It Took Me 40 Years To Have This Unsettling Realization

The beauty of unapologetically opting out of societal expectations of women and age.

Woman sitting on bed drinking coffee Kinga Howard | Unsplash

For years, society had given me the impression that upon my 40th birthday, I’d be suddenly plunged into irrelevance, my sense of self subsumed by rapidly encroaching wrinkles and varicose veins, doomed to spend the rest of my life apologizing to everyone who was forced to behold the drooping contour of my breasts through my platysmal-band-concealing turtleneck sweater.

Instead, I’ve found my 40s to be incredibly empowering. Middle age comes with its own challenges, to be sure, but I finally feel like I’m hitting my stride with this whole “being a woman” thing. I spent most of my 30s feeling insecure about being a mom and most of my 20s feeling insecure about being a young female professional. Before that, of course, were the teen and adolescent years, when I felt insecure about pretty much everything.


Of course, like all humans, I will always harbor insecurities. And even though my sense of self is stronger than ever, that self will continue to evolve, perhaps in unexpected ways. That said, on the cusp of my 43rd year of life, I’m very clear on where my strengths lie, what I suck at, what I love, and what I loathe.

I’m also amazed by how long it’s taken to finally admit to myself the things I’ve tried so hard to like and just really, truly don’t.



RELATED: What It Means To Be An Unmarried Woman In Her 40s With No Kids


Here are the 5 things that took me 40 years to realize I loathe:

1. Men who think I’m cute

As a middle-aged woman who has birthed two babies, one on all fours with no drugs while literally roaring, I don’t think I should be allowed to qualify as “cute.” But even if a man never explicitly utters this word, I can tell right away which men take me seriously and which men think I’m… cute.

Luckily, because I no longer give a f*** about earning male praise, I associate with very few of these men. That wasn’t always the case. I used to think I needed their approval to get ahead in life, and I tried to impress them by either leaning into my cuteness or attempting to wow them with my intellect.

Now, if and when I come across one of these men, perhaps at a conference or a social gathering, I can feel their dismissiveness deep in my bones. They hardly need to open their mouths. But since I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I’ll let them flap their lips for a bit. Every now and then, I’ll find I’ve mistaken reserve for condescension and I’ll quickly recalibrate. But my instincts are right about 99% of the time because I have nearly 43 years of experience on this planet, and I’ve spent the vast majority of them being underestimated by men.

Not all men, of course. But enough men to know it when I see it.


2. Most workplaces

Since launching my career, it took me 13 years to realize that I hated working for companies with more than 25 employees and at least seven more years to realize that I hated working for most companies. While I appreciate the intimacy of smaller companies, I’ve found that many still default to patriarchal notions of power (not to be widely shared), productivity (measured in hours, the more the better), and growth (faster and bigger, always).

Writer, educator, and activist Tema Okun refers to such notions as “white supremacy culture characteristics” — not because most workplaces are seething with Proud Boys, but because our systems and social constructs are all built on the premise that the way white people have historically done things is the “best” way — and by white people, of course, I mostly mean white men.

My current workplace is one exception to this rule, so much so that my coworker refers to it as her unicorn. I’m a co-owner at a worker-owned cooperative that prioritizes shared ownership, work-life balance, and sustainable growth. While we’re still susceptible to white supremacy culture characteristics — we’ve spent the past year deconstructing them in our monthly equity sessions — we’re willing to acknowledge that the “way things are” is not necessarily the way things should be and to do the hard work of choosing the road less traveled.

In case you were wondering, our company is consistently profitable, employs 17 people who all make well above a living wage, and as of this month, has been in business for 20 years.


RELATED: Why The Friends You Make In Your 40s Are The Best You'll Ever Make

3. Dresses

In my early 40s, I’ve worn dresses an average of maybe three or four days a year. I bear no grudges against any woman, or man, who wants to rock a dress. My partner, as a case in point, feels liberated by his new collection of kaftans, and that’s wonderful for him.

