Every week it seems that we are bombarded with information in the media regarding how to tell if we are in our prime, if we have reached our peak or if we are just about to go hurtling over the hill in a cardboard box with four wheels attached but no brakes.
Even though I try not to take notice of these surveys and 'findings', I still read them and then purposely discard them.
I don't care if there are scientific facts that say my face is dropping, my sperm count is dwindling or my hair may soon be packing its bags and leaving my perfectly shaped follicles behind.
I know I'm not in the first flush of youth but I also know very well that I'm not scratching about in the undergrowth of old age. I'm 41 and OK, in gay years that means that I'm half past dead and will soon become invisible to all except my peers and those with ambition, empty pockets and eyes for a sugar daddy, but physically, and mentally, I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been.
It takes work (once you reach forty) to still maintain a waist size in the lower 30's and a chest size that is more muscle than moob, but it is possible and it doesn't take the extreme focus and complete abstinence from anything that feels like, looks like or tastes like fun to do it. You take away the fun after forty and you'll end up looking like Madonna, the only woman I can think of who manages to have the sinewy body of a python paired with the face of a puff adder.
I understand the pressure on all of us to look good, to remain relevant and to keep the same level of interest we have received from others. This must be magnified a thousand times if you are in the public eye, but when do we make the decision that we are finally getting old, and for want of a better term 'past it', and do we really ever have the power to make that decision ourselves or is it made for us?
The beauty industry loves to publish surveys to grab our interest with the latest figures on what the modern world deems attractive and just how long we can remain desirable for. The most recent survey carried out by Allure magazine suggests that women are at their most attractive at 30 and men at 34, and in some ways it's good news. In a culture where most pop stars / models and actresses are barely out of their teens, it's nice to know that famous female thirty something's may have a shot at some kind of career longevity, but what about the men? And I'm not talking about the famous ones or the ones with a huge bulge in their bank accounts.
34 is just a year away from the gay death that is 35. Once you reach that age your chances of finding a date online or anywhere else are pretty much over. 35 in gayland is like 25 in old time Hollywood. It's time to give up any dreams of walking the red carpet or being a headline act ever again. At 35 you're like the movie actress of the 1920's and 30's who found herself relegated to bit parts and walk ons in front of a camera lens coated in Vaseline.
We are all living longer and for most of us, our early 40's are now our middle age. It's been said that 60 is the new 40, although quite how that works I don't know. I felt that by the time I reached 40 I was like a house that was structurally sound, built upon good foundations, had had all its rooms painted but every now and again just needed the furniture moved around. Of course, with age comes experience and to some degree tolerance, but I'm also very aware that with age comes the ability and the confidence to say what I like, when I like. I'm not a 'grumpy old man' (just yet) but I'm very aware of what works for me, what I will accept and what I will in no way entertain.
I don't know if this comes with age or the strong sense of self that I've always had, but for most of us, what can be easily led at 20 is in no way going to bow down or roll over at 40.
I look at the friends I have made since my twenties and fundamentally we are all the same. I still see the flash of 'up for anything craziness' in the eyes of my best female friend, who now happens to be a school teacher and lives an idyllic middle class life in a little village by the sea. I look to one of my other friends, who was never going to settle down and who's life was a never ending string of one night stands and short lived affairs and he's now into the 18th year of a long term relationship / civil partnership. For some of us, it's no secret how life and age can calm you and make you settle for a life of quiet domesticity.
And then there's me . . . . .
I'm 41 years old and still in the midst of a tumultuous relationship with nobody but myself. I'm still questioning what's important, what else there is for me to learn and what else there is for me to do and so I'm scared of just 'settling'. The very word 'settle' disturbs me. It reminds me of court cases and negating yourself to accept an offer, even if the offer is a good one. So this brings me to question the survey that says that 'a man is at his peak at 34'.
When I was 34 I was travelling the world and surviving on a diet of cocaine and spray tans. I didn't need to fill my life with love because I filled it with nightclubs and Man Bags. I was living the high life and I didn't even know it. I certainly didn't feel like I was at my peak, although I was definitely high and had my head in the clouds. Physically I was molded and sculpted by a trainer three times a week but mentally I was as lost and insecure as a Liberal Democrat in a Parliament full of Tories. I was on life's treadmill and I was running as fast as I could both physically and mentally. I was high maintenance and I was a high consumer, but I was in no way at my peak. The same way as I wasn't at my peak mentally or physically in my twenties.
I like what age has brought to my face, body and mind. The skimpy arms and insecurities of my early twenties have left the building and have been replaced with a thicker and more sturdy exterior, and the eagerness to please ran off as soon as my 'please yourself' turned up.
I don't buy into or subscribe to the point of view that we 'peak' at a certain age and it most certainly cannot be a standard age for everyone. I like my grey hair and I like the fact that I've grown into my masculinity. I've become so much more comfortable with how I look as I've got older. I'm more responsible for myself and less responsible for others. I have a healthy disregard for authority and I try to keep my life as simple as I can. Age has taught me that the only way I can be happy is to listen to myself and do what feels right for me. You can't do that when you're younger without being thought of as being irresponsible or selfish, and that's the great thing about being 40+, it's not irresponsibility that drives you, it's your life experience.
I have no idea when my peak will be? If I've already had it physically I can cope with that. If I've had it and spent it financially I will learn to cope with that, but what I can't cope with and what I won't accept is that I've already 'peaked' as a person, in my relationships or in my creativity.
I may be long past 34 but with regards to the most important aspects of my life I'm still wide eyed and excited because I've still got so much more that I want to learn and do. I have no idea who they ask to take these surveys. A woman being regarded at her most beautiful at 30 and a man his most desirable at 34 can only be judged by a group of 30 something's living in a Western and commercial world. I'm sure there are places in the world that by the time you've reached 30 or 34 you've already become world weary, jaded and cynical and for all we know even 'downright ugly'. Youth, middle age and old age have nothing to do with how we should measure our life's 'peak'. It's a shallow and ultimately detrimental way to think and to judge ourselves. I haven't reached my full potential yet and if there is ever a moment that I feel I truly have, I don't think I'll even be very happy about it.
I'm not ready to peak just yet, even if a survey says I did seven years ago. 34 was not the age for me to reach my peak physically, mentally or spiritually. I'll think I'll give it a few more years to see if the rest of me can catch up, and in the meantime just enjoy being 41, not yet at my peak, but still in my prime and certainly nowhere near 'past it'.