Turning Forty

looking back from the top of the hill before I go over it

Looking back after forty years on this planet, life didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, but you’ve heard that story before. Chances are it’s your story as well.

Why am I at work? The simple answer is sheer necessity; I didn’t have the foresight to marry a rich woman — or be born to rich parents — so I must perforce work for a living. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily preclude me taking my birthday off, which I might have done if I were a sensible person.

However, I didn’t do the sensible thing because I’m an adult, I have responsibilities, and people are counting on me to do the work I agreed to do when I agreed to do it. This is part of the compromise I made with reality as a young man: I accepted that I would have to earn a living somehow while I worked on my writing.

But I’m hardly special. I suspect most people spend their fortieth birthdays at work, either out of necessity or for lack of anything better to do.

Only Myself to Blame

If it sounds like I’m not content with my circumstances, it’s because I’m not. I’m not the writer I want to be. I’m not the person I hoped I would become. However, most of that is my own damn fault.

What The Hell Was I Thinking

Seeing these choices laid out, it’s tempting to think they’re just a cascade of boneheaded decisions. Maybe they are, but I had reasons for most of them.

Just Making Excuses For Myself

All of these are rationalizations after the fact, of course. I can’t honestly say I thought through all of my decisions, but most people don’t. We’re not rational, but rationalizing. We make our decisions on the basis of impulse, emotion, or intuition and come up with logical reasons for why we decided as we did later on. I’m hardly unique in this regard. Motivated reasoning is one of the flaws that make us human.

I’m just using the occasion of my fortieth birthday as an opportunity to take stock of the life I’ve made for myself and make peace with my choices. I don’t want to be one of those middle-aged men who make an utter shambles of their lives in their forties because they are no longer able to repress their dissatisfaction with their lives and do irrational and drastic things like quitting their jobs, buying expensive vehicles or spending time with a new and younger lovers without at least discussing it with their spouses first.

I might not be completely happy with my life, but a flashy new car or a younger lover isn’t going to fix that. Besides, I’ve done reasonably well for myself compared to many people my age:

The last is especially important. Thousands of people set out to write novels. Most never finish their first draft. Of those who finish a draft, few ever refine it enough to have something that somebody else is willing to publish. I managed to do it twice, and I think I’ve earned the right to a little pride.

Welcome to My Midlife Crisis

Why would I throw away what I’ve got after my partner and I worked so hard to get where we are today? If Hollywood is any guide, that’s “what men of a certain age do.”

It’s the midlife crisis, but does this really only happen to men? Or does our culture simply encourage men to do this?

It’s an interesting question, but only insofar as it prompts me to ask a different question: what kind of man have I become? Do I even think of myself as a man? I certainly don’t think of myself as a woman; I am not transgender.

A Miserable Little Pile of Secrets

However, being a man was something that never quite felt right to me. I was never especially masculine, at least not according to prevailing norms, and I only made half-hearted attempts at “being a man” because it didn’t occur to me that I had the ability — or the right — to reject gender altogether.

What is a man, anyway? “A miserable little pile of secrets,” according to both Andre Malraux and Count Dracula.

Am I a man simply because I was born with XY chromosomes, a penis, and a pair of testicles? If so, then I was conscripted into masculinity and am under no obligation to perform my gender. If being a man is something one must choose, then I still want no part of it; mere masculinity is too confining.

Indeed, why should any of us settle for a social role that demands we amplify some qualities and repress others? Why should any of us be men or women?

In the absence of an answer, I’ve decided upon my own: I shall figure out how to be more truly myself in the years left to me. And if I trust you enough to put aside the persona and show you who I am, be grateful, for you’ll be one of a privileged few.

I’m Forty, and I Like It

Now that I’m forty years old, I no longer feel obligated to prove myself to others. I’m not interested in conforming to your expectations of what sort of person I should be. I spent my childhood, youth, and my adult years thus far trying and often failing to measure up. No more.

It’s my time now. It’s time I focused on what I want. More importantly, it’s time I understood my own needs and learned to center them.

Hopefully you’ll do the same. Ideally, you’re reading this while you’re still a teenager or young adult yourself, and can thus avoid making some of the same mistakes I did. Otherwise, I hope you find something of value.

Either way, feel free to drop me an email.

about the author

photo of a pale, blue-eyed man in a black coat with long brown hair outdoors in the winter

writes science fantasy inspired by heavy metal and has a day job as a software developer. He is currently writing a new novel called Spiral Architect. He'll use your pronouns, but doesn't care which ones you use with him. You can reach him at contact@starbreaker.org.