Expectations Vs Reality: Solo And Turning 40
Last month you may have read about how I was preparing for my 40th birthday where I talked about my feelings and hitting a milestone birthday as a Solo. Like every other, since I was a child, my birthday fears were no different this year. Falling in late summer, most people are busy on bank holiday weekends, and I always feel absolute dread that my birthday isn’t so important because, on occasion, some friends haven’t been able to celebrate with me. Here, I talk about turning 40 as a Solo. Did my expectations meet with reality?
I have had my fair share of birthday disasters, which you can read all about in my previous article. However, this year’s birthday came with an epiphany and I’m not sure if it’s due to the pandemic or because of hitting 40. I can honestly say my birthday fear has been slightly irrational. Many people experience birthday fear – but I can’t seem to find any tangible link between birthday fear and summer birthdays. People I’ve spoken with all find birthday planning stressful; so like me, they have opted to keep things low key to avoid disappointment.
The pressure to do ‘something’ for my 40th
My birthday is at the end of the academic year, so my 40th was the last within my friendship group. We had a flurry of 40th’s just before lockdown, and some birthdays weren’t celebrated in person because of it. I had been thinking about what I wanted to do since before Christmas last year. I settled on creating a bucket list and doing one nice thing every month during 2020, so I could treat myself throughout the year.
Obviously, COVID had other ideas, and lockdown swiftly removed those plans. However, I still managed to knock several things off my list once restrictions were lifted, including treating myself to fancy make-up and paddleboarding on the day of my birthday.
I’ve no idea where the pressure came from to do ‘something’ for my 40th. My mum had a memorable 40th birthday party at home but is having a big birthday bash always been such a big deal? I think everything has got bigger, more complicated and more elaborate than it was ‘back in the day.’ Hen do’s are now week-long events abroad. A baby shower involves intense planning, multiple Insta-worthy photo opportunities and a million What’s App messages (on a group that’s been set up expressly for keeping everyone in the loop).
Is all the birthday planning fuss worth it?
This is a difficult one. If you have a Monica Gellar inspired passion for organisation, then maybe yes, the fuss is worth it. However, looking back, I did find the logistics quite stressful. I knew I’d hate a huge party as the planning and organisation would be too much to handle. My anxiety levels would set off to an epic level. Luckily, lockdown played right into my hands, so I was able to set up a series of small socially-distant events with different groups of my friends.
It was brilliant to catch up with everybody. Some friends I hadn’t seen since for months before lockdown so getting together for the first time was perfect. However, it always involved keeping the house tidy, lots of shopping and copious drinking of cocktails! Looking back, I do think I suffered from birthday fatigue by the time the big day came around!
A friend of mine did comment that we seemed to do far more to celebrate 40th birthdays, compared to what they do in Germany, where she lives. She found the fuss we go to quite something compared to her friends’ birthdays. So, I do wonder when elaborate birthday celebrations became such an integral part of our culture? The only thing that springs to mind is the prevalence social media plays in our lives – as if every event needs to be bigger and better than the one that went before.
Social media certainly did play a part in my birthday – Wanting a record of my birthday most of my celebrations were captured on camera and have now been used on thank you cards. I did want some Insta-worthy shots of us celebrating so we could support my friend’s cocktail making business. Saying that I was conscious not to spend too much time on social media and tried not to put too many photos online because, in the end, six small parties turned out to be more than enough – demanding more energy than I anticipated!
What did I learn about myself?
I am a high energy person generally happy to push out of my comfort zone. I regularly present to large groups (or I did before lockdown) and I happily present online to prospective clients for my small business. However, organising a birthday bash for myself, as a Solo, was an unexpected way of pushing me out of my comfort zone.
Overall, I’m pleased with myself for the way I coped and managed on my own. It would have been easier to use COVID as an excuse to not to plan anything at all, but for some reason, I didn’t take the easy option. Maybe my subconscious was telling me that after four decades, I’d finally be ditching my birthday anxiety!
I also learned I’m very resilient. Not all of my birthday plans went smoothly. We’d initially booked tickets to a series of open-air concerts. They were all cancelled, which was a disappointment. However, I picked myself back up and managed to arrange something else. Plus, the weather was miserable on a few occasions, so I had to make changes to plans while accommodating social distancing and friends who were anxious about going indoors. We also managed to erect a gazebo during Storm Ellen (so windy it had an actual name) and I’m proud of that too!
How do I feel about my solo status and turning 40?
I’m not going to lie. I’m a hopeless romantic, and my heart desires to find my soulmate and live happily ever after. I do hope that in another 40 years, I’m a little old lady walking down the street holding hands and laughing at something my partner says. However, for me, reaching mid-life solo was, in many ways, brilliant! I had control over everything and managed to shape it all exactly as I wanted.
I was able to choose my presents, and I was blown away by the thoughtfulness and creativity of my friends and family when my present-expectations were very low.
There were times when having a partner would have been nice – the icing on the cake. It was hard not having a partner to plan, shop and tidy up with, or to help me with the fairy lights when they were tangled. But, I do wonder if I had a partner, whether or not my friends and family would have made such an effort? It’s possible they were going the extra mile for me this year because they knew I was on my own.
I’ve also realised I mean more to people than I first thought. When friends haven’t been able to come along to my birthday celebrations in the past, it was because they were genuinely busy or away and not because of not meaning anything to them, as I’d often feared.
How does 40 feel?
I’m six weeks into my fourth decade, and I can honestly say I do feel different. I have a more solid foundation to move forward with my life. I’ve gained more experience (and more money) than twenty years ago…even ten years ago. As this decade begins, I know and like the person, I truly am today, as if the weight of other people’s expectations (career, baby, partner) is now in the distant past.
Ten years ago, I had a career in a large multi-national company – now I’m running my own business. Ten years ago, I wasn’t sure what my journey into motherhood would look like – I now know it’s going to involve adventures and fun times with my gorgeous boy. Ten years ago, I was married, and that felt like a benchmark of success. Now, I’m no longer married. I would like to marry again one day (or at least in a committed relationship), but know I will be absolutely fine on my own.
When I look back at the first article I wrote for Solo Living in early July; I can see I was focusing on what was lacking in my life as a 40-year-old solo. Now, I feel my life is full and better than I had realised and appreciated. Turning 40 has allowed me to look at my life through a lens and see my reality has met with my expectations.
My top tips for having a solo milestone (or any) birthday
- Focus on what you want to do
I did have my bucket list, which helped to give me some focus. While I had to accommodate people’s wishes regarding social distancing, I do feel that I managed to do everything that I wanted for my birthday.
- Do something to treat yourself
If having a big party or a series of events isn’t your thing, then just pick ONE ACTIVITY that’s a real treat for you. Whether it’s a day on your own or with friends at a spa, a trip to somewhere you love (or somewhere new), just make sure it be an activity that will make you feel fulfilled.
- Treat yourself on the day of your birthday
Budgets will vary but put some money away each month so that you can do something memorable on your birthday. Maybe a slap-up lunch in a fancy restaurant, or ordering some clothing that’s a real splurge. Whatever it is, make sure it leaves you feeling like you’re spoiling yourself.
- Don’t stress over things that will go unnoticed
People want to celebrate you, and they won’t worry if your kitchen floor hasn’t had a pre-party mop or the grass is a bit long!
- Keep it simple
Don’t over-complicate your plans unless you enjoy event management and a lot of fuss. Can friends bring some food and drink to your get-together? Can you order takeaway or splash out and hire a chef for the evening if you’re hosting at home? Think about what you truly want from your birthday celebrations and what’s most important to you and make sure your plans are suitably aligned!