or 40. Make the most of that person that you are right now. Make this the best time of your life too. You can if you want to.
posted by netbros at 4:17 PM on May 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Scody has it right. When I turned 40, I felt like I won the E ticket at Disneyland. I was finally free of all societal constraints (self imposed, I am sure), and could be whoever and whatever I wanted.

I have no kids and am not married, but that has nothing to do with my age. I would suggest being very careful about assigning meaning to age in that context (aside from childbearing, but if you want one, just go make one...). If I choose to have a child, I will adopt as well (whew, no need to get pregnant.)

I have my own business and my own home. I just started dating someone at 42 and the relationship is so much more free and fun because there is no agenda.

By the way, I am in no way a 'grown up'. I play too hard, I laugh at fart jokes, I watch really, really bad television. But now, what the outside world thinks just doesn't matter.

I'm free!!!

Really, I am going to go have a glass of wine now, in the middle of the day, just to celebrate, for no reason at all, just because I can.

40 is hot.

p.s. Feeling empty is something you have to take your own responsibility for, blaming it on age only makes you a victim. Go get what you want!
posted by Vaike at 4:20 PM on May 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm about to turn 40 too, and I do feel some sort of - well, I think it's a natural amount of grief at the understanding that the "youth" part of my life has passed. But I don't really dread the future and may indeed be catching on to some of those twinges of relief that scody is talking about.

I think your more important problem is not that you are 40. 40's not a deadline or a sentence. The problem that's bothering you is that you are lonely. You don't have to be 40 to be lonely, and being 40 is not causing being lonely, they're just occurring at the same time. This is important stuff. You are longing for warm friendships and perhaps a strong and interesting primary romantic relationship. You can have that. You can have it at any age. I can think of a list of people I personally know, as long as my arm, who found a true love after 40. Some had had families and spouses earlier, some had not. Some had had miserable experiences and felt that it took all of that to get to the good relationships they can build as mature people. But in any case, life - including social life and romantic life - did not end for any of these people, and certainly not because of an arbitrary number.

Birthdays are milestones, especially the big round ones, and they do tend to make you think about your own life and whether you are happy in all areas with it; whether you are fulfilling promises made to yourself. That's why you feel down - because there are things you want that you haven't got yet. Not because of something society attaches to the number, which if you don't listen to people who try to give you those messages, you simply don't have to pay attention to.

So it's time to get what you haven't got. Congratulations on pursuing schooling and career. Those are such wonderful goals, and to be feeling financially successful? You've done so well. There are people (ahem) turning 40 who have not done so well in those areas and need to face up to that. Meanwhile, you've got achievements under your belt and are taking good care of yourself. You're an excellent candidate for new friendships and relationships, since these basic life-structuring security-producing elements are in place for you. I'd encourage you to get out and make friends by getting involved in your community or in local and regional activities that you like to do anyway. Also, give online dating a chance. If you've been out of the dating world for a while, the great thing about re-entering it at this age is that you're not alone. There are divorcees all over the place, and people who had LTRs in their 30s that didn't work out, all feeling a bit nervous and rusty about dating, but who are actually wiser and more mature than they'd have been at 30. Consider yourself a hot property - a person open to a relationship, but already standing on her own two feet, who has a lot to give and is embarking on the next major chapter in her life.

It's the loneliness, not the age, that's bothering you. Go stop being lonely. Fill your life. In the end, the vast consensus of people is that it's our relationships with others that matter most when we're very old and looking back on our existences. It's how we opened ourselves to others and made life meaningful for one another. It's natural that you want that, and you're entitled to it. If you feel funny about dating or relationships for some reason, or if you don't make friends easily, or you're anxious, I'd encourage you to start by getting a therapist you like and beginning by saying "I've achieved all these things and that's good, but I'm lonely, and I want more." Some support in building up the relational part of life could be quite useful.

I wish you luck!
posted by Miko at 4:22 PM on May 24, 2009 [13 favorites]

Turning a 40 can be a pain because people will ask you "Oh you're 40, HOW DOES IT FEEL??" and expect some sort of reflective whatever from you. I had to sort of work to ignore those people. 40, which I turned last September, can be what you make it. I agree entirely with Miko that it sounds like this particular moment in your life is showing you to not be quite where you want to be and the birthday milestone is just causing you to be contemplative about it. I was stressed without really meaning to be, about my 40th which was about the only thing about it that sort of bummed me out. I have no idea why I was nervous.

In any case, it's hard to feel sad whether you think that's "justified" or not. I found doing a bit of birthday-time contemplation helped me hone a few ideas of what I did want and I'm still feeling healthy and happy enough to actually go after some of that stuff [I'm in a slow motion long distance relationship which i enjoy a lot and don't have/want kids, for what that's worth]. For me I had a different sort of problem "Okay I seem to have achieved some of the things I wanted, and others turned out not to be what I wanted... what do I want now?" which I think is sometimes what people call a mid-life crisis. I actualy let myself off the hook a little bit as far as being ambitious and goal-oriented, and freed myself up to enjoy just being a little bit more. Not at all easy for me, but for the last seven months or so it's been going well.

