352! Someone shouted from our table. We’d been counting the number of bachelorettes since our first afternoon in Nashville. As the twelve of us sat sipping big girl wine and whiskey at The Southern, three more matching groups of bridesmaids twinkled down the sidewalk.
It was our last night together. I was surrounded by women who have easily become my favorite people. Some Goddard moms. Some former colleagues. Some CrossFitters. A few I picked up more recently at my kids’ after-school activities. Two who came into my life before meeting my husband and popping out three tiny humans. All who ditched their families and hopped on a flight to celebrate with me.
Turning 40 is pretty…well…amazing.
As I sat there looking at these incredible, hilarious, kind friends I’ve collected over the years, it hit me how humbling it is to grow older.
Watching the countless 20-something bride-to-bes pass by the window, we joked about what we should tell them. What they should know before turning into a grown up. A wife. A mom. A possible divorcee. Should we terrify them with tales of the horror—and delight—that lies ahead?
If we could draft a letter with some helpful guidelines what would it say?
Dear Sparkly, Almost-Married 20-Something,
Congratulations. You’re about to celebrate with your closest friends and family. Take lots of pictures. This will probably be the only time in your life when all your favorite people are in the same place. Hug them. Toast them. Relish their proximity before your new life gets too busy. They don’t care about prime rib or the centerpieces. They just want to be with you. Don’t get hung up on stuff that no one will remember about your wedding day. It will go by so fast. You might not see the people you love until you fly home for Christmas, every other year.
Dance like a maniac. Don’t stress about what jiggles or if your dress might get dirty. You’re not going to wear it again. Dancing at 40, after you’ve had multiple kids, typically requires a pantyliner or a new pair of underwear. Music and life should not be taken from the sidelines. When a 5-piece band plays a Johnny Cash cover you best get up outta your seat before the song is over.
It’s not always going to be fun. Your responsibilities and your job will get more serious. You might hate your boss, but click with your co-workers. You could thrive or wonder if you picked the right major. I was laid off from a PR firm right after my honeymoon. It was terrifying and humiliating. It was also the best thing that happened. Sometimes losing control on your current path can send you towards an incredible destination.
Where you end up and what you face along the way will shape your friendships. Some of the people walking down the aisle with you won’t be an active participant in your marriage. Location, spouses and kids—if you decide to have them—will shape your tribe. You might try junior league, volunteer, take up tennis or join an online support group because you’ve tried desperately to start a family for three years. Be open to new people who you meet along the way. They could bring you dinner after surgery or be total creeps, but either way they will teach you about being a better human.
Hold on tightly to old friends. The ones that make your face hurt from laughing. The ones that know the original you. Those who bring so much joy to your heart are your respite during the storm. Sure, you’ll share all the good news with them from a few states away. But the times you want to pack a duffle bag and walk away from your life, they’ll remind you of where you came from and why you said yes. And let’s be honest, they know where all the bodies are buried.
Marriage is a choice. It’s a decision to stick with that person you’re about to stand next to in front of all your family and friends—over and over again. There will be romance and anger, and little things that become big things between the walls of the home you share. You’ll enjoy each other’s company and pray for an upcoming business trip just to get some time alone. You’ll swear you’ll never put up with [fill in the blank] and then it happens. It’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s raw. It’s completely normal to question.
But there are only two people who have the answers to how to make it work. You and that guy who will eventually get soft around the middle and lose some hair. Who eats peanuts in bed but flies you to New York City for your anniversary. Who pushes you to get your Masters in Creative Writing because you always wanted to be a professional writer. Who doesn’t know how to run the dishwasher but plants you sunflowers because they are your favorite flower.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with our twenty-something babysitter after returning home from date night with my husband. She ached to find the right person and get married. So many men who courted her brought roses and gifts and hope of a future together. Things, within reach of so many other people, didn’t really seem all that authentic to me. Would you rather have a boy who brings you grocery-store flowers or a man who can plant a garden? What makes one heart happy is not the same for another.
The posts, the conversations, sometimes even the stories your friends will tell you aren’t a clear picture of what’s going on. They aren’t all that happy all the time. Everyone doesn’t have it figured out. No one is immune to wondering eyes, cancer or the loss of a child. These are real things that you will face. You will need to share details that you never wanted people to know about you or your spouse or your family to figure it out. Experience the loss. Document the triumphs. Take in the unimaginable grief and celebrate your accomplishments with the people who love you the most. Every day you open your eyes is an opportunity, and a gift.
Yes, growing older has taught me so much about who I am and who I want to become. About what really matters and who I should surround myself with to stay grounded, and kind, and happy about all that I have to be thankful for. Family. Friends. Our health. The ability and grace to live a normal, midwestern life.
Life is so much about perspective.
As I watch you click past the window in your heels and white sash, I can’t help but smile. Knowing it will bring more crow’s feet. From where you stand, life is sparkly and full of hope. From where I sit, it takes an iphone flashlight app to read my menu. But I’ve learned that the light doesn’t come from a blinking necklace or a ring. It radiates from within.
Shine bright sweet twenty-something. The best really is yet to come.
Love, your 40-year-old friend