I spent my 40th birthday on a bucket-list adventure, too busy engaging with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to think too much about the arbitrary commemoration of milestones. I’ve no idea if I would have felt the milestone keenly had I been less pleasantly occupied; I’m thoughtful about it now, but more in the sense of its place in time than in any ‘ohnoes I’m getting old’ kind of way. 

I mean, I’ve been telling other people that I’m forty for a couple of months now, so arguably I’m well and truly used to it. 

I was thinking about it this afternoon, though: about where I am now vis-a-vis where I was at thirty, at twenty (ten is a little harder to remember). 

Twenty was awful, marking both the end of a (short-lived and not especially memorable) relationship and a much deeper (I thought) friendship. It’s a little mind-boggling to realise that that was half a lifetime ago – literally – though of course it has little emotional resonance for me now. 

Thirty was better. My parents took my then-partner and I for an amazing lunch at Quay (there were Snow Eggs! And so many other delicious things), and if you had told Louise-at-thirty how much her life was going to change in two years, let alone ten, I’m not sure she would have believed you. 

Then again, would Louise-at-twenty have believed in the life being lived by Louise-at-thirty? What will Louise-at-fifty think? 

I kind of love that: my life hasn’t been static. Absolutes from one decade have not remained absolutes. I like looking back and seeing how much I’ve grown and changed. I like to think that Louise-at-thirty would have been incredibly surprised at Louise-at-forty… but I think, once she got over understanding the big changes and the reasons for them, she would have been proud. 

So: I’m forty. 

I never had any particular drive to have children, and at this point it seems likely that won’t change: not the lack of drive, and not, either, the circumstances that make them a possibility. 

I’m comfortably single, and I’m not sure that’s likely to change either: it’s not that I’m against the idea, but it would take something pretty amazing for me to give up my independence (or rather, it would take something that did not require me to give up my independence, but rather enhanced it). Louise-at-thirty thought she was in a relationship that would last the rest of her life; Louise-at-thirty was also ignoring fractures that would eventually become breaks. 

I have a career that, most of the time, gives me enormous satisfaction (and pays me enough to pursue my other passions); I’ve always chosen to work for organisations with some kind of social conscience, rather than an emphasis on profit, and it’s been satisfying to do that and still get financial rewards. Louise-at-thirty was still working this all out: she had a sense of career, but was still working out the details. 

I travel, both near and far – and this is something that Louise-at-thirty would be so impressed and pleased with. Louise-at-thirty knew she enjoyed travel, and knew she wanted to go places, but didn’t feel like she had the means; mostly, though, it came down to being with a partner who was not similarly inclined. She put a poster of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species on the wall, but couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which she would be able to visit the Galápagos. 

I own my own home. Louise-at-thirty knew she wanted to, but had started investing her savings in the stock market because homeownership was otherwise out of reach. (Actually, she made some excellent investments: her choices definitely impacted my ability to buy.) I hope she’d be pleased with where I ended up. 

Louise-at-thirty was deeply lonely. Most of her in-person friends were via her partner; most of the time, she felt like an accessory rather than a real person. I’m so grateful that Louise-at-forty stands on her own two feet: Louise-at-forty has both multiple social circles and the ability to be completely comfortable with her own company. 

Louise-at-forty celebrated her birthday multiple times: with coworkers, with friends, with newfound friends, and with family (remotely, but also, still to come, in person). 

Louise-at-forty has enormous, exceptional privilege: physical health, mental health, financial resources. Safety. (Louise-at-forty is hyper-conscious of this, and spends a lot of time – though not enough – trying to give back.) 

Louise-at-forty has no complaints. Bring on Louise-at-fifty – I can’t wait to see what changes between now and then.