Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Landmark Birthdays

Today I turned thirty-nine. No, wait! Don't turn your face away in fearful embarrassment. I've still got it. I'm still hip. I still know how to party!

Thirty-nine is a heck of a birthday for women of my culture. It isn't forty, but forty is considered so bad, so much of a hideous jerk, that turning thirty-nine seem very solemn too.

But I know what you're thinking. I can feel it, all those thoughts bouncing from your brain to mine:

But at least you're married.

True. And, yes, that makes a difference. I know it makes a difference because I was always a Searching Single, even when I was trying very, very hard to be a Seraphic Single willing to become a Serious Single at the Lord's say-so. And I bet that if I were still Single, I would at some point, despite my book and years of talking up the Single Life, call up a pal and complain "I'm 39 and not married!" But I know I would also go out and party because that is what I did on my 30th birthday when I really was Single.

When did we come up with landmark birthday suffering? Women are crazy about birthdays, but in a weird schizophrenic way: we love the cake, the cards, the presents, the attention, but after 21, we hate the numbers. The numbers scare us. The numbers make us do stupid things. As far as I can tell, men don't start fearing the numbers until they turn 40. And only then do they start doing stupid things.

Take turning 25. Women are afraid of 25, and for this we can blame history and our 19th century chick lit. Anne of Green Gables, upon turning 25, was told that she had turned "the first corner". And Jo March, of Little Women, by 25 thought she was firmly on the shelf, i.e. too old for marriage. Around the age of 25, many women start worrying "What if I never get married/find a permanent partner?"

Of course, some girls begin worrying even before that. I know girls who think they are "old" because their mothers married at 18 and have lived happily ever after, and there they are, 20 years old and not married yet. Horrors!

I put some of the blame for my first marriage on my turning 25 that year. It may be that I wouldn't have gone through with it if I hadn't been having a panic about being 25 and a spinster and blah, blah, blah. And now I feel sorry for my poor ex who was even younger than that. Goodness, what a brace of babies we were. I hope he is happy and thriving and rich.

Age is terribly relative. A twenty-five year old with a hangover who makes faces at herself in the bathroom mirror may think she looks haggard, but I would probably think she looks like a dewy rose, a shining pearl, and a million times better than me. And a sixty-five year old woman, staring at both of us, would probably think we were both beautiful young things.

"Take out the word young," I instructed an editor of the blurb to go on the back cover of my book. Young appeared three times. "I was 35 when I wrote the book. I wasn't young, and although young women will love it, it's thirty-somethings who need it most."

The editor, revealing her age, said 35 seemed very young to her.

One attitude towards aging that has stuck in my mind was by an essayist who said that when she looked at photos of herself at 35 (or whatever it was) she was struck by the memory of how old-looking she thought she was at the time. Now, 50, she saw that she had been utterly beautiful. If only, at 35, she had revelled in her beauty instead of hating herself for being 35. She decided to love her looks at 50, seeing them from the perspective of her imagined self at 80.

So my advice to you this morning is that, however old you are, you revel today in your present beauty. And if you are a Searching Single, reflect that even though there comes a day when you can no longer give birth, you will never be too old to fall in love and get married.


theobromophile said...

Happy birthday, Seraphic!

Now, forgive my memory, but I seem to recall that you wrote about a rather dismal 35th birthday - in Boston, freezing, waiting to get into clubs, then vowing to spend your 40th in a house, eating dinner, with family and children (if even not yours) playing on the floor.

Had 35-year-old Seraphic known that her 39th would be spent in a Historical House in Scotland with Benedict Ambrose, she would have been very happy indeed... and not for being 35 rather than almost 40!

So bring on the confetti!

(Oh, and my stepmum gave birth to my brother about a week after her 42d birthday, so may I wish you a "Happy three years younger than my parents were when they had a baby"? :) )

Seraphic said...

A kind man left a kind comment, but I deleted it lest its wording unintentionally hurt many who come here.

Seraphic said...

Theobrom, quite right! I am impressed and flattered.

But I had a fun 36th birthday with girlfriends and a FANTASTIC birthday 37th birthday with girlfriends, so just knowing that would have made my 35th feel better.

I think 35 must be one of those "touchy" birthdays. It was for me!

Kate P said...

Happy Birthday! It's my brother's birthday today as well.

(BTW I just got to the part of my L.M. Alcott biography where she met "Laddie" in Europe. . . he was mad about her but she believed herself too old for him. Sad; he seemed lovely.)

leonine said...

Happy Birthday!

I think it's great for single people to throw themselves birthday parties. The past three years I have thrown myself parties, and it was great. They were all informal and inexpensive affairs, but So. Much. Fun. I think I'll be continuing the practice well into the future.

At the first one, a very dear friend asked me to name the best thing about the past year, the hardest thing about the past year, and the thing I was most looking forward to in the coming year. It's been a great way to think about some very tumultuous and eventful years!

So the two things that have worked best for me are celebration and reflection.

Many happy returns, Seraphic! May God richly bless you in the coming year.

KimP said...

Happy Birthday Seraphic! I have had a similar experience when looking at photos of myself taken in college. I remember back in those college days I thought I was, well, less than perfect in looks. My nose was too big. My hair was too flat. I didn't look a thing like Christy Brinkley, who was the supermodel du jour in the 1980s. Now, of course, I look at those college photos and think, "I was gorgeous! What was I so worried about? Why did I make myself so miserable? Who cared if I didn't look like supermodel?" Of course, I look at my 45 year old self now, and I can't be very hopeful about my looks - but when I'm 65 I'll look back at my 45 year old self and think, "What was I worried about?"

Seraphic said...

Thank you all, for your birthday wishes!

Kate P, yes I remember now: Ladislaus, a rather aristocratic Pole. One wonders What Could Have Been, but possibly "I'm too old" was LMA-speak for "Ah, I'm just not that into him." Let's hope it was that and not plain old shutting her ears to God's call to her to marry. (It may have been God's call to her to be Single!)

That's great about the parties, Leonine! At my dinner party yesterday, there were two lovely Single women and two lovely Married women (one of whom was me).

KimP, very wise. To add: when I was 27 I had a whole number of professional portraits taken by an AR-tiste. So no matter how I look when I am 80, I will be able to point smugly at my portraits and say, "Yah, I was a looker in my day, yep!" Of course, I was miserable when I was 27. One of life's surprises is that youth-beauty and happiness do NOT go hand in hand.

Annie said...

Happy Belated Birthday, Seraphic!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for commenting on my blog! It made my day, and that of some of my friends too.

I'm sure I've told you this before, but I love your blog, as do my dearest friends.