I was watching a sitcom years ago. I can’t even remember which one, but the storyline involved a woman who had made a video of herself for a dating agency.
In it, she explained that she wasn’t actually looking for a lifetime commitment with “The One,” instead she wanted to meet “The One Before The One.” That would be the failed, somewhat garbage relationship you have before you enter into the right one; the funny but weird-looking guy, or the gorgeous but painfully boring one, someone who just didn’t check all the necessary boxes, someone she could go out with for a few years but then develop reservations about, question the relationship, and then ultimately realize he is not the total package.
It was in a similar frame of mind that I found myself this week as my birthday came around again. Not that I was thinking of stunning but awkward men, but because, in birthday terms, it was “The One Before The One,” my 39th, the funny but ugly one.
I’m not sure how you’re supposed to celebrate not quite turning 40. How do you acknowledge entering the last lap of the decade in which you’re supposed to be your most productive, when you’re supposed to do all the things you haven’t done yet; the book you never got around to writing, the debts you have yet to pay, all that travelling you were supposed to do.
I’m pretty sure I’m meant to have checked a lot off my list at this stage of the game, but I woke up on the morning of my 39th birthday with that same feeling – you know the one – of arriving home from a drive before your favourite song finishes playing on the radio, and you just want to sit in the driveway and listen to it because you don’t want it to be over.
I made the big mistake of heading over to Facebook where, despite the abundance of beautiful birthday messages, I was confronted with “On This Day” posts from years ago. I read the post I made the day I turned 29. It was short and sweet, but silly, because it referenced how in the morning I would be old. And the absolute worst part is, I remember writing it, remember as though it was yesterday. How can that possibly have been a decade ago? Is the next decade going to fly by just as fast? I have to imagine it will, but to think about that for longer than 10 seconds makes me feel terribly sad.
My friends, many whom have crossed to “the other side,” tell me that turning 40 is actually a lot of fun in the end, and something of a relief. The 40th birthday parties I’ve attended have been great fun, like a bunch of less stressful weddings, almost. The real problem, apparently, is in the years after that, when you turn a pointless 41, or a meaningless 42, and you realize that these birthdays are just going to keep on happening to you.
That’s usually when people start to use the phrase, “age is nothing but a number,” which to me indicates a person is so truly terrified of aging that the only way they can maintain their sanity is to disassociate themselves from numerical systems entirely (and I realize that made me sound like Sheldon Cooper, but indulge me, I’m feeling fragile). Worse still, you could say that “you’re only as old as you feel.” I’ve found this process to be particularly ineffective, as for more than a decade I’ve been saying I feel “about 20,” and that was of no use whatsoever in the campaign against having a 39th birthday. It still came.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is from my eighth birthday. I remember someone asking how old I was, and I said seven because I was so used to saying it. They walked away and I was emotionally wounded at the realization that I had missed an opportunity to tell a new person I was eight. I always wanted so badly to be older, and for people to think I was older than I actually was. Ridiculous, I know.
So I don’t know, should I be dreading the next year and saying goodbye to my 30s once and for all? I still haven’t written that book or visited Greece, but I’m happy and surrounded by people I love, and I’m still pretty light on the wrinkle cream. All I’m capable of at the moment is filing those things in the win column, having another piece of ice cream cake, and crossing my fingers. Be kind, 39.