So it happened again this morning. Another reminder. As if I wasn’t already aware.
Hubs: It’s your birthday tomorrow! Today’s your last day of being a twenty-something!
Hubs: *smug* Think that’s bad? You’re going to be 31 next year! Actually, technically you’re already in your thirtieth year, so tomorrow is the start of your-
Me: Oh go away you annoying man (…In reality two words were more than enough to sum up my sentiments on the subject.)
Admittedly, I haven’t being doing myself any favours. I’ve been an easy target ever since I announced on my twenty-fifth birthday that a quarter of a century was plenty old enough and that from then on I would be celebrating “anniversaries” every November rather than birthdays. Everyone seemed to play along for a while. I got a few really nice anniversary cards from girlfriends (who sympathised; probably struggling with their own age-related insecurities) and family members, who learned that birthdays – where I was concerned – would always be a touchy subject. But my mum wasn’t fooled. Nor was the hubs. There’d always be the eye rolls and prodding comments, both unwilling to let me forget that growing is was something beyond the control of even the world’s biggest
control freak. (Hubs is more blunt, he usually just tells me to stop being a nob sack.)
But even without their gentle ribbing I couldn’t escape the truth. If it’s not the cosmetics ads on TV and in magazines recruiting for their crusade against crow lines, then it’s today’s irritating culture of putting women into boxes based on their age and what they should have accomplished by the time they’re plonked into that box. You know how it goes; by 19 you “should” have had sex and decided what you want to do with your life (and it’s preferable that those two things don’t go hand in hand…), by 25 you “should” have landed a proper/real job and be saving enough to put together a deposit for a house, by 30 you “should” be a long time user of anti-aging products because – don’t forget!- the first signs of aging appear in your early twenties! Pfft. And it works the other way too; by 30 you “should-not” be wearing crop-tops, dyeing your hair pink or still be living with your parents. All this pressure is definitely not helped by our social-media obsessed world where we’re constantly reminded of the achievements of our peers and what we’re lacking by comparison. What if by the time you reach the next box you haven’t ticked off some of those “should-haves” deemed appropriate for your age? You’ll probably feel like you missed out, wasted time, failed somewhere along the line. And every birthday is only a further reminder of that.
For me, it’s the career “should-have” that has haunted me through my twenties. It just didn’t happen the way I was expecting it to. I spent the majority of my twenties doing a job I knew was far beneath my skill-set while spending my evenings desperately attempting to carve out a writing career. I spent my mid-twenties swinging in and out of depression, spending what little money I earned on clothes in an attempt to dig myself out of an on and off funk.
Until recently I felt I was being dragged towards the big three-oh kicking and screaming because to me it was all happening too soon, too fast, that there was so much more that I wanted to accomplish before I was thrown into that box where babies, mortgages and settling down was expected of me.
Then, two years ago a very dear friend of mine died of cancer. Within our close circle of friends it came as a huge shock – she was our mother-hen; beautiful, strong, funny and much too young to die – and the ripples felt by her loss inevitably had a very sobering effect on our own opinions of life. Death doesn’t usually happen to women in the twenty-something box. My own denial and issues all at once seemed incredibly selfish and self-indulgent. Life is just too short.
We need to stop villainising 30. It’s just a number at the end of the day, and to be honest you probably won’t feel any more different than you did when you turned 29. Unless you want to, of course. Over the past year I’ve stopped focussing on the “should haves” and looked at what I have. When I do that I realise that I’ve done some pretty incredible things, been to some pretty incredible places and there are some pretty incredible people who’ve got my back. I’ve come to realise that I’m only interested in fitting into a box of my own making from now on, where I’ll make the rules, thank you very much.
Thirty is incredibly empowering; you’re older (yes older), smarter and much freer than you were ten years ago. You’re done with all the bullshit (and more importantly, other people’s bullshit…) and you’ve got your game-face on. I’d like to think that turning thirty is a lot like Selina Kyle becoming Cat Woman (we’re talking the Michelle Pfeiffer incarnation, obvs.). After a thirty storey drop she dusts herself off and evolves from a sweet, simpering secretary into a leather-clad femme fatale; she shreds a gaggle of cuddly toys down the waste disposal pipe, spray-paints the pretty pink walls of her apartment black and at the end of it all purrs (see what I did there?) that she “feels so much yummier”. Now, I’m not suggesting that celebrating thirty with a mental breakdown involving the innocent slaughter of teddy bears and some black spray paint is the way to go, but instead that we should embrace the opportunity to make a change. It’s your chance to make the rules, to throw on your own super suit and become whoever you want to be.