My best friend is in a funk. I travelled two provinces over to visit one of the most important people in my life and she is having a moment. Those moments we have as women over forty when we start to reflect life and wonder if we are going crazy. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect to be arriving on her doorstep. She recently had experienced some significant losses causing her to question every part of her life. She ended an intimate relationship that she felt had too many obstacles, a friend who was also her employee stole money from her business, her brother’s brother-in-law was murdered and she had a health scare. Now my friend who I have always known to be fearless in the face of adversity was coming apart. It was fortunate she had a good stock of wine in her house because we were going to get down to brass tacks and tackle this together. I toss aside my suitcase and she starts pouring.
My friend and I are in our mid-forties and fairly successful in our careers. She has her own law firm which was so busy she opened a second office. I am an Executive Director of an agency that is responsible for three communities in regards to child and family services. We have reached the peak of our careers and have the capacity to throw ourselves in our work because we don’t have dependents at home. She was never able to have children and my two boys are grown living in and out of my house (I can tell they are still living there by the dirty dishes in my sink). She is single and I am securely attached to my husband of ten years who rolls with whatever project I take on next. We are both fortunate to have independence to do whatever we want (within limits) and we have both reached our goals in regards to “getting there”. Whatever could we complain about? We have it all.
“I think I am going cra-cra (crazy)!” my friend spouts. “I am starting to hate everything about my life and I know that is not OK.” I listen to her intently for an hour not adding much as I know she just needs to vent. The best part of being best friends since Grade 9 is that we have a long history and know each other in and out. “Is this really it? Is this how I am supposed to feel after all I have accomplished?” Yes, yes it is. I am a year older and I have been in the exact spot as my friend a couple years ago. It was when my children no longer needed me and my role as a mother was no longer relevant. It wasn’t that I hated my life, but rather that I lost my identity as a mother. I was flailing around trying to attach to something – to be needed. I felt a little crazy back then but thankfully I have an intelligent husband who grounded me. I remember the day I called him frantic to meet me at a pub for a drink after work. I was in a funk. He spoke frankly as he sipped his pint: “Treena, you know how you get. You need to save something or have a focus to channel your energy on. If you don’t you go squirrelly. You shouldn’t be concerned that you won’t find it, you always do.” He pretty much nailed it and I felt better. Now my friend is examining her life looking to replace what is missing. The difficulty about this is that we often don’t recognize what is missing because of we seem to have so much (which in all honesty we do). The distractions are constant most of them even intentional. Our lives seem to be rich and full but inside we seek a greater purpose. This is what generally happens when you finally “get there”. You ask: is this it?
There is a significant difference between forty and forty-five and it is noticeable. I loved being forty as I was starting to see that aging had its advantages. Confidence was the biggest factor. The years of experience, knowledge and skills I gained over the years were starting to open up doors. Opportunities seemed more abundant and I was willing to take more risks. It was rather exciting. I was in the best health and shape I had ever been which added to my confidence and I just felt good. The lines forming on my face didn’t bother me as I felt I earned them and wore them with pride. Forty-five is a different cat. With youth-giving hormones declining your skin and hair start to lose its lustre. It now seems to be a bit of a battle to feel good about what you see in the mirror. The feel-good hormones are also not as quick to come to your aid for self-regulation. This certainly doesn’t help matters when you are dissecting your life.
“And how did we get old? It seemed I was thirty yesterday! Now I look in the mirror and I hardly recognize myself!” Oh yeah she was going there. Better pour me another one. We discussed our wrinkles, sagging skin and grey hair. I figure I pretty much missed the boat on Botox. The lines and creases are pretty engrained on my forehead and around my eyes. The idea of prevention is lost. We laugh at each other when pulling the skin on our necks back. “They say all the extra skin is tucked behind your ears!” We make ourselves even look more ridiculous by making faces at each other. The wine is kicking in. Aging may not always be glamourous but how you conduct yourself is ageless. Attitude is everything and I intend on being young at heart. Besides we still have some good strengths left and we should play on them. Two advantages older women have are bigger clothing budgets and great legs. For two old broads we are still holding our own. “I hope to age like fine wine,” I said putting my wine glass down, “but I suppose I need to stop drinking it. I hear wine is bad for wrinkles.” Yeah right, like that is going to happen. She tops off my glass.
The rest of the weekend we continue our talk in between attending activities, events and having fun with her other girlfriends. We laugh a lot like the big hardy ones that feel good. I love being in her company even though she was in a “contemplating my existence” mode. My good old friend was pretty much still the same: bubbly, energetic, witty and sassy. But most of all, she is f#@king smart! I suppose that is why she is a successful lawyer. We acknowledge we make better employers than employees. We need structure but only in spurts as we tend to feel more engaged hovering outside of the rules. We both strive for independence and appreciate working in a space where we are in control of our own creativity. We seek excitement and have the urge to always conquer something, including our men (which we acknowledge is probably not a good thing). We don’t like being controlled and we believe in equality and fairness. We are both bosses but we work hard to be good leaders and role models. It is hard for women to reach the top without totally sacrificing who they are. Both of us agree we haven’t lost ourselves in the process. In fact, when we get together we find we are exactly the same as we were in high school (except 100 times wiser). “Remember when we were in high school and we use to think we had big problems then?” my friend said shaking her head in disbelief. “All we did was talk about boys.” A flashback came to my mind of the two of us sitting on her waterbed smoking the cigarettes I stole from my dad and crying over some break-up one of us were going through. I smiled thinking about how far we have come.
As middle-aged women we have the capacity to look at ourselves from an infinite number of points of views but when you really take stock of all your parts life really isn’t all that bad. In fact, some days are pretty damn good. Right now our professional lives are the forefront of our priorities and taking most of our energy but this is our choice. We share the similarities that our pressures at work are daunting and our internal pressures are even worse. We are overachievers and have high expectations of ourselves. However, the general expectations of a professional woman from society are fairly unrealistic anyway. Women have to function differently in order to earn respect. It is mostly a man’s world in terms of promotions, CEO positions and the business world. A woman has to claw her way to the top while many are trying to bring her down. “We are trailblazers, you and I, we are making a path for the younger women coming up behind us,” stated my girlfriend matter-of-factly as we were driving to one of her offices. “These young women need to be warned and supported because it is damn HARD.” I nodded in agreement. It is challenging because you have to be five steps ahead, able to stand your guard and cool under pressure as five setbacks happen at once. It doesn’t matter if you were up with a baby all night, or learned your mother was diagnosed with cancer or just walked out on your husband. It has to be business as usual.
The last day of our visit we just laid in her big cozy king-sized bed watching Frankie and Grace on Netflix. We ordered Chinese food and even ate it in bed. It was the best day I had in a long time. We officially took a day off from everything. “I am so glad you came,” she mumbled from under the big fluffy duvet. “I feel ten times better. I guess I just needed to puke everything out.” That’s what friends are for. To listen without judgement, offer encouragement, and to just be in their space with love. “I am sorry I was such in a bad space, you probably won’t come back.” I laughed out loud as it was so utterly ridiculous. I loved my time with her and I told her so. “Well I suppose I gave you some good writing material.” I laughed even harder, “Did you ever!!”
I cracked open my Chinese fortune cookie and showed her the message inside:
She opened her fortune cookie and it read: “There’s nothing to fear.”
She shed tears and smiled, “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
“Oh, and I hear turning fifty is supposed to be pretty good,” I add. We laugh.