For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the concept of age. I’ve always wanted to be grown, but never old. Making sure I’m “on trend” in terms of age and kind of life that goes along with it.
When I turned 25, I remember my mom saying, “You’re about to be a ‘grown ass woman.’ I wondered how and why at 25 instead of 23 or 27? I gave in to anxieties of exiting my 20s and made a HUGE deal of turning 30. I’d pitched stories about it (they didn’t get the hoopla and passed), wrote a manifesto declaring what I would/would not do and feel only to find out not much was different. At 31, although a self-sufficient adult, I wrote that I still didn’t feel that grown at all. I had accomplished a little bit, but I was still looking for the next party, staying up late and making plenty of childish mistakes.
As time would have it, I realized that “old” is relative as the closer you come to the age, it’s not so old anymore. And every age below yours suddenly seems wildly young.
Last week, on the same day, InStyle published two stories discussing age and its complexities. “The Mid-30s Awkward Phase No One Tells You About” (If you’re slightly older than 35, the writer says you’re in the number, too) and “Turning 40 is Hard. Turning 40 As a Black Wome is Harder.” I’m a mashup of these stories: a black woman who’s 37, a couple of years past 35, but not quite 40. I shared them with my circle, and we messaged back co-signs through emojis and gifs.
Some of the quotes jumped out at me immediately. From “Turning 40 As a Black Woman is Harder”:
Turning 40 can be emotionally fraught for any woman — often triggering anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy. Our culture tells us that by 40, we should be homeowners, happily married with kids, succeeding in our careers and saving for retirement. When we’re missing any part of that equation, a sense of failure can creep in. That’s all legitimately stressful, but focusing on it obscures the unique struggles faced by black women approaching the milestone, particularly when it comes to career development and earning potential.
From “The Mid-30s Awkward Phase No One Tells You About”:
You are never more aware of how special and unique you aren’t, then at 35 when you’re just paddling along and doing things and not breaking any records for being old nor young while doing them. Yet you’re racing against the clock to get, as Glynnis MacNicol surmised, a clear sense of what you’ve got and what you’ll do with it, so you have precisely zero time for anyone else’s drama. You are more on your bullshit than possibly any other time.
I can relate more than I’d like to, and maybe you can, too, but there are more layers. How did you we start glorifying these milestone ages and holding ourselves to whatever life events, epiphanies and accomplishments that have been assigned to them?
The “awkwardness” of being in the middle of ages suggests that there’s still some growing to do before you reach the golden age of completion. Saying turning 40 as a black woman is harder than as any other race suggests it’s hard to turn 40 as any other woman, period (I believer this premise, by the way, as data supports it). But why is it hard? The difficult part isn’t making it through another 365 days, but not living up to societal expectations, and sometimes our own.
When you hit those milestone ages or any age, it’s a time for celebration, thankfulness and reflection. What we do instead is replace or follow that up with “I’m X age, but what do I have to show for it?” This framing is unproductive and can be self-defeating.
While I love stories like the aforementioned and seeing myself in them, I can’t wait to get to a time when we don’t have to write them. When professional and personal endeavors and thought processes don’t have a very specific number attached to them. What we don’t talk enough about is that no singular age is the end all be all. We should be learning, growing, checking boxes off throughout our lives.