I turned 40 on Saturday, which means I'm now officially pickled.

I remember when my dad turned 40. I was seven at the time. His friends gave him one of those NASA-engineered crinkly balloons made out of the same material they used to build the Epcot Center ball. It said "over the hill!" on it and it floated on our kitchen ceiling, just out of reach, for the better part of three decades.

When I asked my parents what "over the hill" meant they told me 40 was the point at which a person's life is probably at least half over. Then they took me on errands in the white Astro van every family in America owned in 1991 and they left me in it with all the windows up during a heat wave while they went inside, because this was the 90s.

I remember turning 30. It was basically last year. My friend Brandt and I had gone to Ukraine and Poland to travel around for a couple weeks. My birthday started while we were on an overnight train getting harassed and threatened with an arrest at the Polish border as we tried to make our way to Krakow.

It's sort of wild ten years have passed since then. I think I may be the first person in history who is surprised by the passage of time. The first person to feel weird about aging. I should trademark this feeling and sell it on Etsy.

I don't really feel different. I don't feel older, more tired, more jaded. I'm sure I am those things, but looking back, it doesn't really feel like much has changed. And yet it has?

I came out to my family just two months before I turned 30. Today, I'm a married Loud Gay with a life that looks almost unrecognizable in some ways to the life I had then.

My social circles have evolved. My priorities have changed. Hell, in ten years I went from apathy toward dogs to letting two of them completely take over my life. Recently my older dog vomited and I caught it in my hand without flinching. Who am I?

I've been making jokes on social media for a while about turning 40, and some people have asked in response what I learned from my 30s or what advice I have for someone who is about to enter that decade. And I don't know that I'm really in a position to give advice here. I mean, I'm on day three of wearing the same t-shirt and recently I found a cheese stick in my pocket. And I didn't even know we had cheese sticks. So I'm not sure anyone should be looking to me for answers.

But I guess if I had to articulate what I think I learned in the last decade, or how I've changed because of what I've learned, it probably all has something to do with nuance and why an appreciation for it generally leads to a happier life and better decision making.

In my experience, time can compel you to understand that most things aren't very simple. People come with their own unique traumas, rarely disclosed in full context. Every problem has hundreds of solutions, and none of them are ever perfect. Plans become liabilities once you get attached to them. And most of all, very few things are worth losing sleep over (exceptions include Indian-food-induced heart burn and the occasional binge of a good tv show).

Seven or so years ago Skylar started applying to medical school, which landed me in an eight-month panic attack. "What will we do if you get into a school out of state?" I regularly asked him, pacing the floor in the kitchen while squeezing those wrist-strengthening contraptions that seemed to eject from my wrists like a Wolverine-adjacent superpower.

"We'll figure it out," he would say, so calm, so unaware I was so full of nervous energy my body started naturally producing enough caffeine to kill an elephant.

I would lie awake at night, thinking through every worst case scenario. Like, Skylar would get into school in Kentucky and I would quit my job to move with him and then he'd get a mullet and die at the last second. Or Skylar wouldn't get into medical school and he would be so distraught that he'd instead decide to pursue a career in singing telegrams and then he'd get a mullet and die. (Most of my worst case scenarios involved him getting a mullet and dying and me feeling guilty for asking the mortician to give him a haircut.)

And all while I lay awake in worry, there he'd be, lying next to me in bed, sleeping like someone with the skin of a baby and the conscience of a psychopath, completely unfazed by the constant roll-of-the-dice and unpredictable butterfly effects life seems to punishingly produce.

"We'll just figure it out."

I guess he entered his 30s already knowing the lesson it took my 30s for me to learn, which has probably freed him up to get something else out of the decade. By the time he's 40 maybe he'll have learned how to figure skate or why they keep making Marvel movies.

"We'll just figure it out."

A friend of Skylar's was at our house not long ago. She was going through a hard life change and its associated grief and was asking for advice on how to work through it. "This isn't an answer that's going to feel very good to hear," I found myself saying, "but time is an unavoidable ingredient in the antidote to grief. The rest of the ingredients are more about what not to do than they are action items."

It was a bit strange that those words fell out of my mouth. It was like I was telling my past self something I really needed to hear. A lesson the grief of my 30s taught me—a lesson that is as frustrating as it is comforting. There's no shortcut through most heartache, but there is something of an inevitable release down the road, and sometimes knowing that makes the road more traversable.

"We'll just figure it out."

I used to think the saying was lazy. Why are we punting this? Shouldn't we figure it out now?

At some point the phrase became optimistic for me—it wasn't about postponing the action, but an expression of confidence that nothing can really beat us down in any way that actually matters. And even if that's not true, there's no sense in taking the beating preemptively by agonizing over what might be.

"We'll just figure it out."

On Saturday evening we had a little birthday party in our backyard. Skylar arranged it. He told me the night before that he was worried he didn't do enough for my 40th birthday. "A little backyard party is exactly what I want," I assured him.

"I know," he said, "but you deserve more than you want."

I've said it countless times before, and I suspect I'll say it countless times more, but one thing I definitely don't deserve is this man.

He invited many of our friends and arranged to have a small local folk band who played at our wedding serenade what turned out to be a pleasant gathering.

It started to rain just as our last guest or two began to make their way home. Skylar left then to pick up our dogs from a friend's house; we had dropped them off because they are overwhelmed by parties.

As the raindrops fell, I took a seat on a rocking chair under our covered patio, a glass of wine in hand, and I watched the leaves from the trees we've painstakingly planted get pelted with the spring storm. The bistro lights we hung a while back lit the yard, and the scent of lilac—the first thing I planted when I bought our house ten years ago—wafted my way with a cool breeze.

After a while I heard Skylar's car pull up, a door open, and then Duncan and Louie sprinted to me, nearly knocking the wine glass out of my hand. We all retreated inside to eat more birthday cake and gossip about the party guests. (Good gossip.)

"How does it feel to be 40?" Skylar asked me as we started getting ready for bed.

"Well," I told him, "thanks to you, it's already off to a great start."

I'm sure he thought I was talking about the party, but I really meant much more than that.

And then we fell asleep, two dogs between us, just before midnight.

Not a wild birthday by any means.

But the quiet, calm kind. The kind warmed by the love of people who matter and the memories I'm now proud to have. The kind worth wanting and deserving.

The exact kind of birthday someone might wish for when they are over the hill.

~It Just Gets Stranger