You’re supposed to be just a number. An even, two-digit number that just so happens to rhyme with “dirty” — nothing more. So why do I continue to look at you with such trepidation and disdain? Oh right, because once upon a time when I was hanging out with your younger siblings, 20 and 25, I had this naive notion that by the time we met, I would have everything figured out. At the time, I don’t think I realized what “everything” even entailed, or what needed to be “figured out.” I just had this rose-tinted vision of the life I was supposed to be living. I thought by the time we met, I would share tales about the way my husband looked at me on our wedding, the first moment I felt my baby kick inside, or the promotion that finally got me that proverbial corner office. Only tall tales here, my friend.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve been rooting for you for years. Just ask 25 or even 27. 25 introduced me to a nice fellow that introduced me to his entire extended family at a BBQ — on our second date! (Lovely family, by the way.) Surely, I would have had “everything figured out” by now had I not ended that courtship. Looking back, I can’t recall the nuances that led to the demise of our three-month-long relationship, but I suspect the desire to be with the right person overshadowed the desire to be married. Even 27 was kind enough to bring along another promising prospect. I thought, “Great, I’m back on track!” Yet, I find myself here at the brink of a quarter-plus life crisis because 29 has thus far been a disappointment. My love life — much like my career — are both at a standstill. Yes, a standstill — as in, the completely opposite direction of my internal alarm clock. I am literally so close to you — you-monstrosity-of-a-milestone — yet so far from the life I had envisioned having with you. At a time when I thought I would be a wife and mother of one with a white picket fence, I’m single and living in a condo. Cue the violins.
More than anything, what makes coming to terms with this epic failure so difficult is seeing my peers live the life I so desperately desire. I’m reminded of it almost every time I log onto Facebook and see yet another post about some 20-odd year old getting engaged, hitched or knocked up. Let’s not confuse my emotions as jealousy or envy — I am jaded though. Through college, we live our lives in parallel with our peers; we share the same experiences (e.g., SATs, internships, tailgating, etc.). Then we’re suddenly thrust into the “real world” and we’re off to the races to secure the best job, spouse and home (preferably in that order). And yes, while I do subscribe to “in the end, the race is only with yourself” theory, perhaps it takes a higher degree of maturity to truly adopt it and internalize it.
Of course, it doesn’t help that you — you-dreaded-new-decade — keep whispering not-so-sweet nothings into my mom’s ears. She is well aware that by the time she was this age, she had already had three kids. Must you keep reminding her that I’m inching towards you day by day — and, sans husband? Between you, my ovaries and my mom, trust me, I get the message loud and clear: it’s time to hatch some eggs.
I know, I know — I place undue pressure on you to give me answers to questions like, “are you really the new 20?” or “are you going to be kind to my skin elasticity?” That’s only because scary thoughts have started creeping in:
- What if I’m writing the same letter this time next year to 31? (Oh dear God, I will cry… again. And this time, it won’t be pretty.) Or even worse, at 32? We all assume change is a constant, but the status quo is just as likely a possibility.
- What if this deep longing for someone — and something — to come home to everyday remains unrequited?
- What if I’m not meant to have that trifecta of family, career and home? Society’s subliminal pressures have convinced me this is the sum of true happiness. Society – 1, Me – 0.
- What if it’s no longer a matter of when, but rather if?
So many of us tend to grow up assuming these things are a given (as if they’re the least common denominators in “being settled”), when in fact, the only certainty in life is death.
Despite the fact that studies have shown marriage and kids don’t necessarily improve the quality of life for women, I still truly believe grass is greener on the other side of a white picket fence. After all, the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of. Then there are articles like this and this that challenge me to find gratitude in every single element of this world — from the sunrise to oxygen. Really? I may be spiraling into existential depression but I am not crazy enough to thank the moon and the stars for brightening up the sky. Why is everyone so eager to convince themselves that “hey, it’s not so bad”? Granted, there are FAR bigger issues to be dealt with in countries where stories about gang rape and car bombs make recurring headlines. But I’ve realized that in trying to pretend I’m content with my achievements thus far, the only person I’ve been fooling is myself.
Maybe I’m destined to continue filling my passport with stamps rather than filling my home with children’s toys. Maybe the lifelong companionship I seek in a husband is meant to be found in helping refugees in Syria. Maybe, but I doubt it. A passport will bring me to new places but the best journeys always take me home. Sunrises will shed light on a new day but the best wake-up call is a heartbeat next to mine. At the end of the day, we collect memories — not things.
Whether I’ve been hardwired to obsess over achieving this so-called American Dream, or I’ve developed a growing sense of acute self-awareness, I know that nothing will quite fill the void of a fulfilling career and family. Well, except for Greece — that country may not have the solution to its debt crisis, but it can cure my quarter-plus life crisis. Of that much, I am sure.
When I was friends with your comrades 5 and 6, you were just a number, hidden in the beads of an abacus. Somewhere along the way, you morphed from being an answer to a simple calculation to a complex equation that had to be solved. With so many unknown variables and so few knowns, you’ve proven to be the root of my indeterminate expression.
Until we meet,
29 Going on Denial