It is July 6th, 2019 – which means I am 29-and-three-quarters years old today.
I haven’t measured my age in quarter-years since I was a kid, but somehow now it feels significant again. I am not 29 and a half anymore – much less 29. A mere three months separates me from my 30s.
That’s the same amount of time that How to Train Your Dragon 3 was in theaters.
I am actually the youngest of my group of friends, so I’ve watched most of them cross this threshold already. They were similarly freaked out, but at the time I placated them with assurances that it was just another number – that our 30s would be this grand adventure where we would all figure out who we are, officially, and maybe it wasn’t something to dread after all.
Friends, I’m ready to admit to you now that these were lies.
I’m absolutely terrified of turning 30.
The obvious implication here is that 30 is the age by which you should Have Your Life Together™. You should have a spouse, and a well-paying job, and a white picket fence and a retirement plan and a Costco membership and 2.5 kids. You should watch C-SPAN and listen to NPR and discuss stock portfolio diversification at the water cooler. You should be paying for your own Netflix subscription. You should use the word “albeit” in regular conversation.
You should’ve broken all your bad habits by now – you’ve stopped falling for the guy who drives a motorcycle and smokes cigarettes and still thinks his band can make it big. You’ve stopped sabotaging relationships with everyone close to you for reasons unknown to everyone, including yourself. You’ve stopped drinking wine with dinner 5 nights a week. You’ve reached a place of healthy communication with family members who disagree with you politically.
These! Are the things! That a person in their 30s should be able to say!!!!!!!
But it’s not even just about that, honestly.
When you’re in your 30s, nothing is impressive for your age anymore. I led a team of 60 by the time I was 22, and was a regional sales manager for a national brand by 24. For a good chunk of time there, I was the youngest person on any staff I was a part of – even when I was in a leadership role. And everyone would act all surprised when they found out my age, usually months after meeting me: You’re only ____? Wow! I never would’ve guessed. And I started to develop this self-image of being a phenom. Not only have I made accomplishments, I’ve made them early!
Even becoming a homeowner before age 30 was something of a point of pride for me (even though I just barely slipped under the radar).
But no one is impressed by your accomplishments anymore when you’re 30. Oh, you bought a place? You got a promotion? You’re in a reasonably serious relationship? What do you want, a sticker?! Welcome to the club, tardy pants. Everything you ever accomplish from this point forward will be judged against the expectation that of course you should’ve accomplished that by now.
Also, this is less related to 30 but more just a commentary on aging in general: I feel old. Last month I was practically bedridden for weeks because of a neck injury incurred by a workout I am sure I could’ve done injury-free just a few years ago. When I got my first gray hair, I plucked it and panicked and sent a picture to my mom… now, I have more than I can count and had to start parting my hair on the opposite side to hide them. Every time I stand up, my joints crackle and pop. I start yawning and looking at the clock at 9:30pm. I cannot name 90% of the musical artists on the radio today. If I feel this way now, at 29, imagine what my 30s will be like!
When you’re in your 20s, mistakes and regrettable phases are so much more forgivable, and so the whole world still seems so possible. Sure, you might have a steady job and are situated into a comfortable living situation, but there is still some small part of your brain that thinks “Maybe I’ll spend a year in India one day.” Nobody spends a year in India in their 30s.
I imagine my 30s the way some people might imagine old movies – everything is less vibrant, less crisp, with fuzzy dialogue and bathed in sepia tone. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best in The Great Gatsby:
“Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair.”
I don’t want to carry around a briefcase of thinning enthusiasm! You can’t make me!
And Gatsby wasn’t alone. As John Mellencamp put it, “Life goes on… long after the thrill of living is gone.” I remember being eight years old, listening to that song in the passenger seat of my dad’s corvette convertible, and him saying “God, that’s a great lyric.” I didn’t understand it then. But I understand it now!
Mellencamp didn’t cite a particular coming of age in Jack & Diane, but for some reason I always assumed 30. When I was little, it was the age I assumed all adults were. My parents, teachers, aunts and uncles, friends’ parents… I thought of them all as being 30. 30 was the age where childhood dreams went to die. It was the age where whoever you were became cemented for the rest of eternity.
In one of my darker phases in high school, I actually had a suicide pact with my best friend on the eve of our 30th birthday. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but her birthday was in January so it’s safe to say she hasn’t held up her end of the bargain.
Later on, I had a pact with my best guy friend that if neither of us were married by 30, we’d end up together. I haven’t spoken to him in years either, but suffice it to say I don’t plan on calling him up.
Do you see a trend, though? At age 30 I always assumed my life would be over, one way or another. Either in a very literal, morbid sense or in the sense that a 30-year-old would have no dating prospects anyway, so her romantic life might as well be over.
And while I’d like to believe I’ve matured a little since these juvenile high school promises, old thought patterns die hard: I still imagine 30 to be a dark, looming presence in my life – coming ever closer with its thrill-less-ness and its India-less-ness and its briefcases of thinning enthusiasm.
Maybe three months from now, I will write a blog post about how 30 isn’t so bad after all, and that I had nothing to be afraid of.
But for now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go say hello to that cigarette-smoking, bass-playing, motorcycle-riding boy in the corner.