For years, women were conditioned to fear the dreaded three-oh. As for 40… well, by then, you were so far gone, it didn’t even bear thinking about. Happily, it’s 2021, and we know better now. Entering your forties doesn’t mean it’s time to start collecting dust on a shelf somewhere – quite the opposite, in fact.
Is 40 the new 20?
Well, yes. And no. It’s true that women in their forties today enjoy the social freedom to engage in behaviour more commonly expected of twentysomethings. That could be anything from enrolling in an undergrad degree to dating that cute 25-year-old barista-slash-artist you met on Tinder. But in some other ways, 40 is decidedly not the new 20 – and thank goodness for that. Two decades can make a huge difference to your sense of self and your world view. You’ve taken the knocks, you’ve learnt the hard lessons and you have a better chance of achieving real self-love, self-knowledge and self-confidence than ever before. That’s pretty great. Contrast that with your twenties. As wonderful a time of self-discovery and lack of saggy bits as this decade can be, it’s also fraught with insecurities about who you are and where you’re going. ‘Sure, I was prettier, thinnerand fitter in my twenties,’ says journalist Sam Woulidge. ‘But I was also deeply insecure and, in many ways, so afraid of life. My strength now comes not only from those I love and who love me, but also from the love of life itself – the choosing of happiness; the acceptance that sometimes life does run a different path than the one you may have chosen and that, in turn, you are rewarded in miraculous and beautiful ways. I wish I’d had this knowledge back when my thighs were thinner and my boobs perkier.’ Love and other drugs In our grandparents’ time, if you weren’t married and settled with children and a home by your late twenties, well, you were probably destined for spinsterhood. Farewell hopes and dreams, hello babysitting service for your siblings. Today, on the other hand, you’re unlikely to blink at a single woman in her forties. And, says Durban counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum, there can be pros to waiting until later to settle down. ‘By the time most women reach 40, they have a better sense of who they are. They would’ve been in relationships – both good and bad – that have helped them clarify for themselves what they want in a spouse. In our forties, we tend to love and accept ourselves more too, which teaches significant others how we expect to be treated.’
Here comes baby
Settling down later on in life usually provokes the question, ‘But what about babies?’ Well, what about them? As your twenties and thirties waned, you probably thought about the idea of procreation a fair bit. Perhaps you have decided against it, or you have realised that it’s possible to be a mom without also being a wife or girlfriend, and are already experiencing the joy of motherhood. Maybe you trust nature, or you’re willing to give fertility treatment, surrogacy or adoption a go. Point is, your forties come with options – and benefits.‘By your forties, you are probably more established in your career and financially stable, as opposed to your earlier adult years, when you are still completing studies and climbing the corporate ladder,’ says Rakhi. ‘So while starting a family later in life may bring with it the stress of pregnancy complications, there’s much more time for a balanced family-work life.’ Lataetia Jones, a home executive from Cape Town, was 38 when she had her second child, with no complications. ‘By that time, my husband and I were more financially secure, I was able to work part-time and we had settled into the first home that was our own. Raising my child in my forties meant I had the luxury of spending real time with her, every day.’
Here’s to the death of ageism
Whether you’re in the market for a partner or a fling, there is no rule that says you have to shop around in the same age bracket. If dating like a twenty something means dating actual twenty-somethings to you, then go forth and conquer – without fear of the ‘cougar’ label. ‘The social markers that used to separate generations (music, tech, fashion and so on) are blurred. Men and women are less interested in playing by traditional rules and sexual structures,’ says Dorothy Black, sex columnist and the author of The Dot Spot: Adventures in love and sex. ‘Labelling women “cougars” and men “Ben10s” or “cubs” is not only insulting to the adults who are choosing and enjoying these relationship models, but it also speaks to an old-fashioned mindset that is losing credibility very quickly.’
[Image by cup of couple via Pexels]