A friend on Facebook liked a blog recently by someone I don’t know called Emily Mendell, titled This is 45. As you might expect, it’s her take on being 45. Have a read, it’s very good (read the rest of this first though in case you get distracted and forget to come back). But it did make me wonder if I’m not that nice a person – is everyone as thankful and sympathetic as her? Probably not, but do you even wish you were? (You see, there I go, cynical and a bit sneery and not very kind.)
I really like her analogy that 45 is “the eye of life’s storm” – I can feel that calmness a bit in my soul, now I’m four decades in, my kids are grown and nearly flown and just fine, bobbling along in contentment with Mr N, our lives on the threshold of a new stage, good and bad stuff from the past all just here and part of me and us, acceptance (in principle anyway) that there’s likely a load of shit to come linked to old age, happy ignorance of anything worse that might hit. But even this sounds a bit smugly saccharine to me; nothing’s ever perfect and often, having a good day means just not thinking about the stuff that would spoil it. In my case, that means my poor Mum, in a nursing home of my choice and my making, with fury in her eyes, losing her mind and so very very cross with me without knowing why any more.
And some of Ms Mendell’s other stuff is way too benevolent to recognise in myself. Take this para of hers: “At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies. They are easier to eliminate from your life, while also easier to understand. You can’t help but pity people who hurt so much they have to make others feel badly, but you are smart enough to do so from a distance.” MEAN people? My tolerance for quite a lot of other sorts of folk has hit rock bottom – fools, bigots, Sun readers, anyone who is my age or younger and who voted for Thatcher (obviously that lets off anyone who isn’t in the 44-47 age range and British), anyone who voted for Tony Blair and Dubya after the invasion of Iraq (only Americans and Brits count here), people who have opinions on nothing, people who have opinions on everything, people who are always late. Oh, I could go on. Of course no-one likes a bully, but I don’t think you have to wait until you’re 45 to realise that, and you can do more than just pity them from a distance, you can tell ‘em outright exactly what for when you get to my age. And as for mean people, well it all depends on what you mean by mean, but I think some of them can be quite entertaining can’t they?
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my take, though obvs as I’m two years older, this is 47:
It is embracing schadenfreude. It’s really funny when something crap happens to someone you don’t like, as long as it’s not a painful or tragic kind of thing that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, if you had a worst enemy. But, it’s likely you won’t have a worst enemy, because being 47 is accepting that pretty much everyone you know is not so unpleasant that you’d actually describe them as an enemy. In fact, on the contrary, it’s knowing that, mainly, people are fundamentally ok and just trying to get on in life as best they can, and the ones that aren’t usually have a deep-seated and horrible reason from their upbringing that explains it. You don’t have to like all these ‘fundamentally ok’ people though.
Forty-seven is being mature enough to recognise that, although you do believe strongly that you’re usually right in your opinions (because after all you’ve had long enough to get informed), so does everyone else. It’s about enjoying the arguments, playing devil’s advocate, sometimes admitting you’re wrong (which you also now know is an inconsequential and easy peasy thing to do) and, when you can’t admit it, agreeing to differ. And it’s about loving that difference – but only with those you want to, sod the rest who you don’t even have to talk to, let alone listen to their points of view if you don’t want to. How much richer my life is for my friendships with two of the Ls in my life – yes, L(1), dyed-in-the-wool bloody Tory even though she’s a Brummie lass who should know better (lord knows we’ve tried to educate her), and L(2), who weirdly took a train from Derbyshire to London for the day to cry with a load of strangers and put flowers outside Kensington Palace when Diana died!!! My precious, cock-sure, supercilious self at 20 would never have believed I’d be friends with people who behave like this. By 47, you’ve long climbed down off your high horse.
At 47, I acknowledge that I’m a hypocrite. I tell my kids not to be judgemental but I find myself judging people’s choices, personalities, politics, ethics, on the flimsiest of evidence, I can’t help it; my upbringing, my nature, my experiences all collide to colour my own and how I view others’. I rant at bad drivers, then swerve past someone wildly or put my foot down to beat the red light. I dislike hypocrites, I am one, I like myself. Life’s just not black and white.
Altruism = empathy + self-worth. I volunteer with the homeless, but my motives are mixed; it’s not just about ‘putting something back’ and feeling sorry for them, it’s just as much about not being seen to be idly privileged and superficial because that doesn’t fit my own idea of what I am. Forty-seven is being able to fine-tune who you want to be (at least when you’re idly privileged) and for that I am thankful.
There’s no denying it, 47 is way too near 50 and it makes you vain. It means never, ever again hanging upside down (I’m not sure why you would want to, but try it anyway and look at your face) and, for the same reason, avoiding going on top too often from now on. It’s really not about dressing down, quite the opposite I think (sorry to disagree again with Emily). For most of my life, certainly up to my 30s, I barely looked in the mirror, hardly wore make-up, ran my fingers through my hair to style it and dressed like a boy. Now, I make much more effort with how I look, in and out of the house. When I face the mirror – overly frequently – I see every bulge, wrinkle, droop. Where once a couple of days without lunch would make a difference, now nothing does except a constant, relentless regime of exercise. Forty-seven is accepting my lot, knowing that, to keep enjoying my food and drink, this is what has to happen. It comes to us all, fit or fat. By 47 you’ll probably have chosen one way or the other, but either way you know what you like and you’re gonna keep on doing it, guilt-free. And if that means dancing to the Scissor Sisters, the kids will have to lump it.
Being 47 brings realism. So, you weren’t a millionaire by the time you were 30, didn’t make the Man U first team or write that best seller, but you know now that you were never going to and it doesn’t matter any more (that was for the mid-life crisis a few years ago). No regrets, just an easy admission that luck, talent and effort all play their part and you probably just didn’t have enough of all three and that, anyway, 50’s the new 40 and you can set your sights anew, pragmatically lower this time round. Or not. Que sera sera.
And finally, it’s time for periods to stop. After 34 years, less about four and a half for pregnancies and breast-feeding, every effing month for something like 354 months, who knows how many ruined pairs of knickers, and three grown children, just don’t need them any more. Had enough. Period. (Yeah, came on today.)
This is 47.