I’ve just finished Dolly Alderton’s book Everything I Know About Love, a beautifully honest, funny love song to her 20s and to her coterie of female friends. It wasn’t one of those happy, jaunty love songs though – rather a gritty raw one; she suffered, she shagged, she loved, she got dumped, she drank, she worked her butt off. She says near the end, as she approaches her 30th birthday, how it’s the ultimate cliche – but she didn’t think aging would happen to her.
I am more than a decade down the line, and yes, I didn’t think it would happen to me either. Jennifer O’Connell wrote a great piece in the Irish Times the other day; it made me laugh. She mentions the ten-year chasm between her imagined self (32) and her actual self, around my age. And I reckon many of us – not just deluded middle-aged men – spend a lot of time feeling aged 17 or whatever age cut us most on the inside, no matter what we look like on the outside; no matter what age we are. Perhaps we feel like a child whose toy has been snatched away, or a teenager sneaking a thrilling fag when we hear a heady, resonant song from our youth. Or we might feel full of the perfect, arrogant daring of our early 20s, when we were pretty sure we were going to change the world.
As old man time ticks on, women are left in a wondrous pickle because we all, inside, fucking love getting older – and mostly, outside, hate getting older. I’m expecting a knotty, vastly irritating wrestle with aging because I have always looked younger than I am. I hated it in my teens and 20s. I was never taken seriously, always asked for ID, always treated like the baby of the group – a role I played up to without realizing that it was retarding my development into womanhood. Men tended to speak to me as if I were a child, and if they fancied me it made me a little suspicious because I wasn’t womanly, only girlish. In my 30s, looking young was a badge of honour – people looked twice when I said I was 35 or 36, saying I looked about 22. My childlike personality, its resolute static, added to the whole effect.
Really, I was just terrified of claiming adulthood. I thought it was for other people. Older people. Now, I’ve entirely skipped a significant portion of adulthood and moved directly into middle age. I’m kind of ok with it. Definitely great to be alive, yep. After three children, all the accompanying sleepless nights, and some bloody shocking health shocks along the way, I look every single one of my nearly 43 years. I love to feel my age but yes, there is, shall we say, a small (and it is small) dissatisfaction with actually looking my age. It’s damn hard for any woman to be all pioneering, marching to the mantra of ‘Yeh, alright, I’m wearing my grey hair with pride, even on my vagina,’ and there are women who are doing that and I totally want to be them. Honestly.
In front of my nieces at the weekend, I kept adjusting my language. They were obsessed with my boobs and belly and breastfeeding, pointing and poking and prodding – and I really had to counsel myself to not say anything negative about my aging body. I want them to think it’s all great. Even though I don’t necessarily think it’s all great.
I want to. But I don’t.