Illustration: John Ritter
Here's a little fact of life that took me by surprise: Roughly 23 million women in this country are 40 to 49 years of age and about 6,000 of us turn 50 every single day.
We are a thoroughly undefined constituency. Some of us are what the wonderful Wendy Wasserstein used to call "bachelor girls," some of us are married, and a lot of us have had trial separations that seemed to go just fine...at least for the husband (with the struggling rock band), who went on to become the ex-husband (with the thriving law practice). Many of us have demanding kids or aging parents or a little of each. We juggle jobs, mortgages, student loans, and cancer treatments with low-fat diets, low-impact aerobics, low-grade depressions, a strong sense of irony, a dark sense of humor, and a full-bodied cabernet.
We are tired. We are very tired—we've thought seriously about penciling in a nervous breakdown for ourselves, but we've been through everything the world has to throw at us so many times that it's damn near impossible to get nervous about much of anything.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all the coulda, woulda, shoulda moments that have come and gone, we've learned how to have a good laugh, an impromptu party, and an impure thought (or two) on a semiregular basis. We consider our options, our alternatives, our exit strategies. We take notes, we plan ahead, but we always leave room for serendipity. We are an entire generation of women who are making up our lives as we go along.
I know that it's human nature to want to glorify the past and preserve it in a delicious, if often inaccurate, cotton-candied haze. But the truth is that part of me (that would be the part of me that now needs an underwire bra and a pair of Spanx) really does miss my 20s. I still had that new car smell. I still thought terrorism would stay confined to the other side of the world. On the home front, I still kept standing up for brides (as if they needed my assistance to stand) while waiting politely for it to be my turn. And because it never occurred to me that my turn wouldn't come, I devoted an inordinate amount of time to trying to decide whether my wedding gown should be white or ecru—by the time I hit 35, I'd have been okay with paisley.
The Web had not gone mainstream when I was in my 20s, so any surfing I did (and coming from Detroit, that wasn't much) was in the ocean. And I grant you, my rearview mirror might be a little bit rose-tinted, but if memory serves, those oceans were fairly clean. Come to think of it, the glaciers were glacial, the bees were alive and well, a can of tuna didn't require a warning from the surgeon general, and the climate wasn't making any sudden moves. Color me crazy, but I've always been a sucker for a nice solid layer of ozone parking itself between me and a death ray.