40 is the new 40

Note: This was originally published on August 11, 2019.

I’ve never been a good judge of age. I feel incredibly uncomfortable when people do that thing where they encourage me to guess their age because the facts are that a) It doesn’t really matter to me and b) I’m going to be forced to guess some number lower than what I maybe think and whatever number I maybe think is vague at best, anyway, due to the first sentence in this paragraph.  I’m going to aim slightly lower than the age I think you might be because I’ve spent most of my life being a people-pleaser and in doing so I’m going to suffer feelings of being disingenuous and that always stresses me out. See? This is not a fun game.

The game is starting to shift, though, and it’s because I’m old enough to have grown tired of managing everyone else’s expectations and feelings at the cost of my own and that is what 40 is looking like, for me. In case this needs to be said, I’m not suggesting that I blow off responsibilities or put my feelings first in such a way that I think it’s okay to be hurtful to others. Neither of those things is remotely in line with my values or desires. Similarly, one of my values needs to be placing value in myself.

At some point within the last year I saw a tumblr post on one of those “best of” compilations that spoke to me, as follows:

I have spent nearly 40 years breaking myself into bite-sized pieces. I’ve worried that I’m too weird, I’m too nerdy, I’m too wordy, I’m too big, I’m too much. 40 changed that. 40 gave me permission to say that I’m tired of trying to please everyone. 40 gave me permission to say that this is who I am. 40 gave me permission to recognize that I will never be everyone’s cup of tea but that some people don’t like tea and, frankly, it’s not up to me to change their mind. 40 gave me permission to stop apologizing all the time for being myself. 40 gave me permission to be angry sometimes and it also gave me permission to be happy.

I fit many of the tropes about middle-aged women. I really do like the music they’re playing in the grocery stores. I actually can get pretty excited about a new kitchen gadget. I really do want a pumpkin-spice latte a couple times a year. So what? Excuse me for trying to find joy in a mundane chore like shopping, or wanting a gadget to make the endless meal prep a little easier, or for wanting a moment of warmth and comfort in a cup. The world so often tells women that the things they like, or want, or do are “trite”, or “cute”, or “unimportant” and many of us buy into that for a lot of years…far too many years (any number of years is too many). And then 40 comes along (or maybe it’s a different age for you) and you realize that the world is always going to ask you to make yourself smaller but that it will never matter how many times you try to fold yourself up or over because  the world will just keep asking.

The important part of the tumblr post isn’t the bit about letting people choke, though. I don’t want anyone to choke.  Rather, it’s that I’m tired of breaking myself into bite-sized pieces. Instead, it’s up to people not to bite off more than they can chew.

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