For as long as I can remember turning 30 was this far away but really scary deadline. It was the date everyone knew you were supposed to have all your adult shit together by. I remember laying in the grass on a sunny day one afternoon when I was 21. A friend and I were working on our resumes and goofing off, pausing to sip wine out of our purses and lay in the sun and giggle. We were talking about how old we felt. We were out of college and about to start jobs and before we knew it we would be THIRTY. Once we were thirty we would be married and have kids and be boring like our parents. It was known.
It’s easy to understand then why I was really, really bummed out that I was turning 30 as a single woman just renting an apartment by myself. Even though I literally grew up making art collages about how cool it was going to be to rent an apartment by myself and work I felt like I had to measure up to what we expect a 30 year old to be like (especially in the midwest). Being 30 means having a wedding and wedding photos and a responsible husband or wife who becomes your emergency contact person. I felt a lot of pressure to have baby fever. I felt a lot of pressure to have a permanent address somewhere with a mortgage, even though I liked the low stress of renting.
Turning 30 without any of these signifiers of adulthood, I felt very naked and on display in front of my peers.
1. I’m more relaxed about “measuring up”
Turning 35 feels a lot better.
I have so much more respect and appreciate for the challenges I can overcome. 30 was too early to see the fruits of the things I labored for. I now understand the value of working at my education, going to therapy, reading, journaling, and dedicating time and energy to niche interests and relationships that seemed totally disconnected. My brain feels like it’s better organized as a result of wisdom I’ve picked up from 35 years of life experience. I feel a lot more confident in my ability to care for myself and create a life that works for me. I have a higher threshold of tolerance when those standard fears of not measuring up arise and cause me to feel distressed.
2. I try to maintain a positive view of aging
Recognizing the wisdom I’ve gathered so far and knowing I don’t want to spend the rest of my life complaining about my body, along with idolizing older women in general (Mary Oliver, Oprah, Annie Dillard) have helped me get to a point where I’m usually happy to be aging.
A line from a favorite Robert Bly poem (A Home in Dark Grass) goes “We did not come to remain whole. We came to lose our leaves like the trees, Trees that start again.”
The purpose of my life is not to remain young and untouched forever.
The purpose of my life is to experience and enjoy the ride from one place to another.
I didn’t come to remain whole.
I came to experience the sublime content cycle of one season dying out as the next one blooms.
3. Uh, the world went to shit
I’ve there’s ever a year that aging feels like an accomplishment it’s 2020. I’m hyper aware that I am blessed to have made it through months where opening my eyes in the morning felt overwhelming. I’m just happy I’m not in a mass grave like Kate Winslet in Contagion or run over by some angry Trump voter. I’ll take what I can get, baggage and all.
4. I have boundaries now!!!
Boundaries have definitely been the best discovery of my 30’s. Did you know you can just tell people they aren’t allowed to disrespect you? And that if they continue to disrespect you after that you can just leave and not engage with them in the future? This was truly such a big thing for me to discover. I was just always worrying about whether someone would treat me right. I didn’t know I could make some rules. All my relationships have improved because I now understand what I will not tolerate.
I don’t tolerate anyone (even family members or an acquaintance) making comments about my weight that make me uncomfortable. One of the most traumatic parts about being in my teens and twenties is now a complete non-issue because I know I don’t have to tolerate it. I also don’t allow people to disparage their bodies in front of me or my nephew. In this house we respect the beautiful imperfections of being human.
I don’t tolerate men making me uncomfortable. I don’t care if they don’t think I have a sense of humor or tell me I can’t take a joke. My comfort is more important than someone getting a laugh at their inappropriate joke. I used to let men dictate what I wore, because I was afraid if my body was too exposed they would tell me I didn’t have a right to not like to listen to them talk about it. I don’t have to do that anymore.
What I’ve learned is to have the ability to consider what is being offered to me before accepting it, and to know that if I don’t like it I can get up and leave the table.
Turning 30 felt like I was losing a race. Turning 35 feels like lots of people have gone home and the rest of us are just walking for pleasure around the park, noticing what everyone is interested in and what they have to say. Nothing to do, nowhere to be.