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  • Clive Vanderwagen

I should have spent my twenties naked...

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

I turn 50 in ten days. Fif-fucking-tee.

How in God's green earth did this happen? It feels like a few years ago I was celebrating my first pube and wishing I could kiss a boy.

Now I'm plucking out the greys, and reminiscing about all the boys I used to kiss.

I'm looking back at photos of my twenties and thirties and wondering why I hated my body so much. When I look at it now, I should have spent much more time naked. I was a looker, baby!

Turning 50 isn't scary. I don't mind it actually. It just feels like it's happened so quickly. The time between 30 and 50 feels like it has been galloping, while I thought it should be trotting. And I have a feeling that the only thing that's going to get slower is me.

I describe turning 50 as entering lap three. From birth to 24.99 is lap one. Twenty-five to 49.99 is lap two. And turning 50 is entering lap three. I'm not sure if there is a lap four or if lap three is the final lap, or if anything after 75 is just a victory lap.

But I'm quite keen to enter lap three.

It feels like a new start.

My twenties were spent so desperately trying to be anything but me. I was searching for identity. Hating being gay. Scared of my Dad finding out. Desperate to appear more masculine. Searching for my space. And yearning to find direction.

But feeling utterly invincible at the same time. I got strange men to buy me drinks. Kissed random strangers on Friday and Saturday evenings. Drove home after having far too much to drink.

I fell in love. With God. Who was also my guard. A form of protection against the Clive that was desperate to seep out. A latent decadence that wanted to celebrate life with hedonistic abandon.

My thirties were about settling. Settling into me and my sexuality. Finding a space in the world where I felt I added value. I earned a bit more money. I drank wine rather than beer. I tried foie gras and started writing. I fell in love with a boy. And let myself. I left the church, but not God.

I lay on the beach in my Speedo, sipping white wine, while looking at the other bronzed bodies on Clifton three. I flirted with men in their twenties. And they teased back. Men in their forties tried to flirt with me.

I kissed a supermodel from the Netherlands and felt like the sexiest man alive.

I bought a house.

I was on TV and people asked for my autograph.

I got married. And kissed a man in front of my Dad, and watched my Dad beam in delight.

I turned forty in a seedy nightclub in Melville. A bus pulled up outside, and a gaggle of drag queens slunk out and danced around me for the rest of the night. We drank Moët out of the bottle, and I snogged my husband on the dance floor.

I decided there was no God. I lost hope that there was something bigger than me. Life lost its clarity but became astonishingly mysterious. There was more to this world than the doctrine I had been taught. I had choices about what I believed, how I could live, and how I allowed what people thought of me to affect me.

I experienced deep sadness. Mourning the dreams of my youth while stepping into the maturity that grief offers. Looking back for too long, we turn to salt, like the wife of Lot. The midlife offers the choice to look forward and choose meaning.

I saw more greys and comments about how good I looked, with the words 'for your age' now added to the end of them.

I nestled into my form, making peace with the shape of life.

I drank even better wine. And explored cities around the world, wanting to etch their every brush stroke, flavour, and scent into my memory.

I stood on a stage and proclaimed that nothing happens for a reason.

And, as I write this, at 49.99 years of age, I sit in a city of the world where I don't speak the language with a man that has chosen to be by my side through thick and thin, and who I suspect cares far less about me turning 50 than I do.

Turning 50. It's deliciously decadent. Fif-fucking-tee.

Who knows what it holds?

Penning a few memories of decades gone by, there is only one thing I know for sure.

I get to choose.

I wish I had learnt that decades ago.

Those words are freedom. Fifty and free.

I choose how to live. How to respond.

I refuse to speed up to try to sap out the juice of life. I choose to slow down and savour the notes, and the complexities, like a vintage Chablis, cellared for a century.

I have learnt much. And know nothing.


How did that happen?


Frank Julicher
Frank Julicher
Sep 21, 2022

Another fantastic post. You’re right, I’m less worried about your turning fifty than you are. 😜

But boy am I happy I get to spend almost every day of my life with you.


Sep 19, 2022

Happy birthday in advance Clive :). Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the story of your life with us. I just turned 30 and oh boy I wasn't ready for the confrontation I'm currently facing. We put so much pressure on what we want our lives to look like in the future and forget to enjoy what is in front of us. I was chasing a something I thought would bring me happiness, thinking if I get that I would be happy but I figured happiness is not a destination what what we acquire. The life I had pictured at 15 is not this one and was unhappy for a while until I realized that we cant plan ou…

Clive Vanderwagen
Sep 21, 2022
Replying to

Ah, thanks Noluthando! Happy birthday and congrats on the big 3-0! Such an exciting time ahead for you. And knowing how uincredibly talented you are, I look forward to watching you fly!

I've learnt that happiness is fleeting. The only thing that we can sdo to make us feel more joy is to give our lives meaning. and to nurture the relationships around us. My 20s were also about searching and pressure. We are never where we plan to be. And that's what makes life astonishing! You have gone great places and will continue to.

Just go easy on yourself and enjoy today. It's all we have!

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