A couple of years before I turned 40, I arrogantly assumed I was on some sort of preordained path. I figured by that point I’d have two kids before my fertility dipped into geriatric territory, and I’d be making six figures to pay for two private-school educations and a nanny, whom I would constantly worry my children were spending too much time with (because, you know, that kind of salary in New York doesn’t come without punishing hours and unrelenting face time at the office). This wasn’t exactly how I pictured my future self as I sat in my teenage bedroom, exacting my revenge on all the other teenagers who didn’t “get” Ani DiFranco while I flipped through brochures for East Coast colleges. But my vision of what 40 would look like was always sort of … elastic. You think you don’t want to become your mother, but then you get to your mom’s age and you realize, Oh, she kind of had it right all along. Besides, the path I saw ahead of me was still paved and straightforward and looked pretty damn good standing in front of it.
Like most female Gen-Xers who realized all too late that having it all was total bullshit, I didn’t feel all that celebratory by the time this fairly unforgiving birthday rolled around. That summer, I had lost my big fancy job as an editor at a big fancy New York magazine due to “cost-cutting” measures (a.k.a. the decline of print), oh, and I had also been told by one of my former assistants that people are “over words.” My husband and I tried and failed at having at a second child through IVF, a process that left my body — and brain, for that matter — feeling what I can only describe as lumpy. I was physically exhausted from taking all those meds, out of a job, and, worse, trying to wrestle with the idea that I wasn’t going to have the life I idiotically thought I had put forth the effort to have. (Anyone over 40 will tell you this is a stupid-ass assumption, since your world, whoever you are, will be upended at some point, sometime in your life. Probably more than once.)
What I should have done was dedicate some appropriate headspace to all these midlife psychological grenades. Instead, I went down a rabbit hole about what the hell kind of trip to plan for my 40th birthday. That big fancy editor job was at a travel magazine, even though I had only casually covered travel as an editor before that gig. One minute I was talking about male athleisure wear and editing a piece on a Japanese porn star at a men’s magazine. The next I was working with people who had gone to Southeast Asia. Twice. In one year. What’s worse, I was managing most of them. It’s not that I was some rube who had never gotten out of these here United States, but, if I’m being honest, I always felt like kind of an impostor at that job. I hadn’t been to Africa, but I could tell you which safari company you should book with. I may have pronounced Oaxaca O-AX-A-CA once. In my interview.
Anyway, a big part of my job was trying to identify new trends in travel. And the newfound pressure among people my age to mark their 40th with a trip that’s beyond the let’s-go-away-to-Europe variety was what we call “cresting” in the editorial world. I’m fairly certain this all stems from people my age realizing they got it all wrong in their twenties and early thirties — nearly panting over an Instagram post of some 25-year-old coworker standing next to Machu Picchu in a bikini. On, like, Labor Day weekend.