07/24/2012 02:53 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2012

40 Is Not the New Anything

40 is not the new anything

On July 19th of this year, I hit the BIG 4-0. Hit it, smashed it, whatever it is that you are supposed to do to that number. An odd thing happened, precisely the opposite of what I expected to happen: Instead of feeling older, in many ways I almost feel younger.

Like so many others before me, I had been dreading this birthday most of my life. I can't forget the way that Meg Ryan made the word "someday" famous when telling Billy Crystal that she was going to be 40 with absolute dread, as though she was confessing to having Syphilis or Typhoid. In an effort to make the impending, inevitable date feel better, my well-intentioned friends have been telling me not to worry because "40 is the new 30" or "old is the new young" or some other such nonsense. What does this even mean? I have to do 30 over again? I have to do youth over again? What if I don't want to?

When I was 30, I had no idea how to muck a horse stall. When I was 25, I had no idea how to earn a living. When I was a kid, I had no way to get to the beach on my own or buy things I wanted or leave a party that wasn't fun or tell people who were annoying that they were annoying without getting in trouble or decide what I wanted to eat when I wanted to eat it. Now I can drive myself to the beach wearing a bathing suit that shows only the areas I want to show off and lay around doing nothing except reading a trashy novel and eating an entire can of Pringles if I feel like it.

Last year, I discovered that I actually own biceps for the first time in my life. No kidding, they just showed up one day after about six months of weekend shifts at our local horse barn. Who knew? Didn't have those when I was still 30. On the other hand, when I woke up on my 40th birthday, I also discovered that my ankles and my jowls were exactly where I had left them the night before. They hadn't gotten really cozy with gravity overnight; I don't suddenly need slings on my legs or face. Now that I'm 40, I can do math for the first time in my life. I am returning to grad school to finish my PhD and have to suffer through the GRE again, so now that I've lived half the word problems on the exam, they seem a lot easier to answer. Now that I'm 40, I can tell you that I like "One Direction." Their song, "What Makes You Beautiful," is fun and makes me want to dance, and who's going to look down on me, 30-year-olds? My teenager? I don't care. I'm FORTY!

When trolling the Internet looking for inspirational stories of life after 40 for this blog I did, somehow, manage to find them. For example, did you know that John Glenn made his orbital flight of the Earth when he was 40? I still have such a huge crush on that wonderful man. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote and published Uncle Tom's Cabin, the seminal anti-slavery novel which may have single-handedly had the greatest impact on kick-starting the Abolitionist movement and is said to have made Queen Victoria cry, when she was 40. She did all this while raising six kids, no less. Rodney Dangerfield, had to wait until he was 40 for his comedy to start getting "no respect."

Of course while I was looking for those stories I also found this from Question: "What are some fun things to do for people over forty?" Answers: "Join a book club, get into knitting, join a bowling league!!";"Bingo" ;"Prostate Exams";"Shop for a cat.";" Writing a will.. joking☺". But of course, these are only kind of jokes. Let's get real. We do start to slow down a little -- not all of us, not uniformly. I will never be great at bowling. I still throw the ball between my legs like I did when I was a kid, and I started thinking about a will when I was 24 and had my first child -- around the same time I started knitting (BTW, I also read an article about hot, young Hollywood celebs and their knitting clubs, so take that). Still, it is true that my body is not quite as lithe as it was at 20 or 30, but more than it will be at 50. My mind is sharper, though, and I do have a much keener sense of perspective. The number of times I wander through my day now having an epiphany about something that happened years ago and suddenly makes sense is truly staggering. Way to go, critical distance. It is true that there are some things that you do have to age your way into.

As Somerset Maugham once wrote:

"A man who is a politician at forty is a statesman at three score and ten. It is at this age, when he would be too old to be a clerk or a gardener or a police-court magistrate, that he is ripe to govern a country."

The point is 40 is not the new 30, just like Obama is not the new Kennedy, just like Michael Buble is not a new Rat Packer (keep trying though, kid). 40 is simply 40. It feels different from 30, maybe not better, just different. Why can't things just be what they are? Why do things have to be the new something else? When do we give things a chance to just be themselves?

Thanks to everyone trying to make me feel younger by telling me that I'm not that old, that my age is really something else. Thing is, I want my age to be my age. I've never been here before and I want to see what it's all about. Telling me it's just like being 30 again only makes me feel older.