Last week was my 40th birthday. I crossed the threshold into this decade with a lot more grace and dignity than I did for my 30th birthday. I remember the panic that set in during the months before I turned 30. I was single at the time, and I had not fully come to terms with the idea that being alone was better than being married to the wrong guy. So I spent most of that summer going on bad dates with guys I met on the internet.
There was the lizard-tongue kisser, the loud talker, the cheesy musician from an 80's cover band and my personal favorite, the super competitive guy who took me bowling and nagged at me the entire time because I kept throwing gutter balls. I was wearing a skirt, by the way. The only thing he should have been paying attention to was whether he could catch a glimpse of my undies when I bent over to throw the ball. Later when he dropped me off at home, he grabbed a 7 iron out of his trunk and tried to teach me how to swing a golf club in the middle of my driveway.
Once I actually turned 30, I started to see things more clearly. All of my panic subsided and I quickly realized that the thirties are really just an extension of your twenties. Except that you have a little more sense and a lot more money.
Turning 40 has been the opposite experience. In the months leading up to my birthday, I was in a calm zen-like state. Or maybe I was so exhausted from driving back and forth to Indiana that I was in a general state of shock. Whatever the cause of my inner peace, it felt genuine to me. Whenever anyone would ask whether I was freaking out about turning 40, I would offer the same response. Age is just a number. I am happy with who I am and the choices I've made in life. So turning 40 really doesn't bother me.
Or so I thought. In these last few days, my zen-like state is beginning to crumble. It is like my fear of commitment and my desire for attachment are waging a war within me. And I am not sure which side I am on.
The morning of my 40th birthday, I woke up in the comfort of the Boy's arms. We were planning to go out and grab some breakfast before I met up with my sister for a movie. While he was in the shower I checked my blackberry and saw all of the random birthday messages from my Facebook friends. As I scrolled through, one in particular caught my eye. It was from the Canadian. He posted on my wall for the world to see: Have a great day. Thinking of you on your birthday.
While it may seem like an innocent comment, the term "thinking of you" has a very specific meaning for us. The Canadian had always promised me that we would be together when we were 40. And here I was on my 40th birthday. The last time we parted, he told me that he would always be thinking of me. And although he is in no position to make any commitments right now, what he was really saying is that I still want to be with you and someday I will be coming back for you.
As much as I tried to discount the impact of his post, I thought about the Canadian for most of the afternoon. I wanted to send him a breezy message and say "Hey, now that I'm 40 I think you owe me a drink!" Which would most likely lead to a long conversation about our relationship - past, present and future. In the end, he would probably leave me with another empty promise to just hold on and maybe we can be together when we are 50.
My little trip down memory lane continued last night when I went over to have dinner with my Best Friend from college. We have been friends since we were 19 years old. He and his wife just had their second child and moved into a huge new house in the more family-friendly suburbs. She was having a well deserved night out with the girls, so he invited me over to meet the new baby and keep him company.
We had a wonderful evening hanging out and playing with the kids. And after they went to bed the wine and the conversation really started flowing. He is the one person in the world that I can open up to about anything. And I am the same way for him. The level of connection goes so deep, it is almost impossible to put into words.
"You know what's funny," I said to him, after the wine started taking effect. "Our entire friendship is based on spending 6-8 hour increments together over the past 20 years. Do you realize we have never spent an entire day together or gone away for a weekend?"
"Hmm. I guess you're right," he said. "It's funny that we never considered that before."
"I know, I just thought of it now. And there were so many times when we were both single back in our 20's. We had all the time in the world. We could have driven to Chicago or gone up north," I said wistfully. "I wonder what that would have been like? Maybe we would have gotten on each other's nerves."
"Probably not," he smiled. "I think we would have had a blast." We both sat in silence contemplating the possibility.
"Why didn't we ever do that?" Even as the question hung in an invisible conversation bubble over my head, I already knew the answer.
"We were both so scared of losing what we had that we never took it to the next level," he said. "I think we are both still afraid."
He was right about that. Those little 6-8 hour increments every few months have gotten us through some of the toughest times in our lives. And even now as we struggle to sort things out, our friendship is the one thing that we can rely upon for comfort.
"Maybe that will be our one regret," I told him. "That we never got to take that trip." But then I thought better of it. "Or let's just say it was an opportunity lost."
I knew in my head that we had made a vow to preserve our friendship, and both of us stuck with it for over 20 years. But spending time alone with him last night and feeling this compelling and immediate bond with his children, something felt different. For the first time, my heart dared to imagine myself in a different place. What if we had taken that one chance and gone away together? Maybe it would have changed the course of our lives. What if my Best Friend was meant to be my husband and this was meant to be my life?
It was a fleeting thought and a crazy one at that. So I let it just pass right by. After I left my Best Friend's house, I headed over to the Boy's. Since it was late and I was really tired, the Boy offered for me to sleep over. On the way, I passed by a club called Luna, which is where I met the Teacher. Talk about an opportunity lost. After a few torrid nights of making out in his car after we left the club, it became clear that the Teacher's life was a disaster. And there was no room for me in it.
Our birthdays are only a few weeks apart, so I knew that his 40th birthday was coming up soon. I wondered if he was out at the club with his friends that night. I envisioned myself walking onto the dance floor and surprising him. And then he would escort me out to my car where we would exchange witty banter and flirt with each other shamelessly until it was time for him to go home to his wife and kids.
I pulled into the parking lot and saw a black sedan parked in his usual spot. Part of me wanted to take a chance and just walk into the club. And the other part of me knew that it was 1:30 AM and the Boy was at home lying in bed waiting for me. I sat in my car and stared across the street at the door of the club to see if the Teacher might walk out at that exact moment and make the decision for me. But he didn't.
If I was going to see the Teacher that night, it would have to be by choice and not a chance meeting in the parking lot. I knew it was getting late, and after a few minutes I felt my hand grasp the gear shift of my car and I slowly drove out of the parking lot. Then I kept driving until I reached the Boy's house, crawled under the covers and went to sleep.
So here I am just one week into my fifth decade on this planet and I am a total mess. If I am truly happy with who I am and comfortable with the choices I have made in life, then why I have I spent the last few days questioning all of them?
Sometimes I wish I could just freeze time and step into an alternate universe for awhile. I would like to go on a date with the Canadian, make out with the Teacher in the back seat of his car and take an impromptu road trip with my Best Friend. In the real world, all of those fantasies come with too many complications and a lot of people that I care about would get hurt if I did those things, probably including me.
Maybe turning 40 is all about being wise enough to accept lost opportunities and move on.