A few days ago, I turned 34. It was, of course, a Monday. I’m pretty sure that every birthday for the past eight years has been on a Monday. Or maybe it just feels that way. Anyway, moving on …. People make alot of complaints about being in their thirties. Some of them are painfully true …. You don’t get asked for ID very often – if at all – because there’s no way you’re anywhere near nineteen, no matter how well you dye your hair or what you do with your skin. College students look like kids to you. You feel out of place at clubs, because you are five or ten years older than most of the other clubbers. There are more mysterious aches after seemingly innocuous activities. The morning-after-the-night-before lasts all day. You pay in poundage for every damn bite of anything that’s not lettuce, even if you exercise regularly. You think realistically about your future – you are now highly unlikely to become a star of any kind. Unless you already are. In which case, you’ve probably bought yourself a new face and you can rent the entire club for your private parties, and you can just stop reading right now. But please comment before you leave BethBlog, so I can brag for the rest of my thirties, and beyond, that someone famous once read my blog ….
All complaints aside, I prefer my thirties to my twenties. At 34, I can no longer say I’m fresh out of my twenties – in fact, I’m now less than a year away from the midpoint of my thirties. And, so far, they’ve been awesome. Here’s why ….
1) I am finally able to catch my breath. My twenties were filled with big things. I graduated from college and moved halfway across the country to start my career. I broke up with two boyfriends, and met the man who would become my husband. My father died, my mother remarried. Ryan and I got married, and welcomed two baby girls in two years. We bought our first house. We went to Europe twice, and drove all over the lower forty-eight. Though my thirties have featured a move and a whole lot of travelling, they have not featured anywhere near the same level of upheaval. I have time now. Time to remember and ponder, time to write. Time to soak it all in, rather than running myself ragged making it happen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a working wife and mother who likes to keep a spotless home and feed my family real food, so I’m busy – but not the kind of breakneck busy I was in my twenties.
2) I’ve been able to get rid of some of the clutter that plagued me in my twenties. I like people to be happy, and I will make a reasonable effort to that end – but I also know that I cannot make others happy, they have to do that for themselves. I’ve learned to say no when I need to, and I am feeling less and less guilty about doing so. I know that some people are toxic, and will not change. I’ve gotten rid of some of them entirely. Where that isn’t possible, I’m learning to limit their ability to affect me. I’m a little more forgiving of myself when I drop the ball on something. Which I do alot, because I’m just like everyone else – understanding that is freeing.
3) I have a better idea of who I am. When I was twenty, I wrote an exam and had an interview for a position with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. I wore a conservative outfit in cream and beige, one pair of simple stud earrings instead of my usual four danglers, and subtle make-up. That wasn’t me! Yet I was willing to change my whole style for that job …. What if I had gotten it? Would I have spent years trying to squeeze myself into that muted mould? Since then, I’ve added a nose ring and an eyebrow ring, and I’m not finished with tattoos. I like to play around with my outfits and my make-up. I used to think I wanted to live in the country; now I know I’m a city girl for life. I always gave twenty-dollar-word answers when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. Now I know I’m a nine-to-fiver with no desire to climb any sort of ladder, and I wouldn’t even be that if I weren’t so keen on having dinners out and vacations – and, of course, if it weren’t for our girls, who (I swear) eat money. I thought I was an animal lover; now I know I only want pets that don’t require walking or even daily interaction. And I’ve only ever met about three dogs that I can tolerate, never mind like.
5) I know what I need. I need time to myself at the beginning of every day, which is why I get up before everyone else – and always did, even when Fiona and Bridget were toddlers who seemed to compete with the birds for earliest rise-and-shine time. I need to feel needed and appreciated by people who are special to me. I don’t need a crowd, I just need a little circle of very dear friends. I need to spend a little time with a book, magazine or newspaper every day. I need to write. I need to exercise, not just for vanity’s sake, but to clear my head and boost my energy level. Sometimes I just need to stop, close my eyes and breathe. When I was in my twenties, I burned out alot more often, because I didn’t pay as much attention to my needs.
4) I know what I like, and I happily surround myself with it. I used to think about what I should want. Matching furniture, a purse that costs more than $30, an attractive lawn, a good knowledge of classic literature, an appreciation for sophisticated food and wine. Now I know that none of those things would make me any happier. I’ve read alot of the classics. Some of them are great, and I can see why they’re considered classics. Others are awful, and I can’t understand what anyone sees in them. I’m looking at you guys, “The Scarlet Letter”, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Moll Flanders”. These days, I read whatever I feel like reading, while wearing what’s on sale, sometimes on the checkered couch, sometimes on the red couch, sometimes on the thirteen-year-old futon and sometimes on the plastic lawn chairs surrounded by weeds. The books are just as good wherever I sit. I’ve gained an appreciation for lots of things I never used to eat, and my cooking has improved with practice – but there’s always KD in our cupboard, and not just for the kids. I drink an awful lot of Maria Christina, and it goes down a treat.
5) Confidence. I’m cool. What makes me cool? The fact that I think I am. I know that now, and I don’t feel the need to be anything other than my cool self. Ryan’s birthday gift to me this year is a trip to Atlantic City to see an Air Supply concert. I’m unabashedly thrilled. You don’t think Air Supply is cool? Whatever. I know they are, because I think so. I like me, and I care less than ever if you don’t.
6) I know how to put on make-up without making myself look a little girl who got into her mother’s stash. I’ve figured out what looks nice on my face. This is no small feat for someone who used to wear pink eyeshadow and apply foundation with a spatula. Likewise, I now have a couple of easy-but-neat-and-classy hairdos I can whip up in five minutes or less. I’ve never been good at hair, and our daughters learned to do theirs about the same time I learned to do mine. These two things might not seem like a big deal, but both of them make me more content, as I really want to like my head when I pass a mirror.
Bottom line: I’m not bothered by being in my thirties, I’m embracing them. I know how precious time is, and how every season of my life flies by faster than the last. The way things are going, the rest of this decade will go by like a shake of my head and a blink. I don’t know what my forties will be like, but I hope that I’ll be even wiser and happier with my life than I am now. If so, I plan to write another insufferably smug blog post about it.