I have been thirty for three months now, and while it has highlighted and heightened some of my existential flailing, it has also been somewhat unmomentous. I fuzzily remember the end of my first decade, turning 10 — double digits! No more need to spell out my age, can use numerals! (Thanks AP stylebook). And I remember turning 20, the end of my teenaged existence, the beginning of actual aging in many ways. Thirty came slower, and, of course, faster: I felt it lurking at 26, 27, and by 28 I had all but resigned myself to a new decade. So the occasion itself, though it loomed over me, was also oddly insignificant in that it didn’t feel me with particular dread or expectation.
But. But. In recent weeks I have felt not 30, but 85. I feel as though I am living the memories of my future self. I am an old woman sitting in an armchair by a fire — or let’s be real, I am sitting by some sort of hologram on a hoverboard — and telling my 20 something granddaughter about life before Google, cell phones, social media, Uber, self-driving cards, the 666 tattoo that lets us all buy cool things. I assure her that yes, hipsters were a real thing and leggings were a big deal. My face is a slow spread of wrinkles, my skin is softly translucent, blueish veins rise from my shaky hands, and I can’t remember what it feels like to move quickly, to exist without aches.
I tell her about the life I lived. My voice is softer, its timbres higher, my thoughts are not as quick as they once were. When they first meet me, my grandchildren’s friends use the word “cute” to describe me because I am old, and because I still hold hands with my husband. I tell her of my youth, of my travels, of the constant questioning of the future, of God, of love and relationships. How frenzied I was. How brash and unfiltered and too eager to please and not eager enough to please (will this still be on women?).
30 has brought this old woman to me. The woman I know I will be the minute I close my eyes. The woman who marvels at the passage of time, at the languid pace of her brightly lit childhood spent in deserts and on beaches; at the clip clop trot of her young adult years spent exploring places and jobs and ideas; then the alarming quickening of time as she falls in love and is suddenly with the same person for 5 years.
Yes. Five years. A sixth of my life. We met when I was 25 and feeling old and restless. (Have I always felt old and restless?) I was worried then that the good ones were taken — committed or married. At 25. I am now telling friends in their 30s who speak of a shrinking dating pool that they are young and vibrant and beautiful (and they are), but I felt the anxiety at 25. Are there different timelines and fears for men and women? Yes. But some of it seems so human: I want a being, a best friend, to witness my life. To play with, work with, laugh with, move with. To tell me I’m ridiculous when I’m ridiculous. Someone who will plan a dinner and movie date night with me and then when we are out, decide together that we would rather make our own popcorn (better) and watch Stranger Things from the comfort of our home.
I get occasional comments about supporting him through school. I am the one working, while he gets to be a student for 7+ years. The reality is that he is working. He is working much, much harder than I am. If we are both working and there is enough money to eat and live and travel and save and give — then why would it matter if he has the title of “job” or “career” as opposed to “student”?
I’ve been warned of resentment, and from some there seems to be an unnamed fear of divorce, that I am spending my time and resources supporting someone who will one day not be mine, and I will have regrets. Or maybe not even divorce, maybe just giving away my time and resources and growing old and bitter.
But I am happy. And I am grateful. And he is handsome and kind and stupid and so, so smart. I think maybe I would be less happy and grateful if I spent most of my time worrying about potential future bitterness.
30. What about expectations? Struggles? Disappointments?
What about this: “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” (Kierkegaard)
I remember reading The Outsiders, probably around 14, and thinking some of the characters were old — they were all teenagers. S.E. Hinton was 16 when she wrote the book. I wanted to write. I wanted to be a lauded young author. When I hadn’t written a book by 20, I decided it would be fine to be a young-ish author — I would be there by my early 20’s.
I still haven’t written a novel. I’ve started some — several — but I get lost. I get lost in plot and character and detail and I don’t write. I get lost in work and sleep and festivals and relationships and I don’t write. Every summer I have grandiose plans, and then I get distracted with family and friends and food and places. Every time I talk about writing (or write about it), it feels further from happening. It’s more than being published. It’s the creation and completion of a story, of a world.
What else? I don’t want to grow old. I’m good right here. I’ve got some wrinkles, some weird freckles, an occasionally funky knee, but I’m good. People look at me, not through me. I can run and jump and go out drinking without any angered body parts. So I am not ready to blink, I am not ready for 85. I need time to read. I need time to create. I need time to learn about world history, how to salsa, how to keep my hair from constant tangles, time to take German and live in France and write my books. And then, maybe a separate life entirely to raise a family. And another one dedicated to helping others: the poor, the wounded, the grieving, the hungry. To do it all in one life, to cram these things into the next 50 years…Shall I just slap a 1st world problems tag on this post and be done? If only working with deaf kids meant that I am absolved of the entirely selfish leftover portion of myself.
30 is fun. It’s weird. It came fast. It’ll leave faster. At thirty, my mom had five kids and was living in Yemen. My life at 30 is so different than my parents. Than my childhood dreams. Than my teenage ideas. And it’s young. My 85 year old self is smiling and shaking her head at how aged I feel. She is one to talk, acting like she is so old when, of course, 85 is the new 60.