The Diver

The Diver Every summer when I was a kid, the rugged east coast village where I lived with my four brothers and our parents, would announce what to me was the most exciting news of the year:  the opening date of the town’s one and only outdoor community swimming pool.

It signalled the end of the school year, the promise of warmer weather, and well, swimming lessons. It also meant the return of what a 9-year-old palette craves – piping hot salt-and-vinegar french fries,  fresh from the canteen and inhaled after hours of play in frigid water. The pool was a 15 minute walk from my house, and sat in the shadow of the brick school that I attended from kindergarten through graduation.

Waiting for the Whistle

So it began. Every year, on the first day of Pool Season, kids in bathing suits would push to the front of the queue  to claim bragging rights to being the first to plunge into the deep end of the ice cold water, pumped in courtesy of the volunteer fire department. It would be days, even weeks before the capricious summer sun would start to warm it.

The doors would open and we’d file in, speed walking along the rough concrete deck to get into position.

There I stood, punier, paler and younger than the rest, staring into the highly chlorinated shimmering water in nervous anticipation; silently wondering if I’d forgotten how to swim in the last 10 months. We waited, shivering pre-teens,  lined up along the edge, legs cocked for push off; impatient for the the lifeguard to blow the first whistle of the season.

Before the whistle had finished we’d throw ourselves from the ledge, head first into the water, and emerge screaming from the cold water and the excitement.

Summer had begun.

How Not to Lie About Your Age

By the time I was 38 I was already obsessing about turning 40.  Like many others, my notion of middle-age, especially for women, pointed to a loss of relevance, impending social invisibility and fading sexiness. I knew women in their 40s, 50s 60s and beyond who were relevant, brilliant and sexy. But, I was convinced they were outliers. It was that number, and a lifetime of unconscious judgments that I projected onto it that left me crippled with fear. If I couldn’t figure it out before forty, surely, I was doomed.

Blinded with determination, I devised a solid plan. I would throw a huge party for my 39th birthday. This would divert attention, so no one would notice when I turned 40 the following year (because, everyone was paying close attention to my age, obviously). The party fell on a warm October Friday night; a band played under a tent, there was dancing, a cocktail (the “Frantini”) was launched in my honour. I was surrounded by friends and, aglow on the love of friends and a few Frantinis.

Of course, I’d failed to see the hole in my master plan. Everyone  assumed it we were celebrating my fortieth and that I was joking about still being 39. To this day friends who went to that party think I’m a year older than I am.

What followed in the next inspired soul searching, research, interviews and now, this blog.

Not Your Mama’s 40

Turning 40 induced a mid-life a panic attack. As a single, kid-free, otherwise confident, successful woman it took a toll on my self confidence and made me question my identity. The kid who couldn’t wait to dive into the deep end was in way over her head.  In the thick of it I was too proud or confused to admit how deep my fears and sense of failure truly went. I was having a crisis.  I think it felt…ashamed. I didn’t want to talk about it, and when I did, it was impossible to convince me that it was all going to be okay.

Of course everything did turn out okay – great, actually. Now, safely on the other side, when I talk to women approaching 40 I see the fear on their faces. When I tell them what I’m writing about their eyes widen, their shoulders soften, and they confess they are afraid of the very same things – being single, failure, irrelevance, unattractive…old.The singular reaction I get when I tell women I’m writing a book is, “How soon can I buy it?

Turning forty in 2017 is not like it was in pre-Google 1994, or 1974, (the year Gloria Steinem hit the same milestone). Women are in need of guidance, a mentor, some smart advice, warm encouragement and hard data as they approach their 40’s. Fortyology offers some new points of view, some scientific data on the subject and stories from real women on both sides of the 40 year old divide.

what  science has to say about your forties

The data of people, let alone women, in this age group is sparse.  We had to dig deep and ask a lot of questions to real people.  Some scientists I’ve interviewed lamented that there wasn’t much study of this age group because it, well, it just wasn’t interesting. The consensus has been that during your 30s and 40s there wasn’t much going on in the brains, biology or psychology of women. Under the age of 25 and over 65 are groups that have a lot more data, as thats when things would show most change in our lives and bodies. Of course, it’s also more studied, so the absence of data is as much about the absence research.

For advertisers, the 35-50 demographic is lumped in with others – e.g. Moms, Menopause, Career Girls – despite the fact that they are a unique group, and hold immense purchasing power. One statistic shows that upwards of 75% of women feel misunderstood by marketers. Click to Tweet this.

Research has started to creep slowly towards closing that gap, but for the most part finding research that specifically applied to women in the 35-50year category tested our skills.

It inspired me to do my own research to find out the feelings, struggles, health and mindset of women of all ages, looking forward to 40, or reflecting on it from a safe distance.

We talked to experts in various fields of studies –  Psychology, Biology, Neurology. Since the study of this age group is still growing, it seemed this field of study deserved it’s own designation, and to create more visibility and a language around which we can frame this stage of our lives. After speaking with dozens of ‘ologists’, it seemed like a no-brainer, and I gave it a name Fortyology.  As the worlds first self-appointed ‘Fortyologist’ I realize we need to know more because knowing more is how we help ourselves and each other. It is a form of mentoring those around us when our mothers’ wisdom on aging sadly doesn’t apply because of vastly different worlds, life experiences or values.

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