I wish you the best of luck with whatever you wind up doing. Happy birthday.
posted by jessamyn at 5:29 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

May I suggest that you might want to consider becoming a foster mother? There are often infants who need to be fostered for a period of weeks to months. It is demanding work but all of the foster mums I've spoken to have said it's very rewarding. Not to sound maudlin, but the experience may help you sort out your own feelings and help you find your direction in life.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:42 PM on May 24, 2009

Well before I turned 40, I made a goal that I would be in equivalent condition on my 40th birthday as I was on my 20th. That meant dropping 20 pounds in the year up to and running to get into shape. It met my goal and then 1 month later, I ended up in the hospital curled up like a boiled shrimp wracked with intestinal pain that neede...well, let's not go into it. The point is that life will find ways to throw all kinds of strange things your way. A particular age isn't special so much as how you choose to handle it.

One thing I will say is that when I went to my 20th college reunion last year, I felt I looked so much better than many of my peers - not just weight, but I looked and felt younger. I honestly don't know how that happened.
posted by plinth at 6:02 PM on May 24, 2009

My unwanted advice ( I'm 55 ) is to start doing things you've always wanted to do. Whether its hot air ballooning, sky diving, seeing the mountains, getting a makeover, or getting in touch with a long lost high school friend. Do things that you may have wanted to do for a long time but never did. Try and not have any regrets when your much older ( 70s, 80s) about not having done something that you wished you had, but didn't while you were younger. Do something that makes your heart beat a little faster, even if only for a few minutes. Then find something else again and do that. Repeat. Have few goals in life that you'd like to do and cross them off, one by one. Pretty soon you'll forget that number 40 and feel a whole lot younger. You will feel better.

Be young at heart, not old in mind!
posted by Taurid at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Love being 40. Never thought I would. It's very freeing getting past your 30s. I agree with the other posters who said don't blame the age for other issues, like loneliness. I feel so much more confident in who I am and all the things I can be now that I'm a little older. And if possible, find some healthy activities you love, this is an excellent time to get into shape. Or at least my body really responded well to pilates and running in the 39th and 40th year like none other!
posted by lucydriving at 6:43 PM on May 24, 2009

Best answer: When I was 40 I was single (never married) and childless. At 46 I married my soul mate.

To be honest, my 40s have been far, far happier than any time in my life. You are still young, with boundless possibilities. Enjoy the decade--it rocks!
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:55 PM on May 24, 2009

I really hope that this doesn't sound like a crappy commercial or something, but, life starts now! I've been through a lot of weird and life threatening stuff over the years, not really by choice either, and in my 20s and early 30 I really didn't think I'd make it to 40.

Last year, when I hit the big four-oh, I WAS a little depressed about things that I hadn't accomplished and that some things were just not in my cards. Overall, however, I was just really happy to still be here. Another thing that occurred to me was, "Can I relax a bit now?" Of course, the answer was No. No time to relax, gotta keep moving, making and doing.

I've been playing a little game with myself during the last few years and that is to make every day better than the last one, and it works. I figure that I can die tomorrow or thirty years from now and die smiling because I went out giving it my best.

Now, I can't leave this thread without telling you a sexy story.

When I was in the 8th grade I fell in love with my English teacher. She was about 64 years old. We both flirted and teased each other but in such an intellectual way that there was nothing dirty or bad about it.

The funny thing is that years later I looked her up to send a letter of appreciation and found some pictures of her from the mid or early 70s. She wasn't really attractive at all, but at 64 she rivaled a young Sophia Loren. And I'm not a weird perv either.

So I guess the message is that it's NEVER to late to be your best and that you can start being your best right now!

I hope this has been helpful, my best to you and GO KICK SOME ASS!
posted by snsranch at 6:55 PM on May 24, 2009

As a reasonably recently minted 40 year old, I gotta second and third everything everyone's said above. I've never felt more sure of myself, enjoyed life more, etc. I'm finally doing all the things I should have done years ago: more music, more art, more photography, more purposeful living.
posted by jdfan at 7:33 PM on May 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is a ton of great advice upthread, but I did want to add my perspective. I just turned 43, and the forties are a great age. I too am divorced, no kids, and I really feel free to pursue some goals that I have contemplated for a long time, such as travel and learning photography. I know enough about myself to know what I like, and I am confident enough about my abilities to go after something even if it might not work out.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:10 PM on May 24, 2009

I found that around 40 I was much more interested in changing aspects of myself that I had lived with, some times unhappily, for years. Maturity, perhaps? I am more reflective and more in each moment than when I was 30, but I also feel the same intensity in all things that I had as a young adult.

