I refused to see the recently released film, This Is 40. At 42, I felt way wiser than anything the movie could convey. Because, at 42, I have not only lived through the "big" 40th birthday, but I've also survived many disappointments and have come to realize that the grown-up life so many of us imagine as girls doesn't always gel exactly as we planned. And that's OK.
Maybe it's the Gen X girl still in me, but with every decade, I followed the television shows that seemed to grow ahead of me -- and promise what would come next. From Luke and Laura on General Hospital to the original cast of Beverly Hills 90210 to everything that Hope and Michael had and lost on Thirtysomething, my eyes were glued to television characters for clues about what would happen to me next.
I was in my twenties, but Thirtysomething engrossed me. As a viewer, I thought Hope had a great gig as a stay-at-home mom. When I became a mom and tried it, that life wasn't for me. For me, it wasn't fun, and it certainly wasn't easy. In fact, I found it isolating and couldn't take it. I went back to work.
I thought Nancy having cancer was a lot for Elliott to bear, and couldn't believe he'd actually stick around. (And, in the end, did he? I can't even remember now.) Melissa's creative life symbolized freedom and fun -- and I wanted that apartment! But my heart broke when she couldn't be with Lee and I just couldn't understand why they couldn't commit to making it work. Separation, marriage, fighting, moving -- the show shocked me again and again. Are relationship's supposed to be that hard? I wondered. Isn't love enough?
In the end, though, I felt the worst for Gary's girlfriend, Susannah, who never really got people's idea of a perfect life and was left with just more loss at the end (though she did get a baby girl).
At the time, it was great entertainment. Now, it seems awfully revealing. I can nod my head and realize why first loves don't always work out, how so many changes are all about timing and how people come in or back into our lives for reasons I can only attribute to fate. How ambition can overcome fear of change and impact decisions that will bring you to the big picture but may make everyday life more difficult than you can imagine. And how, in their thirties, women's perspectives on everything from relationships to satisfaction can shift in different and unexpected ways. Perhaps this is true with every decade.
As a kid, I didn't grow up in a perfect house with a perfect family and white picket fence. I'd never been to a suburb like Hope and Michael's Chestnut Hill. I had a lot of different families and apartments, nine step- and half-brothers and sisters, and too many losses to count by the age of 13. So, I looked to television to show me what might be, and dreamt of so many scenes for "when I grew up" -- one place, one family, a sense of stability and tradition and nothing ever changing. Couldn't those characters on Thirtysomething have that?
One try in life to get it right, I thought. I was wrong. There are more chances. Not everything is neatly contained behind a picket fence. THAT is the truth of 42. And maybe that's OK.
Thirtysomething creator and executive producer Marshall Herskovitz, whom I idolized while I was Television-Radio major at Ithaca College, could never have scripted the life I've had. Part of me wishes he would write one more show, this one about fortysomethings, so I could maybe get at least a glimpse of what might lie ahead. So I'll just wish that he'll call me to help shape the drama of the next decade. Because as much as change excites me, it would be awfully great to plan ahead, at least a little bit, for 43.