I have never dreaded birthdays.
With the exception of the year that I turned 30 (when I had a mini-life crisis because I was single, miserable in my job, and had just been through a terrible breakup), I’ve loved birthdays. I love cake. I love presents. I love getting sappy cards. I didn’t care about turning 31, 32, and so on. Even 35, that magical, much feared year when women everywhere are told that their fertility plummets, didn’t bother me. I shrugged it off and got pregnant the next year, at 36.
But I’ve decided that I want this to be my last birthday. I’m 39 today, and I’ve decided that the parties are over.
I love being in my thirties.
In our culture being in your twenties can be about self-absorbtion, immaturity, trying on new identities and new relationships. You can be irresponsible (reckless even) and carefree, and then wake up the next day and be frivolous again. For most of my twenties, I didn’t feel like a “real” adult. I lived with roommates, in old and sketchy apartments. I had goals and plans for my life, but you can pretend that each year will be an entirely new adventure. Our twenties are about exploration and risk.
Most of the women that I know have become fully formed as thirtysomethings. They’re confident. They’re grown up. They know the things that matter to them and have fought for them. For thirtysomething women, this recognition of who we want to be can also bring challenges: you might realize that you want so much (a great job, a fulfilling marriage, happy kids, supportive friends) and then struggle to “have it all.”
There are hard parts to being in your thirties too, particularly for women. You know that you’re choosing how your life — your grown up life — is really going to be. Your choices have real consequences. You’re choosing your real career. If you haven’t found a life partner and want one, you’re probably looking around pretty intensely, aware that your present youthful appearance will not last forever. You want to set yourself up for long-term career advancement and satisfaction. You must confront the realities of human fertility and make choices about having a family. (When I turned 30 and was single, I inexplicably started receiving mail offers from egg-donation clinics with frightening sales pitches about “starting a family now before it’s too late.”)
In your thirties, you also start to slow down and it feels sort of good. You realize that eight hours of sleep and a good yoga workout make you feel better the next day than drinking wine and dancing until dawn. You start thinking as the sun not as a summertime friend but as your enemy and learn about sunblock and moisturizers. During my thirties I realized I didn’t have to feel guilty about staying home on a Saturday night and watching a marathon of bad TV, not going to a party or getting together with anyone.
When I was a teenager, I watched “Beverly Hills 90210” like every other girl my age in the early 1990s. But I had a secret addiction. My favorite show was actually “thirtysomething.” I still know every episode by heart. I watched them alone; I couldn’t convince any of my friends or family to watch it with me. I loved the show because of its writing; it was slowly paced, realistic in the way that we now take for granted in television shows, and so introspective that it was almost novelistic. I loved that the characters wore the same faded LL Bean bathrobes from episode to episode. The characters talked, real conversations without laugh tracks in kitchens and living rooms, about important topics like marriage, having children, and death. There were episodes about feminism and women’s changing identities as mothers and career women, the choices that a mother faces in negotiating family and work.
“Thirtysomething” was my guide to my future adulthood. It was ended up being one of my future guides to parenthood. I still remember some of the episodes about Hope weaning her baby, about her tentative return to work during her daughter’s infancy, and about the arguments about cooking and cleaning that arrived along with new parenthood for Hope and Michael. And, yes, I do know the show was ultimately about baby boomer, hyper-educated yuppies who were seriously self-absorbed.
But maybe that’s sort of who I am right now. I love being a thirtysomething new-ish mom. I don’t understand what being in my forties will mean.
Are you in your thirties? What do you think of this decade? What about being in your forties? What are they like?