I like it.

I do however miss being able to hear TV flyback transformers.
posted by zippy at 11:02 PM on May 24, 2009

As a divorced woman of 41, I'm very glad you brought this up. Although I am happy as a non-parent (no kids by choice) and take pride in my accomplishments, I'm certainly no stranger to long bouts of acute loneliness and intense longing for romantic companionship. So I'll focus on that part of your question.

My 40th birthday was one of the loneliest and most painful days of my life. I had planned to spend it with my ex of 14 years, celebrating in our dream house. Then my ex decided he wanted out, and took off to be with someone else. Half of my social circle vanished right along with him. So I ended up spending my birthday alone, in tears, snowed under by crushing grief and loss.

That was two years ago. I have come a long way since then, and although I haven't forgiven my ex, I'm mostly happy these days. Finally I feel I am 'coming into my own,' as it were. I am very much myself in middle age, in a deeply fulfilling sense that I didn't have when I was younger.

I know several women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who've been divorced and single for many years. Many would like to be in a relationship, myself included, but for whatever reason, they haven't been able to find a mate. Whenever the subject of 'dating and mating after 40' comes up amongst my circle of friends, I get the impression that no one really wants to talk about it. In more intimate moments, though, we'll sometimes admit to each other our feelings of increasing invisibility, our acute awareness of rapidly dwindling flirtatious interest from men (especially compared to when we were younger) and our mixed feelings about that. I think a lot of us have a hard time facing the possibility that we may remain single indefinitely.

Of course, many people do find love and companionship in middle age and later. Much later, in fact. Others' success stories may provide a certain measure of hope and inspiration, but of course nobody can predict what your future will hold.

I don't know if this will work for you, but here is some of the best advice I've ever received about coping with the fear that I'll be single for life.

Whenever the fears and anxieties arise, be gentle with yourself, and don't shut down - allow yourself to feel whatever it is you're feeling. But don't feed your fears, because feeding them gives them more power over you. Every time your fears are allowed to gain the upper hand, you reinforce the notion that a life without a mate and/or children is sad, incomplete and lonely. People can tell you time and again that you're complete on your own, that you don't need a partner to be happy, and so on...but if you don't really believe these things, it'll seem like you're just being fed a bunch of useless platitudes.

When this stuff comes up for me, and I try to put this approach into practice, my back-and-forth self-talk "sounds" something like this:

You're afraid. You're lonely. That's fine. It's perfectly normal. Just sit with it and let it be what it is.

I'm trying. But I feel like my life is missing something vital. I'm feeling my age. I miss having a partner. I don't know if I can be truly happy alone. And let's be realistic: the odds are against me, especially because I'm a feminist. The hazards of 'dating while feminist' are very real, and even if I do find someone who's willing to give it a try, attempting to actually live out feminist principles in intimate relationships is an uphill battle. So I fear I may end up single for life.

Well, here's the reality: you might. I know that's hard to face, but you really aren't doing yourself any favors if you lie to yourself about that. It's possible that you will find a partner, but it's also possible that you will be single indefinitely. What if you do end up single for life? Would that really be so tragic?

Besides, you already know from personal experience that having a partner doesn't necessarily bring freedom from feelings of loneliness and longing. You've survived heartbreak and divorce; you've proven that you're more resilient than you once thought. Give yourself credit where credit is due. If you can survive all that you've been through already, then you can learn to deal with your fears in healthy ways, with or without a partner.

(Now then...if only I could take my own advice more often!)

You may not have a mate or children, bananaskin, but you do have something precious: choices. You have a choice to face and deal with your fears head-on, stubbornly refusing to feed them all the while. You have a choice to consciously focus your attention on the blessings in your life. When you're hurting, sad, and feeling vulnerable, you can choose to treat yourself with loving kindness. You can choose to live life on your own terms, and embody the qualities you want more of in your life. As scody says, you can create a satisfying life from the inside out.

And here's a bonus: your well-honed ability to soothe yourself in the face of fear and anxiety will serve you well in loving relationships. So if you do find a partner, you'll be that much more prepared.

Welcome to the club, and best wishes to you for a rockin' fourth decade. Happy belated birthday!
posted by velvet winter at 12:23 AM on May 25, 2009 [8 favorites]

Last week I walked the West Highland Way - a long distance hike in Scotland. On the route I was struck by the number of fellow walkers I talked to who seem to have been motivated to take the trip by some kind of crisis: redundancy, divorce, health scares and - yes - milestone birthdays. Taking a long walk as a way of reflecting about life and coming up with some new goals is as old as the idea of pilgrimage itself - these days you could equally plan to run a marathon or take a degree course. The point is to have have a goal which will take a fair amount of preparation and effort and the hope is for an experience which will involve contemplation, meeting new friends and perhaps some kind of self-transformation.

