I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?

Since I turned 40 I’ve encountered disbelief that I could possibly be enjoying my own life. But then there’s the other unexpected gift of this age: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions.

Glynnis MacNicol

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Illustration: Saehan Park

A few months before my 42nd birthday, I was out to dinner with friends and found myself seated next to a well-known older male writer.

I happened to be in the final stages of finishing a proposal for a memoir about being a single woman over 40 without children and was inwardly marveling at the timing of our encounter. I was a fan of his. Perhaps he might offer some wisdom? Words of encouragement?

As drinks were delivered I sketched the outline of the story: No one had prepared me for how exhilarating life could be on my own. I was traveling all the time, doing what I wanted, when I wanted, released from the fear of the clock that had dogged me through my 30s. Conversely, no one had warned me of the ways in which it would actually be difficult; my mother had been very ill, for instance, and part of the book was about caring for her.

No sooner had I finished than the famous writer placed his glass firmly on the white tablecloth, leaned back and declared: “Glynnis MacNicol, you have a terrible life!”

Not exactly the feedback I was hoping for.

He continued: “You’re all alone in the world, and have no one to help you.” He turned to my friends, dramatically interrupting their conversation. “Do you know how terrible this woman’s life is? She’s all by herself!”

My friends managed to snort back their drinks, barely. “But I’m fine,” I protested lightheartedly, hoping to return the discussion to writing. “I’m quite enjoying myself.”

He took a disbelieving sip of his drink. “I want to help you,” he said. He then instructed our server to wrap up his untouched steak and insisted I take it home.

He thought he was being kind, I knew, but that didn’t change the fact that on an otherwise perfect spring evening in Manhattan, I again faced a dilemma I’d been struggling with since turning 40: how to…

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Glynnis MacNicol

Glynnis MacNicol is a writer and author of the memoir NO ONE TELLS YOU THIS (Simon & Schuster, 2018).