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Confessions of a 40-something woman

  • Story Highlights
  • Columnist Lisa Kogan heads toward 50s with fond look back at younger years
  • Back then, she still had her "new car smell" and could enjoy solitude
  • Says women in her generation are tired, considering scheduling a breakdown
  • But since no one is sleeping these days, she'd like life-affirming, really fun sex
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By Lisa Kogan
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Oprah

(OPRAH.COM) -- Here's a little fact of life that took me by surprise: Roughly 23 million women in this country are 40 to 49 years of age and about 6,000 of us turn 50 every single day.

Confessions of a 40-something woman

We are a thoroughly undefined constituency. Some of us are what the wonderful Wendy Wasserstein used to call "bachelor girls," some of us are married, and a lot of us have had trial separations that seemed to go just fine...at least for the husband (with the struggling rock band), who went on to become the ex-husband (with the thriving law practice).

Many of us have demanding kids or aging parents or a little of each. We juggle jobs, mortgages, student loans, and cancer treatments with low-fat diets, low-impact aerobics, low-grade depressions, a strong sense of irony, a dark sense of humor, and a full-bodied cabernet.

We are tired. We are very tired -- we've thought seriously about penciling in a nervous breakdown for ourselves, but we've been through everything the world has to throw at us so many times that it's damn near impossible to get nervous about much of anything.

Despite (or perhaps because of) all the coulda, woulda, shoulda moments that have come and gone, we've learned how to have a good laugh, an impromptu party, and an impure thought (or two) on a semiregular basis. We consider our options, our alternatives, our exit strategies. We take notes, we plan ahead, but we always leave room for serendipity. We are an entire generation of women who are making up our lives as we go along. Oprah.com: What Oprah has learned though the years

I know that it's human nature to want to glorify the past and preserve it in a delicious, if often inaccurate, cotton-candied haze. But the truth is that part of me (that would be the part of me that now needs an underwire bra and a pair of Spanx) really does miss my 20s. I still had that new car smell. I still thought terrorism would stay confined to the other side of the world.

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On the home front, I still kept standing up for brides (as if they needed my assistance to stand) while waiting politely for it to be my turn. And because it never occurred to me that my turn wouldn't come, I devoted an inordinate amount of time to trying to decide whether my wedding gown should be white or ecru -- by the time I hit 35, I'd have been okay with paisley.

The Web had not gone mainstream when I was in my 20s, so any surfing I did (and coming from Detroit, that wasn't much) was in the ocean. And I grant you, my rearview mirror might be a little bit rose-tinted, but if memory serves, those oceans were fairly clean.

Come to think of it, the glaciers were glacial, the bees were alive and well, a can of tuna didn't require a warning from the surgeon general, and the climate wasn't making any sudden moves. Color me crazy, but I've always been a sucker for a nice solid layer of ozone parking itself between me and a death ray.

I'm also a great believer in time off for good behavior. I crave solitude. I like being unreachable once in a while, and in those days it was no big deal if somebody couldn't track you down for half an hour. You see, in the 1980s, we didn't know from e-mail or cell phones or Facebook or GPS, and a BlackBerry was nothing more complicated than a healthy treat that was high in antioxidants -- only guess what? Nobody had ever heard of antioxidants.

I didn't need a baby aspirin every night or a Lipitor every morning. And I swear to God (that's another thing, God was still around when I was in my 20s), the closest anybody seemed to come to a genuine eating disorder was picking at a mixed green salad on a blind date until it was okay to go home and scarf down the contents of your refrigerator.

But before I start turning into my great-uncle Saul, who never fails to tell me how he could've bought the entire Upper East Side of Manhattan for $225 back in 1936 ("when an ear of corn still tasted like an ear of corn"), let me say this: As much as I miss those days, I'm delighted and relieved to be done with being young.

One quick glance in the mirror is all I need to know that time is most definitely a thief. Wait, strike that: One glance and I usually think I'm holding up pretty well -- it's upon closer inspection, that moment when I take a deep breath, put on my glasses, and turn up the dimmer switch, that I'm reminded gravity is not my friend. But if time has robbed me of a little elasticity and a lot of naïveté, it's left a few things in their place.

Thanks to nearly 48 years at the big dance, a million mistakes, and one extraordinary psychiatrist, I've finally achieved the occasional touch of clarity. I'm getting to be resourceful. I'm getting to be resilient, and I hope that on my better days, I'm getting to be a little more calm, a little more contemplative, a little more compassionate. Oprah.com: How to make your midlife matter

Sometimes I think being middle-aged isn't about learning a lot of new lessons so much as learning the same old ones again and again. Here are a few of the lessons I keep learning:

• It is never a good thing when a shrinking portion of the population controls a growing portion of the money. It tends to make incredibly decent, hardworking, middle-class people sort of jumpy, and the next thing you know Kirsten Dunst is playing Marie Antoinette in a Sofia Coppola extravaganza.

• Anyone who looks okay in ochre will look even better not in ochre.

• War and famine bad, James Franco and spaghetti carbonara good.

• What doesn't kill me does not make me stronger. It makes me anxious, bitchy, and vulnerable...but nobody wants to see that embroidered on a pillow.

• This isn't exactly an old lesson I keep learning, but given that I'm lucky enough to have my own column, I'd like to use it to set right an unfortunate mistake.

Remember a few years ago when we all got together and decided that sleep was the new sex? I've come to believe that we were dead wrong. What do you say we make actual ouch-you're-on-my-hair, did-you-hear-the-baby, jeez-that-was-my-eye, messy, intimate, life-affirming, really, really fun sex the new sex?! Because here's the thing: Between the economy, the environment, and the powder keg that is Pakistan, nobody's getting any sleep anyway -- so as long as we're all lying there wide awake...

• Dorothy Parker was a genius. She wrote a gem of a poem called "Indian Summer." It's very short, but I'm low on space, so I'll just cut to the end:

But now I know the things I know,

And do the things I do;

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you!

Bravo, Ms. Parker. And, finally, deep into my 40s, I couldn't agree with you more.

By Lisa Kogan from O, The Oprah Magazine, February 2009

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TM & © 2009 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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