I passed 40 last year. I'm one of those people who likes to have low key birthday celebrations but the milestone seems to have triggered me to do some of these kinds of challenges. Maybe you could plan something along these lines.
posted by rongorongo at 4:45 AM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

"...I'm done with that. I like myself. I like my life. I like the people in my life. Those are the only criteria that matter now."

yes, yes EMPHATICALLY YES! What scody said.

I posted this query on my 40th last summer, and I think it speaks to how I felt about it. There was a ton of helpful information in there. I also managed to win a bike race the very next day, which was miles better than anything I managed to do at 20, or even 30.

Sooo, your experiences and mine probably won't precisely dovetail, but definitely taking control of your life and not letting your expectations manage your emotions here will be of help, I'd think.

Good luck, you deserve it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:17 PM on May 26, 2009

I read your question at work today and it stayed with me throughout the day. I don't know if what I have to add will be helpful; you've gotten a lot of great advice above. I turned 40 almost 7 years ago and it was during one of the worst periods of my life, that really had little to do with my age or that particular milestone. I was in the midst of a major depressive episode. I'm doing tons better now, but still a lot of what you had to say resonated.

For what it's worth, I've never married and am childless. I was always ambivalent about having kids, so that part doesn't bother me. However, I do feel lonely a lot. A long term, long distance relationship recently ended so that's part of it. However, I've had other relationships end when I was in my 20s and 30s and it was sad and difficult, but this is the first time that I've thought, "this may be it." I know that this is not necessarily true, but it's the first time that I've felt that way and it's a little unnerving.

While I respect the other posters experiences and good advice, I do feel that it is more difficult meeting people after your mid-to-late 30s, never mind 40s; not impossible, but more difficult. In my case, it doesn't help that I've moved around a fair bit in my 30s, as have my friends. I moved for grad school in my early 30s and met a great group of people, most of whom were 6-10 years younger. Despite ending up in different locations we stayed close for awhile, then one by one most of them have gotten married and had children. I keep in touch with a few of them but between the geographical distance and their busy schedules with their families, it's not the same. Then I went back to get another advanced degree in my early 40s, made another group of friends and the same thing is happening all over again.

I read all the time about people in my situation or that there are now more middle aged singles than ever before, but dammed if I can figure out where they hang out because everyone I meet is married, and more likely than not has kids. That doesn't preclude friendships, but I think that it helps to have at least one or two people who are in the same situation. Nothing is more frustrating to me than when one of my 30 something friends who is married tries to tell me how easy it would be for me to meet someone. I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying "You're 33 and you've been happily married for 7 years; you have no effing idea what my life is like." And yes, I know that being married is not the be all and end all; it's better to be single than in a bad relationship, blah, blah, blah. Honestly I think that I personally would be happy if I could find a small, close knit group of good friends to hang out with locally and I'm working on joining groups and nurturing the friendships that I've made here, but as I stated above, I find it much harder to find and make friends in my 40s than it was in my 20s or even early 30s.

I also think that the 40s are a time of reflection and change. I wouldn't discount hormonal changes as peri-menopause is most likely in play by age 40, and I certainly find that I am more sentimental than I was even when I was depressed. If you've had problems in the past that you haven't dealt with sufficiently yet (in my case the early death of my mother), this seems to be the time when they really come home to roost. I think it is especially difficult if you feel that you have accomplished what you'd thought or hoped that you would by this age. One of my closest friends who did get married at age 42 to a great guy who had a beautiful 2 year old daughter of which they got full custody admits to having feelings of "is that all there is?" And another friend in a wonderful committed relationship, who is generally upbeat and is excited about training for a new career at age 48 remarked the other day that there is definitely a different energy post 40. That there is a greater realization of one's own mortality and that we are most likely, as she put, on the downward slope of the hill (not that things are going to be all downhill, but that we are close to or may have even passed the midway point in life chronologically). Again, it doesn't mean there are not a lot of wonderful, happy, healthy, challenging and satisfying years left, but that we've reached a point where it is natural to be reflective about the first half of our lives and what we'd like to do differently in the second half.

I didn't mean to be a downer. Despite how what I've written may sound, I am hopeful that the second half of my life has the potential to be even better than the first half. Like you, I've recently made inroads into becoming more financially secure for one (better late than never!). Anyway, if nothing else, I just wanted to validate that a lot of what you are feeling is normal. Not everyone has an easy passage into middle age; different ages are difficult for different people.
posted by kaybdc at 7:54 PM on May 26, 2009

I just did. Never felt better.
posted by Baud at 12:00 AM on May 27, 2009



posted by bananaskin at 2:28 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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