Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Turning 30 and My Facebook Newsfeed

In a few short weeks (six, to be exact), I will be turning 30. This has always seemed like a scary milestone, one that I spent most of the year I was 28 dreading. I don't know why I had my turning 30 crisis (or my Saturn Returns, as one of my best friends--Hi Roneet!--calls it) almost two years in advance. But what can I say? I like to get things out of the way.

30 is the year many of us dread, I think, because it implies we've got it all together. We're no longer "young adults" or "in our 20s." We can't chalk up things to naivete--we're 30, we should know better. By 30, most of our parents, and certainly our grandparents, were financially stable and many had already finished having children. Some people today choose to do this as well. Increasingly, though, women of my generation are putting off getting married and having kids in order to focus on a career or school or both. For those of us in school, this also means financial stability is pushed back to your mid-30s instead of the usual mid-to-late 20s of our peers. And if you're one of those eternal students like me, you know exactly what it's like to continue eating and entertaining yourself on the cheap well into your late 20s...and you don't really know when that's going to end.

For a long time, turning 30 for me was such a difficult thing to cope with because I've spent most of my late 20s single. At a time when my Facebook newsfeed was inundated with "I was said yes!" and "Here's the ring!" posts (and later the requisite changing the Facebook profile picture to the sonogram thing), I was spending my Friday nights cuddling my dog with a good book and takeaway or binge watching the latest Real Housewives nightmare (I study the Holocaust for a living, I need to decompress people!), seeing a film/play or out with platonic friends. After two brief failed relationships after the age of 25 (up until then, my most significant relationships occurred at the ages of 20 and 23-24 respectively), I decided I might be better off single and not fretting too much about it although I worried what this meant others thought of me. Was I the one people thought was "weird" because they were "always single"? I also knew I wanted children and women in my family have a habit of being able to have kids without help into their mid-40s (and generally looking 10-20 years younger than they are), but increasingly I was hearing the pushback from misogynistic men and women who thought the prime years to find a mate was in your 20s. Like that Susan Patton lady who told women to use college to husband hunt--and clearly I've not only missed the boat there, but it's long sailed past me and is in the waters of the next continent. Patton leaves her article with a punchy little, "If you don't find your husband in college, there's always grad school." If she had gone to Chapman and then got her first MA from NYU in theatre, she might realize the stupidity of such a statement (ahem--what I mean is that most of the men throughout college and grad school were more interested in each other than wifing up). And if Patton's advice were true, it was indeed worrisome. I had gone to grad school again at 27, this time leaving with an MA in history and still single (after a trifling, awful and unhealthy affair that was better left in the past). Was there something wrong with me, then? I was pushing 30 and the only special man in my life was my dog. The message from society was loud and clear: by 30, you're used up and no man wants to touch you with a ten foot pole. Pack it up, time to go into the retirement home. You've hit the wall. You've expired. And I was on borrowed time.

But being single for so long (and it wasn't for a lack of trying--I did online date which lead to one brief relationship, but mostly a long series of weird guys who "missed their train" or got hotel rooms for a first date--no joke but that's a different story....) has given me the freedom to do what exactly it is I want in life and to meet my current boyfriend on my own time. Once I calmed down about turning 30 and being past my "expiration date" (as the lovely beefy gentleman who thinks he's an athlete and insists only on dating extremely thin women on Bravo's pilot of Online Dating Rituals of the American Male put it), I was able to slow down and focus on myself and following my own interests. And that lead to the most satisfying relationship of my life so far.

When I frantically compare myself to the people on my Facebook newsfeed, I often feel like I'm taking my temperature of how things should be. Person x from high school already has three kids and I don't want kids for another 3-5 years...is that normal? Person y from college just bought a house and with my student loans and adjunct salary, it looks like I'm going to be renting for another few years--is that okay?! Person q from some random party I met just lost 50lbs and looks disgustingly amazing--I'm still working on losing those last 5 of those 15 happy relationship pounds I put on--what the heck?!

But when I sit down and focus on myself and my life, I am happy where I am now. I'm making (some--I'd like to make a lot more!) money writing. I'm teaching on what I love. I'm getting opportunities to travel around Europe, often subsidized because of my course of study, and going to museums and into archives and places that as a child I only dreamed about. Not only to I get to go to memorials, historic sites and museums I would have dragged my family and friends to on a trip for pleasure, but I'm required to go. And it's absolutely awesome. I'm extremely happy in my current relationship (and it's quite a healthy one). I'm getting back in shape and getting my health on course. I've got a cute, energetic (and sometimes grumpy) dog to care for. In a year and a half I'm going to be a PhD. And above all, my 20s taught me who I am and exactly what I want out of life.

So maybe I do want to be able to buy a house, get married and have kids one day. But just because it's been right for another person I know to do those things at an earlier point in their life doesn't make my path less valid. And just because some people don't want those things at all doesn't discount their path either. There are women, like a good friend of mine, who want nothing to do with any of that stuff. And that's fine--as long as she is satisfied.

At six weeks away from being 30, I'm actually okay with it, Red Pill Expiration Date be damned! Sure, my life is uncertain. I don't know if I'll settle down in the UK or the US. I don't know exactly when I'll be able to earn a livable wage as a writer and a lecturer. I don't know when I'm going to have kids. But isn't life uncertain even if you think you have all of that figured out? And why does getting married and having kids have to be viewed as a destination? Life doesn't stop when those things occur...it keeps moving forward. All you can do is enjoy the ride and your own path in life.

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