Thursday 18 December 2014

Orla Barry: No marriage, no house, no kids – I'm exactly where I want to be at 40

From mid-life crisis fears to 'you don't look your age' comments, Orla Barry is taking it all in her stride

EXCELLENT: Orla Barry’s ‘Green Room’. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
EXCELLENT: Orla Barry’s ‘Green Room’. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File

KATE Moss is 39, Kate Winslet 38, Julia Louis-Dreyfus 52. Did you know that? If you did, bet you are a) a woman, b) 29 or older, and c) terrified of ageing. I've just turned 40. Forty, can you believe it? Just saying the word makes me sag and droop a little.

My editor asked would I write about it. No way, I thought. This is much too personal. Never mind that I had already written about not being married, not having children, no house, no pet or any form of permanent existence.

Saying I am 40 is like owning up to a whole new life, throwing away my identity and turning my back on, well, youth.

A friend texted the morning of my birthday. "You're 40," followed by 10 exclamation marks. Indeed.

Second text. "There's no pretending you're young anymore, ha ha."

They really are good friends who also happen to be over 40 so don't care much for sugar-coating this milestone. The problem is I'm very good at pretence.

I'm of the generation that was told we could have it all. Even though we knew it wasn't really true, we pretended that indeed we could. As long as, it turns out, you are still of an age that begins with the number three or lower.

I wonder what it's like to have a mid-life crisis. I ring Leslie Shoemaker. She's a counselling psychologist, American and 45. How do I know if I'm going through a mid-life crisis, I ask.

"You're not," Leslie reasons, "because nobody goes through a mid-life crisis at 40 anymore. It doesn't happen until you're 50 now." So you didn't have a crisis when you turned 40? "No, I fell apart when I was 30 and I'm dreading turning 50." So it gets worse from here on in? Panic rising.

"We-e-elll, I'm loving being in my 40s," says Leslie, rapidly switching from kindly friend to professional counsellor.

How can you tell, though, that I'm not going through my mid-life crisis right this minute? A minor hump in your life could be a full-blown, crashing tornado in mine.

"Let me tell you about a friend of mine who's going through a mid-life crisis. Or rather, a friend's husband. He's leaving her. She's in her mid-40s, so is he. He's leaving her for a girl he met online, who's in her 20s."

That's harsh, I agree. "It gets worse. He has met the girl only once." Ouch.

"He has taken to going to tanning salons to build up his body tan". O-ka-ay. "He has also started shaving his chest hair."

She sounds too emphatic for my liking. Why, I ask, what's the big deal? "Because when you reach our age, you realise life is fragile. Every moment is precious."

I'm not sure this is the type of advice she should be giving to someone wondering if they're in the throes of a middle-aged breakdown.

"I've attended more funerals in the last few years than ever before in my life; people my age are dying now." This isn't helping at all. I thought Americans were all about seeing the positive in life.

Irish Independent

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