This past week was my birthday. Well, not the whole week, of course – just one day. For privacy reasons, I won’t tell you the year I was born. But I can tell you that I’m well into my 30s. Any day now, I expect to find my first gray hair. The finest lines around my eyes grow deeper every week. I no longer know who the most popular pop stars are. Not unrelated to that: I no longer care. I’m the ambiguous age where some people are surprised to learn the actual number – young(ish) in appearance, but old enough to know better.
Before I turned 30, the number itself seemed large. At 16, I thought that, by 30, I’d be a novelist, married with children. I pictured myself in a house, with two cars and two Great Danes. I would drink tea in the mornings on my porch. To my 16-year-old self, life would be set, complete, figured out by 30.
By 25, I revised that picture to: a novelist and screenwriter, maybe married, with kids somewhere off in the distance after commercial writing success. I didn’t need a house. I had a cat, still wanted dogs. (Still do.)
But by the time I actually hit 30, and now beyond, only one of the things that my 16-year-old self had hoped for me has come true – I’m married, though I just barely squeaked by under the wire by having the wedding at 29. I don’t want the maintenance of a house. On the best day, I am ambiguous about children. I still have my cat, but no dogs yet. (I have to work on this.) I have a cup of tea almost every morning, but it’s not on a porch. And I have had very little commercial success as a writer, but there’s still time.
Age is a measurement of where we are in our lives. Are we happy? Are we unhappy? Are we where we want to be, career-wise, relationship-wise, family-wise? The number looms large and frightening when the rest of life feels like it’s in pieces, incomplete, or in turmoil. Not another year, we say. I’m not where I want to be. Age is not just a number – it’s a reminder of how well we’re using the short time we’re given. It takes on the gravity of everything that seems unfinished. And if that yearly reminder seems unkind, it’s not the fault of the math.
Despite revisions to my 16-year-old self’s projections, I’m approximately where I want to be – give or take a few goals. Because what I didn’t know at 16 is that as you age, so do your desires. The more you live in the world, the longer the view becomes. The 30s have, so far, burned the brightest for me. I’m far more certain, confident, and happy in my own skin than my angst-filled 20s. This is also a surprise to my 16-year-old self. Because along with the house, the children, and the dogs, that girl’s notion of being “set” – which seemed so important at the time – now means a certain plateau that no longer appeals to me. (This is not to say that I never want to be there, or that it doesn’t work for others. I’m just enjoying my own journey right now.)
I will probably be sad the day that I get my first gray hair. I’ll be sad because I like my dark hair. I will struggle with whether or not to hide the ones coming in a new shade, and maybe I’ll take to dyeing my hair at home.
… Or maybe I won’t. Maybe, when I’m mid-50s, I will look back on the projections I’m making now, as a mid-30-something, and revise them according to what I think is important. In fact, I know I will.
But by then, I better have those Great Danes.
P.S. – Happy birthday, Kath!