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.