Susie Orman Schnall has a question for you – What do you think is the perfect age?
Among my friends, I’m the one at dinner parties who likes to ask a table question, and everyone has to go around and answer it. I realize that might make some of you add me to your guest list while others are crossing my name off in big black Sharpie strokes. Anyway, I don’t do it all the time. Just when I think a full table conversation will be fun. And when I think exploring a juicy question is just what the party needs.
Five years ago at a dinner party I was hosting, I asked “What do you think is the perfect age to be.” What would you say? What do you think most of the women and men said?
(Keep in mind my guests were suburban couples in their late 30s, all with multiple children, mortgages, and busy lives.)
All the men but one said 18: I had no responsibilities… I was a great athlete and I played sports constantly… My body didn’t hurt all the time… Girls!… I was responsible for no one but me.
All the women but one said 40: I’ll be where I’ve always wanted to be in terms of being married and settled… My kids will all be old enough so that I won’t have to care for babies… I’ll have time to myself… I will be done with the drama of my younger years… I’ll know who I am.
I’ve told this story again and again because I think it’s fascinating. First because of how differently men and women perceive the ideal age. But also because of how consistently everyone answered the question.
At the time, I hadn’t turned 40 yet. Now I’m almost 43. And being in my 40s has been everything I hoped it would be. It’s been all of the things my friends said around the table that night. And so much more.
In my novel On Grace, the main character Grace is about to turn 40, and she’s really excited about it. For all the same reasons my friends and I were. However, before she gets to that birthday and the realization of her dreams, she’s got to trudge through some pretty awful stuff. Husband stuff. Best friend stuff. Health stuff. Raw, authentic, not-so-pretty stuff.
The novel ends at Grace’s 40th birthday party. It’s been a rough six months for her, but she’s come out on the other side. This is what she has to say about 40:
“And I’m actually happy to finally be turning 40. I no longer have little babies, so I’m sleeping through the night. I’ve developed the self-esteem and requisite wisdom to know what to worry about and what to laugh at, what’s worth the tears, what’s worth the calories, what’s worth the call to the school or the call to the doctor, when I should care what other people think and when I should fly my own flag, what’s worth saying yes to and what’s worth saying, ‘Let me think about that,’ what I should put 100% effort into and what will be just fine with 75%, who my true friends are, and why, above all else, I’m so damn lucky. For me, most of that really did take 40 years to figure out. Some of those things I figured out a little early, and some of it I’m still working on and will undoubtedly continue to do so.”
Have you turned 40 yet? If so, was it what you hoped it to be? If you haven’t turned 40 yet, is it something you’re looking forward to? Tell us why…
Grace May is about to turn forty, and she can’t wait. Now that her boys are both in school and she’s about to start an exciting new writing job, the next chapter in her life is finally about to begin. Aching to use her brain for more than finding innovative ways to sneak leafy greens into her boys’ mini-meatloaves, Grace is eager to rediscover the intelligent and interesting woman deeply buried under the layers of mother and wife. But when Grace loses her job and gets unexpected news from her husband and her best friend, life suddenly gets complicated. Grace stands to lose everything: her marriage, her best friend, and her sense of self. By her fortieth birthday party, Grace will discover who and what matter most. With laughter. With tears. With grace.
Susie Orman Schnall, the author of On Grace, also writes essays, editorial, and endless to-do lists and has been featured in the New York Times, Westchester Magazine, and on Huffington Post Live. When she’s not at her desk writing, you can find Susie driving her three boys to and fro, reading just about anything, drinking a kale shake, emailing her husband, or trying to get it all done. And if you can’t find her in any of those places, she’s probably where her heart sings the loudest: at the top of a mountain.