I’ve dreaded turning 40 since I turned 30. In fact if you read back on this blog you’ll see numerous posts where I lament the fact that in my 30s I was closer to 40 than I was 20. Somehow, 40 had become this illusive crossroad age, where my life needed to meet some sort of childhood standard set when I dreamt of a prince rescuing my damsel in distress. (I usually played the damsel.)
Forty meant that I had to be sorted, that I was halfway with my life and needed to have settled down, made my millions, had children, and most of all, dealt with all my childhood, teenage, and twenties issues and fears. But as the impending 4-oh loomed I realised how far I was from that ideal.
Most of my childhood dreams for adult-me were wrapped up in things like winning an Oscar, finding a cure for cancer or doing something that would mean I would be recognised. Applauded for my brilliance. Validated as someone who was more than just average. I grew up wanting to change the world, but only if it meant I would be noticed. And liked. So I idolised movie and TV stars. I cut out pictures of Lady Di marrying Charles and stuck them to the wall in the hope that I too would command world attention. I acted. I sang. I made people laugh. I played hockey and cricket. Badly.
And as I faced 40, I found child-me in the mirror. He was kicking and screaming and moaning about the poor excuse of an ideal adult-me was. I was filled with disappointment. One of the things I’ve grieved most about being gay is not being able to have biological children with my partner. I grieved this acutely as I faced the big 4-0. I should be richer. I should be living in a bigger house. I should have more friends. I should have worked out more. I should have studied commerce and ignored my penchant for the arts. I should have written a novel. I should have been more. Accusations of what should have been filled my mind daily.
I vacillated about throwing a 40th party. Why celebrate an age that made me realise how little I was? That, as a gay man, 40 made me one of those creeping old lurkers we judged as young twinks trolling the clubs (okay, I was never a twink*, but otter** seems so hairy). That 40 meant I was pretty much halfway if I was lucky and still hadn’t done half the things I dreamed I could do. A party celebrating this seemed so silly. But the reminder of presents and people hopefully telling me that I don’t look a day over 30 forced me to book a venue, invite friends and plan as much alcohol as I could afford. If I was going to turn 40, I may as well be drunk (just like I was in most of my 20s). (And 30s).
And, surprise, surprise, as the clock turned 12 and the bells chimed the new decade of my life, my butt never spontaneously sagged to the floor, more lines never appeared on my face and my hairline never receded any further.
Turning 40 became a crossroads unlike what I expected. As I recovered from the hangover party, I felt loved and supported. I realised that child-me was right to dream, but adult-me didn’t have to be blamed for not always meeting his expectations. Who I am is enough. I might not be famous and applauded, and I may just be a regular middle-class guy who is married to a fantastic man and between us we’re childless, and that’s okay. Forty has made me realise that where I am is cool. Who I have in my life is who I’m meant to have in my life. What I’ve done is achievement alone because I’ve done it. And the people that love me and add to my life are the treasure and trophy to a life well-lived. Turning 40 is okay.
Turning 50, well, that’s another story.
In 20 years’ time, I’ll probably be back on this blog lambasting 40-year-old-me for wanting 60-year-old-me to be better. And that’s okay.
* A young or young-looking gay man with a slender, ectomorph build, little or no body hair, and no facial hair.
** A gay man who is very hairy all over his body, but is smaller in frame and weighs considerably less than a bear***.
*** A term used by gay men to describe a husky, large man with a lot of body hair.