I snapped at my husband and told him to stop telling everyone that he is 50!

Bestselling author Clare Dowling on how she dealt with the fear of waking up to a 50-year-old husband

Clare Dowling

As my husband Stewart's 50th birthday approached, the birthday boy barely broke sweat. He was calm about the whole thing; in fact, he was looking forward to it.

"Fifty is the new 34," he kept announcing smugly (God knows where he got his facts).

For once I'd started planning in time; the party, the presents, the surprise weekend away in Edinburgh. His family were travelling to Dublin for the occasion, too.

I figured that there would be so much partying that he wouldn't have a moment to go off the deep end about getting ancient, or wanting to do something predictably crisis-ridden like buying a motorbike.

I was worried about him. I hadn't given my reaction a second thought.

Yet unease about the whole thing was steadily beginning to creep over me. While he was preparing to unleash his party animal, I was suddenly being yanked kicking and screaming into middle age by virtue of being married to a quinquagenarian. Even the word would put the frighteners on you.

And eventually I realised that the problem wasn't with him, but with me.

Let's face it, no one wants to think about getting older. I'd only a few short years ago got over being 40. Fifty was miles away; like way down the road and so far off my radar that it was somewhere up there with writing my will or cleaning out the attic.

I'd get around to the unpleasantness one day, but not this minute, right? Wrong. When your husband, boyfriend and other-half reaches a milestone birthday, well, you're right up there with them, whether you like it or not.

Youthful

I began to obsess about this new category I suddenly found myself in. What did it mean for me? How youthful can you be, when you've got a half-century on your arm? I'd be like Madonna, desperately trying to hold it all back, thinking I'm still relevant and cool, while everybody else felt sorry for me. "God love her,"they'd say, shaking their heads in pity. "Sure the husband's 50."

I still considered myself a reasonably happening person. But maybe I was only fooling myself.

"Can you stop telling everybody you're going to be 50?" I began to snap.

"But I am," said the birthday boy defiantly. He was starting to get a bit annoyed by my ageism. "It doesn't mean I'm going to start snoring on the sofa and wearing slip-on shoes."

And the thing is, he doesn't even look middle-aged. All his family have youthful genes, lucky things, so unless he went and got 50 TODAY tattooed on his forehead, it's not like anybody would even know.

I think my resentment and bitterness was partly down to perception. Is 50 really the new 34, or just the new 50? We've managed to successfully dress up our 30th and 40th decades as times when we're still vibrant and achieving and yes, young. Look at Jennifer Aniston; 43 and still gorgeous. Ditto Courteney Cox, Johnny Depp and a whole rake of other middle-aged but still resolutely youthful stars.

Fifty's a little more challenging. It's when they start peddling you private health checks and hair replacement products. Even actor George Clooney, the poster boy for the decade, is starting to look just a tad desperate.

Life is spoken about in terms of 'challenges' and 'issues' and when people say, "There's no WAY you're 50!", often what they mean is that they're not keen on hanging out with someone that old. The whole 50 business smacks of compromise and a gentle downhill run to the bus pass.

And now I was up there too, by default; one half of a couple officially past the 50-mark. All thoughts of celebration seemed wrong; I just wanted to keep my head down and pretend that we were still a couple in our 40s.

Come on, we could lie about it, I reckoned, especially if he managed to keep his hair. We could just cancel that damn party.

Party

We had a great party in the end ... even if everybody was gone by 11.30pm. We had our weekend in Edinburgh; a hectic three days in which we walked the city and climbed all 287 steps of the Scott Monument.

"Are you feeling alright?" I asked Stewart anxiously.

"Why do you keep thinking that just because I've turned 50 I'm going to have a heart attack?' was the narky reply. "I feel just the same as I did last week."

It was the thing, he did -- we did. All the stress had been over a number. Nothing else had really changed, except for a brief and unhealthy obsession with a youth that was toddling off into the distance, having not been all that fantastic to us in the first place.

We're still fit and healthy. We have jobs and fulfilling lives. No matter how grey the image of 50-somethings, to us we've still got a long way to go, and that's all that matters. But, for the record, I'm still nowhere near 50.

Clare's new book Would I Lie To You?, published by Headline, is priced €13.99