As for me, it took me 40 years to realize I rarely feel comfortable in a dress. If it’s a longer dress, I don’t like the extra fabric around my calves. If it’s a shorter dress, I don’t like having to think about how to arrange my legs every time I sit down. Yes, I’m an unapologetic womanspreader and though I’d never take up two seats on the subway, I generally prefer not to cross my legs.

I stopped wearing heels during my first pregnancy and never looked back, but it took me 10 more years to officially forego dresses. I have a handful in my closet, which I save for the occasional wedding or formal event, but I haven’t purchased a dress since 2018. It’s not that I never want to “look nice,” but I’d rather look nice on my own terms. And there are so many more ways to look nice than our dominant culture would have us believe.


4. Crowds

As a younger and still somewhat insecure mom, I did all the things that were supposed to be fun. I carted my kids to street fairs, parades, and indoor pools because these are the things that we’re told kids like to do — and besides, I was desperate to get out of the house. I convinced myself that I should be enjoying these things, even if they made me grumpy, exhausted, and sometimes faintly dizzy.

Even before having children, I felt pressured to seek out these “fun experiences” in order to have a satisfying social life. As a young adult in Washington, D.C., nearly every social activity involved seething masses of people, whether at brunch, at a bar, or at a movie on the Mall.

I’ve long known I was an introvert, but I regarded my time alone as “recharge time” and my time with friends as “party time.” Sometimes I think about all the money I could have saved if only I’d admitted to my 20-something-year-old self that my ideal Saturday night out was on a living room couch with a handful of friends.

Then I became a mom, and the seething masses of people became, on average, quite a bit shorter, snottier, and prone to tantrums.


When Covid hit, I mourned the loss of social connection, but I also found myself feeling strangely liberated. For three years, I never once had to attend a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese and by the time we deemed it largely safe to be among crowds again, I had realized that I actually had the authority to… not go.

Looking back, I simply can’t believe that I ever voluntarily attended a parade. My partner sometimes talks about taking the kids to Disneyland. I tell him that if he wants to work weekends to save up the requisite five thousand dollars, I will gladly look after the house while he and the kids are gone.

RELATED: What Turning 40 Really Means For Women

5. Pancakes

Do I really hate pancakes? As I often remind my children, “hate” is a strong word. I have fond childhood memories of my father cooking his “famous” buckwheat pancakes, which I ate without complaint. It was rare for our family to convene around the dining room table at the same time for breakfast, and the pancakes were tasty because the maple syrup was tasty. Mostly I regarded the pancakes as conduits to get maple syrup to my mouth.


I didn’t think much about pancakes throughout most of my young adulthood and generally opted for salty brunches that involved eggs and meat. Even if I wasn’t ready to fully admit it to myself, part of me understood that pancakes are bland, mushy, and highly over-hyped. If I had to choose something to drench with maple syrup, I nearly always opted for waffles, which at least have some semblance of texture.

Then I had children and suddenly felt pressured to be enthusiastic about pancakes. All the cool parents were making pancakes. On a preschool camping trip, I watched a mom cook her children pancakes for breakfast on a portable camping griddle, and I felt unworthy by comparison.

My children learned a difficult lesson about justice that day — namely, that the world is a cold, cruel place in which some children get pancakes while camping and others get lumpy oatmeal.


But you know what? My son is now an enthusiastic oatmeal consumer, and my daughter opts for toast, which she can make all by herself. Neither breakfast involves a greasy griddle, nor a batter-encrusted bowl, or mismatched attempts at Mickey Mouse ears. In my household, pancakes are now never consumed and rarely discussed. I believe my children will still grow up to be healthy and productive members of society.

Almost three years into my fifth decade of life, I have yet to go on a turtleneck shopping spree. I could spend hours in front of the mirror bemoaning the sagging folds of skin beneath my chin, just as I could spend my time smiling for undeserving men or stuffing myself into dresses, just as I could keep myself busy trying to live up to misguided workplace standards during the week or conquering all the expensive and crowded “family fun” activities on the weekend — preceded, of course, by messy and misshapen pancake breakfasts.

Thanks, but no thanks. As a 40-something woman, I know my time is precious, and I ain’t got time for all that.



RELATED: How To Change Your Life & Completely Turn It Around After 40


Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.