My best friend and I are both named Ashley, we’re both 28 years old (born 12 days apart) and we both have brown eyes. That is pretty much where our similarities end. She loves animal print, high heels, Channing Tatum and holding onto the hope that she looks this young (or younger) forever. I love tartan, converse and Idris Elba.
I also love aging.
In my mind, every year of my life is an opportunity to learn more about who I am and what I want from this life. It also gets me closer to the age I’ve always wanted to be…40.
I’ll be honest, watching the years tick by, another scratch on the wall, hasn’t always been a source of pleasure for me. When I entered college, I assumed I would graduate in four years just like I was supposed to, the way we all were supposed to. Being the control-freak I am, I’d studied my course catalog all summer, drawing my own charts until I was satisfied that I had a fool-proof plan for getting out of school in a respectable amount of time. And that was really what I wanted so badly: to be respected.
Wanting to be 40 was never about aging. It was always about wanting to embrace a certain state of mind.
I ended up changing majors seven times, and along with my perfect guide to on-time graduation, my dream of being “the one who did it right” flew right out the window. I was obsessed with the fact that I would be 23 when I graduated college. Then, something else happened and I would be 24 when I graduated college. I didn’t leave the university until I was 25, and did so quietly with a head hung in shame. Someone said, “Ashley, you can’t leave! You’re like our leader here. Like an old, wise, matriarch.” I kept packing my boxes, and thought, you got the “old” part right.
Over coffee, I talked to one of my mentors about my frustration with the trajectory of my life. I’d gotten over feeling old, but I still felt stuck. She was everything I wanted to be. A successful writer, honest, warm and what I like to call, “fuckless.” “Fuckless” being the state of giving few, if any, fucks about what others think of you, or what you choose to do. It’s not about apathy as much as it is a certainty about who you are and what you’re meant to do in this world. I saw that in her, and I wanted to live that way as well, with confidence and a sure stride. I wanted to say what I meant and do what felt right. When I told her as much she responded, “Honey, you’ll be the same way when you’re 40. This is what happens to all women when we turn 40.” We laughed, and continued sipping our coffee and talking MFAs, publishing and lit scene gossip. Through it all, there was a clear thought in the back of my head: I don’t want to wait until I’m 40.
Over the next year, the circumstances of my life changed dramatically. I started dating the love of my life, landed my dream job and moved to New York City. It felt like when I told people my age and what I was doing with my life, the two sounded like a match. Finally, I was “the one doing it right.” I still didn’t feel any better about myself. I felt accomplished, I felt capable and I felt lucky. But the fact that I was where I was “supposed” to be and people could see that now didn’t come with the sigh of relief and satisfaction I thought it would. I realized I was waiting for someone to say, “You’ve done great, Ashley. Now, go live the life you want and we’ll stop watching you.” It took me a long time to realize that’s not how it works. No one was coming to give me permission to live like I’m 40. I didn’t need their permission.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote that there are “years that ask questions and years that answer them.” At the top of 2015, I asked myself what was keeping me from living like the 40-year-old women I love, respect and admire. Aside from some arbitrary assertion that I had not paid my dues or lived enough years, why was I holding myself back from saying what I mean and asking for what I want? Who was I waiting on to give me permission to be me? My answer to myself was that life is too short to wait, and wanting to be 40 was never about aging. It was always about wanting to embrace a certain state of mind. I’ve decided that time is now. I asked the question, and I gave myself permission to answer it too. Now, I go to seek a great fucklessness.