Since I hit the big '40' I've avoided any references to my age. When asked I simply reply 'I'm on the wrong side of 40.' It gets a laugh and stops any further enquiries dead in their tracks.
Why? Because I liked being young. Youth made me feel desirable and fit and ready for romance whenever it came along. As age has crept up on me I've tried to hold on to that carefree sexual confidence that came with being twenty something and stubbornly refused to look (or, some would argue, act) my age.
Today, however, the reality of my age hit me - 'smack' - right in the middle of my forehead. You see, four months ago I had surgery on my knee and as a result, after a 20 year hiatus, I am required to become reacquainted with my local gym.
Twenty years ago I was a fitness fanatic doing 6 workouts a week. These days a brisk walk with my two silly dogs to buy an icecream at the corner shop counts for a workout (What? the icecream is a reward for moving at all!). So when I walked into the gym this morning to meet Sonjia, the Croatian Fitness Goddess, I was expecting my delusions about my age to be utterly shattered with a resounding reality check.
After doing all the tests and asking all the questions that needed asking, the lovely Sonjia announced that my biological age is 7 years LESS than my chronological age. Given everything else about me came up as 'average', this news gave me no end of joy. It's okay then, to continue acting younger than I am, and lying voraciously and convincingly about my age to anyone who asks. Poor Sonjia has no idea that she has just given me permission to persist in my delusion that I'm younger than I actually am. Yay for that!
Until. . .
I arrive at the newsagents to pick up this weeks copy of Take 5 magazine. This is a special week for Take 5 because this week they announced a fantastic romance writing contest with a first prize to blitz all other first prizes. AND there's an article about yours truly. This time I'm not embarrassed to pick up the mag and flick through it in front of the newsagent guy behind the counter because I know I'm going to actually buy this copy. I flick to page 18. Yep, there I am, at my messy desk with a copy of Anais Nin in my hand. And there's the very sweetly written article about my ragged and strange life. And there, right at the bottom, in big bold letters, is my name and my REAL AGE! Oh God!
I snap the magazine shut as shards of illusion splinter around me. This magazine has a circulation of around 600,000. That's 600,000 people who now know how old I really am. When I try to pretend I'm only (just) 40, I'll be laughed outta town. The undeniable truth is out - damn it.
Vanity is a strange thing. If you have enough of it, it will get you over minor setbacks, and this, I decided, was a minor setback. So, I straightened my back, walked proudly over to the counter and bought my copy of Take 5 thinking, 'It's just a number. Sonjia said my body is effectively 7 years YOUNGER than what that says. Does it really matter how old I really am?'
The answer is no. It's vanity that makes me cringe about my chronological age. The truth is that the years have added maturity and real depth to my twenty-something sexual confidence. I can still shake my stuff (not on high heels though, mores the pity), I can still be an outrageous flirt, and I no longer feel the need to worry about other's judgements. Because of my age, and the experience that comes with it, I don't break so easily these days.
The truth is a woman is wonderful at any age. The nervous, early buds of youth evolve into the full bloom of womanhood and fade gently into the wisdom and confidence of old age. The key is to embrace our bodies and our age and make the most of both, no matter what stage of life we are at. Sage advice I hope I will heed the next time someone asks 'And how old are you?'
(Ironically as I write this I'm listening to Bob Dylan's 'Forever Young')