14 Things Every Woman Should Know By The Time She Turns 40

The wisdom of Gen X women.
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A year ago, AARP launched a free weekly digital newsletter called “The Girlfriend,” aimed at what we see as an often-overlooked demographic — Gen X women. As editor, one of the greatest privileges I’ve had is hearing from readers about their struggles with perimenopause, parenting, friendship, relationships, and staying relevant. To mark our anniversary, I’ve put together a list of 14 things every woman should know by 40.

1. How to stop apologizing.

For God’s sake, you do not need to apologize to your OB/GYN for not shaving your legs. That’s the least-embarrassing part of you he/she is going to see. If you’re too busy to volunteer — or if you just don’t want to! — say you can’t and ditch the “I’m sorry.” It’s become a polite way of turning someone down, but you can do that without belittling your reasoning. You can do it without looking like a bitch. “I won’t be able to make your ___ this weekend, but I hope you have a wonderful time and thanks for including me” isn’t rude. Save apologies for when you’ve really done something wrong, like, “I’m sorry I backed your car into the garage wall.”

2. How to tell a lie with a straight face.

“Thanks, I’ve always wanted one.” “That looks great on you!” “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

By now you should be able to deliver Oscar-worthy untruths. You know that protecting feelings is sometimes more important, that your truth does not need to be heard by all, and that what you do and how you think are your business. Sometimes your lie needs to become your truth so you can put your intentions into the world. Tell the truth when you can, but own your lie when you need to.

3. How to suck it up and accept that criticism is not a fatal blow.

Criticism is not a fatal blow. Nor is an extra 10 pounds. Not being invited to lunch or negative feedback at work doesn’t feel great. But you know better ― life’s small injuries need to be kept in their proper perspective and not bleed into the rest of your life. Boss hates your report? That sucks. But you’re crushing it at home with the kids. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a horrible cliché, but it’s true.

4. How to make the most of “me time.”

Hours, or a whole day, of kid-free time can be a rare thing. A natural inclination is to focus on smaller, immediate tasks you’ve been putting off. After you’ve swapped out summer and winter clothing, what then? Start working on a hobby, a passion or a side project. Something that is all you. A friend, who has been to Disney a million times, is starting a website to help families plan their trip. Use your free time wisely, but selfishly.

5. How to have a real orgasm.

Yes, we said you should be able to lie about things. But, stop lying about this. More women fake orgasms than they let on. It’s exhausting. If you haven’t already, start telling your partner what it is you need to have the big “O.” Don’t feel bad if it takes time. Or, if he can’t do it at all for you, introduce him to your vibrator.

6. How to use a vibrator.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends sex toys as a way to combat the vaginal dryness, reduced libido, muscle atrophy and painful sex that can arise as our hormone levels decline. If you’re already using a vibrator, then good for you. Literally. If the idea makes you uncomfortable, just remember — it’s doctors’ orders! Thankfully, sex tech is catching up with the unique needs of the 40-plus female demographic.

7. How to pursue and cherish friendships with a variety of people.

Remember your college friend who held back your hair when you got too drunk and said, “Don’t worry, no one noticed!” Everyone did. But she got you through. And now that life is five times more complicated, you need your friends more than ever. And you need different friends with different perspectives. Who says your BFF can’t be 10 years older or younger? Variety is not only the spice of life; it’s also the spice of a fabulous circle of friends.

8. How to record and make note of things that really matter.

In addition to marking down your child’s first words, record the first conversations you had with them about whether there’s a Santa Claus — or a God. Often we’re so busy obsessively recording every milestone in our kid’s life that we forget to take video of a typical family dinner, with everyone doing nothing but laughing — or arguing. Think you will remember what your child’s bedroom looked like when they were 7? You might. But you might not. The everyday moments are really what you’ll want to remember after your kids fly the coop.

9. How really OK it is to be tired and ready to go to bed at 9 p.m.

There’s nothing wrong with going to bed at 8 p.m., either.

10. How dangerous it is to take your partner for granted.

When you’re with someone a really long time, that lustful kiss you used to plant on each other at the end of a long day can morph into a chaste peck on the forehead that can then morph into barely a look up from the computer and a mumbled hello. Acknowledge the little things your partner does for you. Complacency can act as a potent force. Don’t let it overpower you.

11. How a small thing like attitude can make a very big difference.

You’ve learned by now that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. Hanging around people who complain all the time will bring you down. Being positive and thinking good thoughts can help to make good things happen. Attitudes are contagious.

12. How to show up.

When your friend has her first art exhibit, show up. When she’s going through a divorce, show up. When her father dies, show up at the funeral, even if it’s a four-hour drive. Celebrating these kinds of moments with your besties — when you know it means the world to them — binds you together like nothing else.

13. How being busy 24/7 doesn’t make you more important or superior to anyone.

It just makes you, well, busy.

14. How whatever is happening is usually not about you.

When you’re younger and out in public, you suck in your stomach and make sure you don’t have a hair out of place. But most of the time, no one is really paying that much attention. People like to think that every person at a party or other event is critiquing them. But actually, people are usually focused on themselves. And if someone does say something to you that’s hurtful, it’s almost certainly related to something going on in their own life that has nothing to do with you.

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