Last week, I turned 40.
I’m not where I thought I would be. Life isn’t what I thought it would be…
I am not exactly ‘Living The Dream’.
Most days, I still wake up with a miscellaneous doom nightmare sliding out of my grasp as I rise to consciousness. There is a lurch of panic when I don’t know what’s real – where am I? who’s life is this? what’s wrong? am I fighting or running?
It’s the same flavor in my mouth as new motherhood – waking up with the ‘where’s the baby?’ panic. It never really left – and it’s shaped my 30s.
This ill-fitting, disorientating time of life isn’t unique to me.
I’ve seen several friends this week (as a side effect of turning 40) and do you know what? NOBODY is living the damn dream.
I mean, not everyone is having the random anxiety nightmares, but there’s not many having what I’d call a rip-roaring whale of a FREAKING GOOD TIME.
In fact, in a recent research report, it was found that women are statistically happier without children, and without a spouse. Largely because they don’t get stuck in what’s called the ‘Sandwich Generation’…
So many of the women I’ve spoken to recently are sandwiched, you see, between small children and older, increasingly infirm parents – with extra fillings of sleep deprivation, grinding monotony, stagnating relationships, disconnected friendships, endless life admin, our own health and aging woes, and the knowledge we’ve probably got about as far as we’re going in our careers, and we haven’t set the world alight, or changed it, or made it better, and most days we can’t save the fishfingers from burning let alone anything bigger, and we’ve not achieved what we wanted or been to the places, or done the things, or got the postcards and t-shirts, and our backs hurt when we wake up, and we’re too tired to do much about any of it…
and none of it is what we thought.
We were sold a vision of life, and family, and work, and love, and personal fulfillment, that just hasn’t come into being. And that’s disappointing, and frustrating, and confusing.
Oh, we’re supposed to treasuring the moments and loving our children to distraction and doing date nights and keeping the magic alive, and going for promotions, and the years are short and we should be grateful for what we’ve got, and others would kill to be where we are, and we’ve got roofs and food and no real problems etc and stuff – but the truth, the TRUTH (and nothing but the truth) – is that it’s quite often hard, and boring, and exhausting, and overwhelming, and a bit…
Hence the report.
It’s little wonder then, that this is also the era of the Midlife Crisis, lived through by every generation when it hits the Sandwich-Season.
For there are a lot of cries to iss…
It occurs to me though, that the Midlife Crisis is not really equal opportunity, is it? Because the sandwich is more likely to trap women – themselves more likely to be the primary carers for both children and elderly parents.
For men, the Midlife Crisis tends to look like a sudden interest in fitness, questionable facial hair experimentation, possibly escalating to teeth whitening, skinny jeans, a two-seater sports car, new friendship groups, a series of interesting sports blazers, a girlfriend 15 years your junior… and a divorce.*
(*Likenesses to persons of my actual acquaintance are entirely coincidental.)
They get to deconstruct their sandwich, slip out from between the slices, and create a new meal – possibly on an open artisan bread base with millennial avocado, smashed underneath a runny poached egg. There’s probably chilli oil involved.
OK so women can and do go bat-sheet CRAZEE and get up and walk out of their current sandwich into a whole new menu. But due to the same biological, social, economic and cultural facts of life that make them the prime primary carers – it’s much less often. And it’s much more frowned upon.
Mostly we get to make do with the sandwich we’ve been given, usually made with the kids’ 50/50 sliced loaf that’s past its best and probably only fit for toast with the only uber-mild cheddar they’ll bloody well eat – that’s been at the back of fridge and needs the green furry bits cutting off.
For a lot of women the classic Midlife Crisis options look more like splurging on new non-Boots-own-brand makeup that didn’t expire in the 90s, a drastic and often ill-advised haircut, a moon-cup, possibly escalating to the teeth whitening, flamenco classes, rieke, crystal healing/insert-spirituality-replacement-here, and one HELL of a Mum’s Night Out.
For me personally, so far it’s looking like my first ever pair of contact lenses, a trip to get my tarot cards read, a leopard print jumpsuit, a daring new rug, and possibly a tattoo that I’ll talk about for ages and never actually GET because I’m a wuss…
ROCK, and Midlife Crisis ROLL. (Or breadcake).
The thing is, I’ve realised I quite like a plain cheese sandwich, you know.
I don’t actually want to get out from between these slices. Not really. I don’t want to bin it all and start from scratch. I actually feel like I’ve got the right ingredients in my life to make a delicious bread-based lunchtime snack – they just weren’t fitting together properly before, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Maybe it’s because the sandwich snuck up on me. It wasn’t what I thought I ordered, or wanted to eat.
Maybe it was because my sandwich partner wanted to go to a different restaurant – for the artisan bread. (I think that’s what they’re calling it these days).
Maybe because I thought I SHOULD want something fancy and flashy and exotic. But now I know now it’ll probably set off my IBS and give me indigestion, and it’s overpriced and really only for special occasions.
Maybe the sandwich just takes getting used to before you can feel any sort of appetite or appreciation for it.
Maybe I you just need to OWN your own slices, man.
So forget going back to the drawing board for your Midlife Crisis. I’m 40, and I’m going back to the bread board.
And I’m making a plain bloody cheese sandwich.
It may be ordinary.
It may not be what I thought I would be eating.
But it is also sustaining, and filling.
Ordinary can be delicious too… with the right condiments.
Maybe I’ll jazz it up a bit with honey. Or ham. Or mustard. Or all four. (Try it). Maybe with a goddam avocado dip. It’s MY cheese sandwich, after all…
It is a thing of culinary beauty, surprising versatility, and enduring popularity.
And I’ve decided to enjoy it.