I’ve spent most of my life trying hard not to care too much. Trying not to take it personally when friends forget an important date, trying not to be bothered when I was rejected for a job or an article I had submitted. Trying not to worry whether people thought I was overweight or not pretty or smart enough. Trying not to care if people thought I was a good mother.
The truth is that I cared deeply, about all of those things. I desperately wanted to be enough, to measure up, and I was fairly certain I wasn’t managing to do so. I guess you could say I was a full-time perfectionist.
Something happened in the last year, though, to change all of that. I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t trying to change, but it was a change many of my friends had warned me was impending: I stopped caring what other people thought. Like, really and truly stopped caring. What precipitated this change, you may be wondering, to have been alerted to the possibility of this happening from friends?
I turned 40.
What is it that turns a woman fearless in her 40s? I honestly wish I knew the formula. Every woman I know who’s spoken of this phenomenon has been at a slightly different stage in her life when this don’t-give-a-toss attitude finally hit, so it can’t only be about the milestone itself.
A friend I was speaking to about this recently gave her opinion: perhaps it’s that women hit 40 and start to realize that time is running out. That those things we said we wanted to do in our 20s didn’t come to fruition because they fell off the priority list, and we could do them now, because we were still relatively young, but in another 20 years, it might be a different story. And what kind of regrets are we willing to live with for the remainder of our lives?
It could also be the realization of just how much time and energy we’ve wasted, throughout our lives, caring about things we can’t actually change. We can’t change what people think of us, not really, and what good would it do us anyway? Would we be better moms just because someone thinks we’re good moms? Would we be more beautiful if we knew our friends, and the moms in the PTA, approved of our hair and clothing choices? Would we be more respected if we kept all of our opinions to ourselves?
Here’s the answer women in their forties understand: no.
I think there’s a glorious freedom that most women can finally allow themselves to embrace, sometime after hitting the big 4-0. Being the sexy ingenue is no longer anywhere within our grasp – we know that – but we have enough distance from our 20s to understand there really isn’t much that’s appealing about that era of our lives. Yes, it was fun, but it wasn’t nearly as rich. Once we let go of that pressure to appear so young, of trying to turn the head of every person walking down the street, we can focus on what matters: ourselves and those we love.
Everything else is gravy. Except maybe those pesky grey eyebrow hairs. Those will always be annoying.