I am never going to be a thirty something bride. Just as I never wrote that novel before the age of 40, never became an astronaut, never battled the seas in the Rainbow Warrior to save the seals…I have come to terms with all of those things, but would it sound childish and pathetic to admit just how desolate I feel about never having been married before reaching the age of 40? How much of a failure this makes me feel?
In one of her novels, Joanne Harris writes about a proposal.
‘There it was in her hand. The small dream,’ as the character holds the ring. This phrase always stuck in my mind. The ring, the marriage, the happily ever after, is the small dream that women are handed as little girls. It’s in the books, the films, the lives of all the women who have gone before. A woman who has never been married is incomplete, a sad figure: a spinster. Big, bachelor dreams are for the boys..
As my 40th birthday hurtles towards me, the wedding plans just aren’t coming together. There is still no date set, no clear idea of the venue, no wedding dress ordered – and I know that I am going to be the 40-year-old bride.
I spent my 30th birthday alone, with an 8 month old baby. That day, to get myself through, I thought about my 40th birthday. I thought, by then this baby will be 10 years old. Work will be easier. Feeding her will be easier. I will be able to go to the toilet by myself. I will definitely be happier. There is no salvaging this birthday, but I will make sure the next one is better.
Now, to keep the promise I made to myself ten years ago – to be happier – I realise that I must stop defining myself, and my happiness, in relation to my status as a woman. On my 30th birthday I was defined by being a single mother, with all the pride and shame that burned in me because of that. Now, I am defining myself by my marital status – spinster at 40 – and I am allowing myself to feel shame again, and disappointment, at the small wish that I was never granted.
No, I will never be the thirty something bride, just as I was never the woman with a husband sitting by her side in the ante natal clinic. But these things don’t define me. There are so many other things I have been, and can be.
This year, my 40th, is apparently the beginning of the rest of my life. It cannot be another year of mourning for my abject failure to conform to anything like the ideal of a ‘proper’ woman. I hear my 30-year-old self calling through the years, and I can’t let her down. I would like to tell her, yes the baby is a 10-year-old, and she lets you go to the toilet on your own, she brings you breakfast in bed on your birthday and she has repaid you in gold for every sacrifice you ever made for her – the pride you felt when she said her first word is nothing to the pride you will feel when she comes out with her first bitingly sarcastic comment. You did well, 30-year-old self.
And to my future 40-year-old self, I would like to say – your 50th is going to be AMAZING!