The Trouble With 39

The Trouble with turning 40

‘Turning 40 has been on my mind since I turned 36, if I’m being honest but, now that I’m 39 it’s like the only thought I have…’

I think once I’d officially moved into the old ’36-44’ box I started to think about how it was even possible that I could be creeping towards the big 4 0. My mind hasn’t matured since I hit 30, so it seems unfair that the rest of me seems to have sprung forward almost a full decade since then.

I am now teetering on the brink of 40 – having turned 39 in January – and I’ve been experiencing an odd feeling that fluctuates somewhere between mild panic and sheer terror ever since. I don’t know how to be 40. I’m not sure if there’s something I should be doing differently? I’ve tried to tell myself of how much I’ve achieved, but I’m worried there’s something I haven’t done that I should have by now.

Once I’m in that way of thinking, I start to concern myself with all the things I’ve missed. I’ve never been to Japan; I’ve never been hand gliding over the Grand Canyon and, to make matters even worse, I’ve never, ever, watched a single episode of 24.

I also appear to have missed off a substantial chunk from the list: ‘Things You Absolutely Must Do Before You Hit 30’. At this rate, I’ll be 50 by the time I catch up. What have I been doing with my life, I hear myself ask….myself.  

To be fair, when I’m not seized by terror, I realise I’ve actually done a LOT. 

It might not be the same as other people at my advancing age (literally holding back the tears writing those words), but it’s not so bad. In the intervening years that others have spent having kids and, well…looking after kids, I have spent that time wisely*.

I’ve been married twice (the second one is still going well, thanks), I’ve travelled extensively, got my degree, overseen 12 years of wicked stepmother duties, become an Aunt thrice over, bought a hundred pairs of shoes, petted over a million doggos, and memorised the lines from every single Miranda Lambert song.  I have been BUSY, people.   


I have noticed, however, that many of my recent decisions have largely been based on my ever nearing descent into my 40s.  When choosing travel destinations this year, I have insisted on going only to places I’ve never been and have dragged Les to Riga, Vilnius and Naples thus far.

I’ve also just signed us up for a trip to Brussels and Bruges like a crazy woman who thinks that I’ll be refused entry anywhere else once they check out the date of birth on my passport. I joined the gym just after turning 39 and have been going there 3 times a week since (who even am I?) in an obvious effort not to feel more crappy when The Day of Reckoning finally arrives.

I’ve even started buying good wine when I’m shopping as, for some reason, I think that’s what other 40 years olds do. They buy organic fresh fruit and courgetti and expensive coffees, while my basket’s filled with midget gems and tequila and whatever washing powder happens to be on special offer. I know it’s a completely irrational way to think, but I can’t seem to stop it (send help…)

I’ve started reading different books, just so I can say I haven’t spent my whole life reading crime fiction by Jo Nesbo and Michael Connolly. 

Now I’m reading crime fiction by other authors, too. Progress indeed. I’m listening to new music (when I say ‘new’ I mean new country…not new genres, although I did watch a bit of the Stormzy set from Glastonbury at the weekend but mainly because I couldn’t be bothered getting up to find the remote), and I very nearly walked into a no-appointment salon last week in Bangor and asked them to chop all my hair off. 

I didn’t, because I had work to do, and also because I was worried the staff would be like: ‘here we go…another middle aged woman panicking about turning 40…’, so I walked briskly past and have been thinking about it ever since. What age do you get to before you no longer have long hair?  What’s the maximum age you’re allowed to keep it? 

I must know. These are the questions I have for the hairdressers of Britain, but am too frightened to ask. I do NOT want to be one of those women (I’m looking at you, Donatella Versace) that has the hair style of a 20 year old when they’re in their 60s. I also don’t want to be one of those women who thinks that women in their 60s can’t have the hairstyle of a woman in their 20s, but here I am. 


I guess I just always thought that 40 was so very far away that I hadn’t really given it much thought. I did absolutely assume that I’d end up as a crazy dog lady with mad jumpers and wildly unkempt hair, but that’s a life goal I met many years ago.
These days I get the distinct feeling that I’ve been missing something, but maybe that’s just a natural reaction to getting older. Just to be on the safe side, I’ve downloaded the first season of 24 and plan to have watched it all by the time my birthday comes round. If that’s not a worthy goal to have met before for turning 40, I genuinely don’t know what is.  

Suzanne Tam
Age 39 1/2  


* I have spent a *portion* of that time wisely 

1 thought on “The Trouble With 39”

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