A month from today something terrible is going to happen.
It's something I don't like to talk about, think about, or tell people about.
It's my secret shame. I try to hide it from people, because when I tell them, I know they will look at me differently, think of me differently, and put me in a different category.
A month from today I turn 40.
Ever since my divorce three years ago, I've been reluctant to tell people my age. When they ask me how old I am, I turn it around and ask, "How old do you think I am?" Thankfully, they usually guess much younger than I am, sometimes as much as 10 years younger.
I don't look or act my age, and most of the friends I've made in the past three years have been in their early 30's. It's actually uncanny how I'll make a new friend and then later discover they are between 30 and 32. That must be the demographic that I have the most in common with.
People say age is just a number, but it's a number other people will judge you for. I may not look my age, but when people discover that number, I can feel their judgy gaze. What's this geezer doing hanging out with us?
And if it's someone I'm trying to date, it's often a dealbreaker. Especially on online dating sites, where they filter you out based on a number, 40 can be a death knell. (What's a "death knell" anyway? Why not a "death gong?") I defended myself to one woman on a dating site, explaining that I was in great shape, immature, and I only read at a 32-year-old level. She thought that was funny, but she still rejected me just the same.
(I don't only try to date younger people. I'd love to date someone my own age. It's just harder to find them.)
It's not so much being 40 that bothers me. It's the boolean combination of being 40 AND single.
I never wanted to be single this late in my life. Dating in your late 30's sucks, and I imagine it only gets worse in your 40's. Dating in general sucks, but at least in your 20's you can convince yourself you have plenty of time. Now I'm getting too old to date most graduate students, which used to be my biggest pool of potentials.
Forty is that age when people start to panic and compromise. Whenever young single people make a backup pact, it always starts with, "If neither one of married by the time we're 40..."
Well, I AM 40.
Perhaps that "almost" is the worst part. The anticipation of turning 40 may be worse than the actual thing. In a way, the last month of being 39 may be the hardest part of being 40.
Here's a story to illustrate my point.
When I lived in Germany I traveled over the winter break. I was in Prague for Christmas, so my friend and I went to midnight mass at the huge and beautiful Prague cathedral.
That cathedral was packed more full of people than any place I've ever seen. We stood in the back, squished together in standing room only. The mass was in Czech and we didn't understand much, so after about 10 minutes we decided to leave. But as we tried to get out, there were so many people it was a huge bottleneck at the door. It took us a full 10 minutes just to get out, and at the point where we squeezed through the door, I almost got crushed from the bottleneck. It was actually quite a terrifying moment.
But I managed to wiggle through the door. Once outside in the cold Czech winter night, it felt good to out in the air where I could breathe.
Right now I feel all this pressure to enjoy the last of my 30's. As I get closer to turning over my odometer, I'm going to get more panicky, until I'll almost be crushed by anxiety. But maybe once I get past it, I'll feel relieved to be on the other side of it, out in the cool air of middle age.
That's what I hope turning 40 will be like.
My 20's were better than my teens. My 30's were better than my 20's. There's no reason to believe that my 40's won't continue that trend. As I get older and more experienced, I have more resources, tools, and knowledge to deal with life. I'd even venture to say that, thanks to tennis, organic cooking & eating, and healthier habits, in some ways I'll be in better physical shape at 40 than I was at 30.
But that doesn't mean that the big Four-Oh-- the portal to middle age-- isn't a big ol' scary place.
Tim-Alone No More
9 years ago