Divorced, decapitated, died. The wives of Henry VIII had it simple. For 21st Century fortysomethings - my contemporaries - the litany of woe is considerably more extensive: dull, dumped, divorced, dejected, demoralised, disillusioned, despairing, deranged, drunk, dysfunctional, druggy, dried-out, dried-up and often utterly desperate. Only on occasion are they ever actually decapitated. Forget the terrible twos; the feelbad forties are the real shocker.
There is something rotten in the soul and being of modern fortysomethings. Every survey suggests they are the most miserable of the lot. Their malaise runs deeper than the average mid-life crisis, the desire to paraglide, inject botox or date a younger set. No, it is much bleaker. Mortality looms, the finiteness to life can be glimpsed ahead, and the fortysomethings cannot take it. Life is what it is and the young are having fun. And above everything sits the blackest cloud of all - a pervasive sense of disappointment.
Look around and ask yourself if you are elated at what you see, electrified by the fortysomething company you keep. The men are invariably jaded, careworn, humourless, overworked and tesious; the women are often wide-hipped, flat-shoed, pre-menopausal, neurotic, self-absorbed and mad. Oh, and the visits to the therapist are in full spate and guaranteed to exacerbate the drivel and self-pity. Where have all the bright things gone - gone to seed or shrinks, every one.
Contentment is a distant dream for the fortysomething. They never did manage expectations well. It is a time of dawning realisation that surprises are few and surprising people fewer, that potential is limited and this is truly it. The parents are dying off and the children growing up; time accelerates and age creeps on; the push of youthfulness recedes and the pull of fiftydom beckons. And the buck stops here. Small wonder the despondency and dismay. Singles want to be married and the married wish to be single, relationships buckle to the pressures of boredome and indifference and a greying of the spirit.
Read the subtext to those boastful Christmas round-robins, decipher the faux cheeriness and the smug certitude fuelled by Prozac and booze. 'We have had a blissful and successful year, entertaining and travelling and having so much fun! Although David lost his leg in a gardening accident and gave me chlamydia from a now-ended affair, everyone is thriving. Freddie did wonderfully in his exams, but was sadly eaten by a Nile crocodile during his Gap year; Sebastian discovered skunk and developed schizophrenia in his first term up at Oxford; Sophie, bless her, is loving boarding-school, is Grade 5 clarinet, and has become a mother at thirteen!! How lucky we all are...'. The families are disintegrating and you would never know.
The fortysomethings are the unhappiest of hasbeens. Some make it and others do npt; some simply lack the balls and backbone to fight their way through. Face it, it is the kids with the energy, optimism and potential. That is before they grow up to be smackheads, serial murderers or estate agents and generally to disappoint. But their disasters are for later. Meantime, their fortysomething parents trudge ever onward - both resenting and envying them in equal measure - wanting to ape and live through them, to be in their gang and seduce their teen acquaintances, to rediscover their golden age. The offspring inhabit a space close enough to remember yet too far distant to wholly comprehend. It rankles. It hurts. It leaves another nail beside the open coffin.
Put it down to a passing phase, the mania and listlessness of an in-between state that in time will evaporates to acceptance. Life is imperfect and the fortysomethings have yet to stumble on that particular truth. They want it easy and do not find it so.
So as I steel myself to attend another dreary drinks party populated by dreary indiividuals with their dreary conversation, I cheer myself with the thought that we fortysomethings are in a chrysalis-transition and will emerge on the other side of fifty as brighter and more fascinating creatures. Should I be wrong, stamp on me now.