When I was 13, I believed that my happiest Adult Self would be going to literary parties every night in a green velvet dress and matching velvet heels, smoking cigarettes in a cigarette-holder, marrying Johnny Depp, and being the kind of writer who flew to New York, Berlin, Reykjavik or Auckland every month, before returning to my fabulous sixth-floor industrial loft in East London.
At forty-five, I now know that velvet dresses make you so sweaty you have to put a sanitary towel in the armpits, heels hurt, literary parties have the worst wine, Johnny Depp’s a bit of a knob, smoking makes you smell, flying around the world involves infuriating levels of 'taking your shoes off and waiting around', and East London is too full of hip young women dressing like Su Pollard for me to ever feel comfortable.
I have chosen, instead, a life of jeans (Whistles Barrell-Leg, the only jeans that don’t camel-toe me), Crocs, vapes, a husband who wear cardigans, travelling no further than the Brecon Beacons unless absolutely necessary, and having a solid old Victorian house in North London with a garden I can dote on.
And although everyone’s vision of Middle Aged Heaven is different, I feel that, along the way, I’ve learned a couple of fairly universal rules that, when applied to any life, will slowly but surely nudge you towards a happy middle-age. Middle age is for happiness. That’s the point of it. You’ve lived long enough to learn what it actually looks like.
7 things Caitlin Moran's learned about being middle-aged
1.I now know what love is
It’s not crazy arguments in the rain, or being endlessly forgiving, or fighting to keep things high-octane and exciting. It’s: being comfortable. When you find love - true love - your nose will let you know, because when you sniff this women/man, you feel instantly relaxed. Like they’re some fabulous new pill which, when you take it, makes you think, 'Yeah - I could sit on the sofa with this person for the next twenty years, just being a bit silly, and messing around - and it would be awesome.'
Remember: for pretty much half your relationship with your beloved, you’re going to be asleep next to them. You don’t want something high-octane or dangerous - you want something as comfortable as your favourite t-shirt.
That’s not to say you should relax so much you drop your standards of conduct: for the other secret about making a relationship last is remember to remain, at all times, courteous. Manners are important. You must maintain respect. You should always have a tiny soupçon of worry that if you start taking each other for granted, all this delicious magic could … disappear. For instance, I have been with my husband for twenty five years now and, after every helping of sexual intercourse, he always says, 'Thank you very much for the sexual intercourse,' and I reply, 'You are welcome to that sexual intercourse.' If I could, I would leave him a glowing review on TripAdvisor.
90% of arguments between husbands and wives tend to be about housework. One person notices all the things that need doing, gets furious the other hasn’t, and when they finally confront them, their partner says, 'All you needed to do was ask me!' and they reply, even more furious, 'I shouldn’t HAVE to! That’s just ONE MORE JOB I’D HAVE TO DO!'
And then they get divorced. Here’s how you get round that: put a whiteboard on the wall in the kitchen. Every time you notice a job that needs doing, write it on the whiteboard. Write at the top of the whiteboard, 'All these jobs need doing by SUNDAY EVENING - write your name next to the ones you’re going to do.'
In a stroke, you’ve stopped thinking about them, everyone knows what needs doing, everyone can do them in their own time, instead of being nagged, and you can see exactly how equal/unequal your burdens are. If you still get divorced, it’s probably about Brexit, and I can’t help you with that.
Here’s what women do during their twenties and thirties - faithfully and arduously curate a Capsule Wardrobe. This is what we’re told to do. The perfect day-to-night dress, the crisp white shirt, the relaxed jacket, the no-crease holiday skirt.
And then, at some point in their late thirties/early forties, women go to their wardrobe, open it up and find … all their clothes have 'Gone Evil', overnight. Suddenly, everything looks bad. A combination of getting the Middle Aged Bob, putting on a stone, and forgoing heels, means that your entire wardrobe needs rethinking - and no-one ever tells you this in advance.
Don’t blame yourself, and don’t get self-loathing. It’s just nature being a d**k. Buy yourself a suit, a pair of dungarees and a new cashmere jumper, and comfort yourself with the fact the day-to-night dress was starting to look a bit old anyway.
Here’s another thing they don’t tell you - WHEN YOU REACH MIDDLE-AGE, YOU CAN’T DRINK ANY MORE. WINE TURNS AGAINST YOU. The middle-aged woman’s body stops producing the enzymes that break down alcohol in the body, and so what you thought were hangovers in your twenties are thrown into sharp relief by the existential dread and full-body agony of hangovers in your forties.
However much this saddens you, you can comfort yourself by reflecting on the astonishing amounts of money you’re saving now that one bottle of wine will last you and three friends a whole night.
5.And those friends are one of the bonuses of middle-age
As a culture, we tend to think of female friendship as predominantly a phenomenon of the young: out clubbing together, mending heartbreak together, racketing around on mini-breaks, and being a gang. We presume that, as we get older, our marriages become more important than our friendships.
In reality, this isn’t so. Any group of middle-aged women will have, collectively, gone through divorce, death of parents, the raising of children, unemployment, mental ill-health, abortion, miscarriage, promotions, demotions, joy and sorrow. If you really want to see a closely-bonded, ride-or-die group of women laughing like hyenas, walk past a middle-aged womens’ night out. If I had time, I’d reboot Sex & The City as 'Sixty & The City.' That’s where the real female camaraderie lives.
If you’re a clever, hard-working, independent woman, you would presume that these are all useful attributes to have when your children hit their teens, and start dealing with life’s bigger problems.
NO. It took me many years to learn this the very hard way, but your teenagers do not want you to use your brains and experience to solve their problems. This is the age where they have to learn to solve their problems themselves. What you must do is pretend to be a very kind, but stupid, old lady - projecting the aura of a lovely dairy cow called Buttercup, perhaps - making encouraging mooing sounds as they figure things out themselves. 90% of teenage rage is caused by you trying to solve their problems. It’s a thankless task. Just moo, instead.
The biggest surprise of ageing, for me, has been how much fitter and hotter I am in my forties than in my twenties. As a teenager, I felt utterly distant from my body. I thought of it merely as a problem, that needed to have things like 'diets' and 'horrible exercise' visited on it every so often, to punish it into something more acceptable.
But having now gone through pregnancy and birth, I feel more connected to my body - I know it’s amazing, and it tells me what it wants: an apple. Some yoga. A walk. To swim in Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. It likes waking up at dawn to hear the dawn chorus, and being in bed by 10pm with a good book. And it really doesn’t want to fly to New York. Not when the roses need deadheading, and its husband is on the sofa with Seinfeld on pause, waiting to give it a foot massage.
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