Throughout my life women have told me my thirties will be a gift from my twenties. You’ll really know yourself, they’d say with that cheesy wink elders give children. The sex is wonderful. You’ll LOVE your body.
My thirties quickly became a mythical centaur I’d turn to in turbulent times. When I got ready for the beach pinching my belly fat, sucking it in and out, rearranging my bikini bottom then finally relenting, I’d sigh and think about my thirties. But I always knew I’d reach a nearer version of self-actualization at 28.
For reasons still unknown, I’ve fetishized being 28 since I was 16. As a girl, I had a distinct image of Gwyneth Paltrow and decided that’s what 28 looks like. The height of your youth and beauty; you’re young but not too young, you’re wise but not that far-off-older wise, you could still be surprised by life. This obsession was my version of the 30 myth, a misconception I constructed as the ultimate destination of my twenties.
Throughout my twenties I’ve stumbled. A lot. It’s expected and society liberates us from hard feelings because this has been ubiquitously dubbed as the “right time” to mess around. And yet, as I’m nearing the pervasive thirties, I realize how naive it is to believe we can fit all our doubts, mistakes, longings and experimentation into one short, impudent decade. I still can’t properly work my oven. What leads me to believe in so short a time I will know myself fully, master sex, understand taxes and also look the best I have in years? It’s unlikely.
I will concede to some solid truths gleaned in my late twenties, like letting go of what people think of you and wearing much less makeup. The realizations have occasionally inspired that same self-righteous tone women exemplify when referring to the thirties. It’s that look you give a small child who hasn’t yet tasted the real fruits of life–– like a stiff drink after a long day. Our twenties are a battlefield when we lay down serious groundwork, so it’s ambitious to have it all done by 30.
One of the strongest attitudes I’ve inherited from my twenties is that of a survivor. I went through lows, I drank too much and partied too hard, I dated men I knew were stupid, I spiraled in a haze of self loathing, borderline alcohol dependence, all around confusion, intense heartache and chicken sacrifice in no particular order. That’s all true. And yet, I also soared professionally, making a career for myself in a field that was on life support when I graduated in 2009, I wrote a novel by the time I was 27, I made incredible, lifelong friendships with strong men and women, I traveled the world, I ended up with a genuinely kind man who takes care of me, I even learned how to manage my curly hair. Above all I found balance. And I’m still evolving.
A good life is mostly figured out. No age will give you the answers. We will never have it all worked out. As we continue to grow, we will know more and inevitably be forced to throw those notions out. Dan Gilbert said it best in his book Stumbling Upon Happiness, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”