I'm going to be 39 this year. Round that up, and I'm basically 40. Which is middle-aged.
I'm not going to pretend like I'm reveling in that, or even that I don't care. I'm none too thrilled about getting older, the least of which is that my crepeing under-eyes, sagging chin and increasingly profound laugh lines make selfie-taking a humbling chore. I can already see how it will be harder to be professionally relevant, and according to some older friends, very bad things happen to your genitals as the years press on.
But one that that comes with age, is that relationships are older. And those relationships, they are so, so dear. Yesterday I was feeling blue, alone in a foreign country. I pinged my friend Kirsten, who I've known for 15 years. She's going through some real-life rough times (not like my first-world, boo-hoo I'm lonesome in my fabulous Copenhagen apartment “rough times”) and I asked, again, if she could nab a plane ticket to join me for a few days.
“I can't this time, but wanna Skype?” she immediately replied.
“Yep! Now? Want to join me in some wine?
“It's 11:30 a.m. and I have a few conference calls ahead of me, but don't let that stop you,” she texted.
“Oh yeah — not everyone's time zone revolves around my own, perpetual 5 o'clock somewhere.”
We jumped on video chat and caught up (while I uncorked my bottle). We noted that not only are we both really into our careers, share politics, and have similar mommy issues, our periods are in synch! It didn't really matter what we talked about — we love each other, talk in short-hand thanks to so many years of friendship, and can be totally candid with one another in a way that is just not the same with newer friends. Time has created an intimacy that is otherwise impossible.
Apply this to romance.
For all my dating antics, and appreciation for short-term affairs and sometimes-lovers, those romantic relationships simply are not long-term marriages. I was with my husband eight years, married four, before we split up. That is a short marriage. Every once in a while I come across an email or little note that we left one another, and they seem as if they were written by other people — people who were lovers, rather than two people who lived through a whole lot together and knew each other in ways that cannot be articulated in words. Because we were. Ours was not a long-term marriage. Today, in the rare occurrence that we chat casually, the familiarity is deeper and more presumed — even if we are no longer romantically involved, we are bound by time. I have known him nearly 15 years, and there is a connection that is like those very old friends or the family that we are. That is precious.
In my future, I can imagine a life that is full of different lovers — some for an evening, others for a few years. That is a comfortable pattern for me, but it is limiting. In the rest of my life I seek out intense experiences that challenge myself. Adventures in travel and exercise, books and movies that challenge my intellect. But emotional adventures are perhaps the greatest of them all. Motherhood, possibly the most gripping, mind- and heart-expanding experience yet in my middle-aged life. I want to experience allI can in this world, and there is something in a long-term marriage that cannot be replicated in other experiences. Those years and decades of love and passion and tedium and tragedy and healing and adoration and resentment and resolve and acceptance and love and love that a good marriage has. That is an experience that I don't know. Not yet.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.