With my 40th birthday party only days away, I find myself calm. Surprisingly calm. I had more anxiety saying goodbye to my 20s than I do to my 30s. Perhaps I'm ok with it because I keep being told I don't look my age. To borrow from Gloria Steinem, "This is what 40 looks like." Whenever I'm asked my secret I coquettishly lean in and whisper, "Drink heavily until you're about 35." In truth, I would only have my parents' wonderful genes to thank, but as the big 4-0 juggernaut comes hurtling towards me I realise there are five major things you stop doing that make this milestone an oh-so-welcome one.
1. You stop trying to be cool.
Somewhere along your 30s you become a fully fledged adult, it kind of sneaks up on you. You stop looking ahead to a grown-up Future You and you realize, hang on, that this is pretty much it. It doesn't get any more grown-up than 40. But I found that, with this realization, my shoulders noticeably dropped. I don't have to try so hard to be in the know. In my 20s I believed I was devastatingly cool, working in London at a national youth radio station, remembering the name of every band that formed that week. My love of music remains, but there's less desperate cramming to stay knowledgeable. Instead of painstakingly trying to find a reason to love the pathos, I'm okay with not enjoying Lana Del Ray's Glastonbury performance for being a bit depressing. Equally I'm okay with voicing my disapproval of her smoking a cigarette on stage. There's a freedom in becoming a bit of an old fart.
2. You stop engaging in drama.
I've developed the ability to sniff out dramatic people and steer clear. As I get older, I'm becoming more private. I find myself recoiling from those who want to live out their every heightened emotion. I don't have the energy. If people complain about situations they find themselves in time and time again, they enjoy the drama. It's a form of narcissism to want to remain in the center of crises, and it smacks of immaturity. I never considered myself a particularly dramatic person in my 20s, until I went back and found an old email exchange with a friend, the contents of which had me panicking over an illicit kiss behind a boyfriend's back. It reeked of paranoia and apocalyptic drama. It was a kiss. And it was a boyfriend I wasn't in love with. Drama over. How it filled a dozen lengthy emails, I have no idea. At this age, it's tiring enough to type the explanation of that scenario, let alone live it.
3. You stop worrying about speaking your mind.
To be fair, anyone who knows me will think that turning 40 has nothing to do with this, I've always been a little forthright. But in my youth it was more flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mouthiness than steady self-assuredness in what I was saying. Today, experience has given me the wisdom to be honest in a more constructive way. Friends can come to me when they want the truth, and I'm okay with giving it to them because it comes from a genuine place of concern and desire to stop the drama (see point 2). To add a certain sageness to proceedings I've started peppering conversations with old adages like "Empty vessels make the most noise," "It's always darkest before the dawn" and "Barking dogs carry no bricks." I have no idea if it's because I'm trying to retain my Britishness living in New York, or if I'm turning into my dad. Either way, I'm enjoying it.
4. You stop feeling obliged to go out.
Nothing makes me more content than avoiding a night out. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a night out with my friends, if only it could happen between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. That would be perfect. I've tried starting the saying, "Afternoons are the new nights," but no one's buying it. These days, you're more likely to find me accompanying my daughter on her playdates. That's not to say I don't go to bars, I'm just thankful not to be the permanent fixture I felt I once had to be to be liked. Nothing highlights your age like being a 40-year-old surrounded by 20-somethings. Unless you're Leonardo DiCaprio. But you're not Leo, and neither am I, and he's going to get away with it for many years to come. Like Christian Slater before him, he's slowly turning into Jack Nicholson.
5. You stop worrying about how you look.
Okay, this isn't strictly true at all times. You do notice the deepening of lines and the loosening of necks, but overall there's a liberating acceptance of one's appearance. After all, who's really looking that hard? No one scrutinizes us the way we do. As a teenager, I hated my shapeless, lacking-in-calf-muscle legs, but over time I got used to them and found I couldn't get very far without them. So I don't mind revealing my legs in the way that I was too self-conscious to once do. And becoming a mother 11 months ago, I've found that in order to make room for the knowledge necessary to look after and dress my daughter, I've pushed out a vast amount of knowledge in how to dress myself. My outfits are thrown together in a way that you might if you found yourself suddenly naked in Westfield. Whatever first comes to hand and if it works, it's a happy accident. I know it's just a matter of time before I look at a pair of elasticated jeans and think "Oh, they look comfy."
When I think about turning 40, I'm reminded of my dad. I remember his 40th birthday party in October 1982. In Britain in the 80s, it was de rigueur that there be a humorous nude element to the party, so Mum hired a Boob-a-Gram. My brother and I were already tucked up in bed by the time a lady knocked on the door, joined the party and took her top off. Somewhere in my parents' garage, a photo remains of this well-endowed, half-naked woman sitting on Dad's knee, Mum next to him, surrounded by their friends. Broad smiles all round.
That party was free, fun-loving and uninhibited. I hope mine will be the same. Minus the stranger's boobs.