I ran out of fucks on my 40th birthday. Seriously. Unlike when I turned 30, I wasn’t thinking about how much I was supposed have accomplished or what I still “had time for.” It was more about what I didn’t feel like I had any more time for — most notably — bullshit of any kind.
At the time, I didn’t know if other women felt this around turning 40 (I now know that many do) and I didn’t stop to consider that this might be a actual life stage thing because I’d given up expecting for anything in my life to occur at the “proper” age. The thing is, I’ve never been age appropriate.
As a young mom, I was often mistaken for my daughter’s nanny. I cannot count the number of times I was presumed to be a shitty parent for no other reason than my age.
I’ve felt like the oldest college student and the youngest parent in the world. On the same day.
I’ve simultaneously felt far behind my peers in my career and also ancient among people my own age because of my life experiences.
Labels we give women: slut, teen mom, mommy-tracked, MILF, irrelevant, cougar, hag
In recent years, I’ve been mistaken for both my daughter’s sister and my husband’s mother. More than once. For the record, he’s only three years younger than me — NOT that I should have to defend that (and we all know that if I was a man, this would count in my favor).
The point is, I’ve spent most of my life experiencing a sense of not ever belonging because I was so sure the world was judging me for being too old or too young at every minute. I know now that this sense came from the misguided idea that there is a proper, pre-agreed upon timeline that we’re supposed to live by. Like many things in our culture that suck, this comes from — you guessed it! — the patriarchy.
I was busy working for that moment when I was old enough to be taken seriously and young enough to still be relevant. I think I missed it.
The consequences for straying from this timeline are both real and not real. They include being labeled, by myself or others, as a failure at womanhood. I was so obsessed with trying to avoid those labels (slut, teen mom, nontraditional student, mommy-tracked, MILF, irrelevant, cougar, hag, etc.) that for a long time I missed the fact that I’d once again been duped by the system.
I was busy working for that moment when I was old enough to be taken seriously and young enough to still be relevant. When my kids were grown enough that I had time to pursue my career goals. When I’d scored enough degrees and experience to be respected. Before I started actually aging, like for real. You know, that magic moment when I was valued enough to get shit done but still hot enough not to be ignored?
I think I missed it. I think we all miss it. Because this magical fucking sweet spot DOESN’T ACTUALLY EXIST. It’s a patriarchal myth that serves to keep women in line.
We don’t want to blow our one chance to be heard, to accomplish something, so we just keep our heads down and keep working. Am I right, ladies?
Feeling like we have to choose between having the wisdom and gravitas of age or the freshness and creativity of youth is a bullshit choice. I think the reason that many women let go of so many things around the age of forty has a lot of facets but two of them are very relevant here.
One, as we start to see our cronehood in the distance, we can feel the cultural invisibility cloak begin to drape around us. We can fly under the radar a bit more and there is a certain degree of freedom in that even as we also acknowledge the social justice problems it presents. Two, many of us realize around this time that no one is going to hand us the reins. If we want power, we have to reach out and grab it hard with both hands.
Ultimately, I’ve decided that age is bullshit. The fact is, some days I feel like a teenager and others I feel like a great-great grandmother. Sometimes the shitshow of recent global events makes me feel like the one of the only sane adults left on the planet. Other times I just want to call a grownup to come deal with things.
I have learned to embrace being wildly age inappropriate. Despite how many years I’ve been on this planet, I don’t expect that will change. And I certainly don’t plan on going gently into fucking obscurity.
(originally published as part of the Rebel Crones Rising Community Project)
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Jen Pavich is a feminist life coach and creator of the Unquiet Sisterhood Podcast. Jen helps women overcome their internalized patriarchy so they can start addressing external barriers in their lives. She also not-so-secretly radicalizes women to become social justice warriors hellbent on upending the existing power structure.