(Update: This post was written in 2015, when I actually turned 35)
Today I turned thirty-five.
I wasn’t upset when I turned twenty-five. Or thirty.
Somehow, twenty-seven was a rough year for me. Not really sure about the cause of that…maybe 2007 was a bad year for everyone?
Now, I’m hitting the next milestone (or half-milestone?) birthday…and it is actually hitting me.
As I said to a friend who asked me why I was struggling: “I’m a whole new demographic now!”
He was understandably confused.
“A whole new demographic! I filled out a survey online, and I’m no longer an “18-34 year old” adult. I have to check “35-49 year old” box now! What does that make me? Am I old now?!”
I know how ridiculous it sounds.
Thirty-five just feels…weird.
Aren’t we supposed to feel bad at this point in our lives? This is the part where we reassess, with the foolishness of our twenties safe behind us and a half decade of “much-wiser” thirty-something decisions under our belts, our place in this world. Right?
I know that there is a laundry list of shoulds that people and society foist upon us, things that any responsible useful contributing human being has accomplished or is working towards.
I’d love to say that I am following some vision quest to find my calling, standing at The Crossroads of Should and Must, donning a superhero cape and preparing to leap off a cliff into the abyss of promise.
I’m just over here, outside the throng, bopping my chin along to the little song that earworms inside my head. Watching the scene intently, like an anthropologist studying remote pygmy tribes. Recognizing the human features, so similar to my own, but baffled by the rituals and traditions.
The part that feels the weirdest about being thirty-five is that I don’t feel weird at all.
I asked on my Facebook page if anyone had any idea what the shoulds for our thirties are, because fuck if I know what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I don’t think I’ve applied a should to my existence since I was eighteen years old, and stayed in college because that is what good little academic geniuses do.
My question was met with a lot of friends telling me I shouldn’t pay attention to the shoulds.
Irony, thy name is Facebook Status Update Comments.
The standard script seems to dictate that most people my age are settled into a stable career or business path. They have bought a house, which they moved into with their 2.5 children (poor little half child…) and lovely life-partner. They have retirement accounts and health club memberships.
Sometimes those life decisions have played out to be exactly what people wanted.
Sometimes they didn’t.
That’s the funny thing I find with decisions. Rarely are they permanent, and rarely is the sequence of events exactly what we thought it would be.
This sense of capriciousness has led me to be a pretty aimless creature.
I am a master in the practice of flippant actions and careless whispers.
Once foiled, I’m already moving on to the nearest path. Once hurt, I’m erecting a cement wall on the relationship. Once accomplished, I’m saddened by the loss of excitement from the chase. Once bored, I’m craving a new adventure.
Every thing is always a tuck and roll into the next thing. This year, unrelated (I think) to my chronologic advancement, it all caught up with me.
I spent most of January this year scuffling in and out of doctors offices and emergency rooms in New York City, trying to figure out whether I was actually dying or just felt like I wanted to. In February, I spent four days (that’s about ninety-five hours straight) in bed at my parents house, getting up for ten minutes each night to eat the chicken and vegetables they had cooked for me, then crawling back into the cocoon I had crafted out of woolen quilts and an electric blanket.
Call me crazy, but when you go to sleep each night for months on end wondering whether or not you will actually wake up the next morning, you’ll find that the number of fucks you give about what anyone thinks of the shoulds or obligations in your life greatly depleted.
I’m beginning to want more shoulds in my life. Does that mean I’m giving up and selling out?
You know those movies where a teenager gets to look at themselves in twenty, thirty, maybe even fifty years, and decide if they are happy with how they turned out?
I did an interview recently where someone asked that same question. Would teenage me be happy with how adult me has turned out?
I don’t think teenage me could ever have imagined that this is where we’d end up.
I’ve traveled to the other side of the planet, and lived in a bunch of places all over the world. I get to have passionate conversations with brilliant men, whom I have carefully chosen to spend my romantic time and energy with. I am surrounded by people who inspire me in a myriad of ways, from their big sweeping world-changing movements to the beautiful simplicity of their daily lives. I have built a business where people actually pay me to read all day long, think about their ideas, then tell them my opinion and help them improve their writing.
High-five teenage me! Not too shabby, eh?
Yet in this fast-paced life of travel and entrepreneurship and temporary relationships, I find myself craving stability and settledness more.
Not to be settled down. Settling down is what rocks and dirt do to form stationary continents. Only shifted when an explosion far under their surface rocks them to lose their grip on the core, if only for a moment.
I have friends who are stable, and have lovely lives. In fact, with the arrival of stability after the grueling slog of “figuring it out”, many have flourished and found happiness that looks pretty interesting. If not enviable, then definitely admirable.
Over the past year, I long to be settled into my life. To have a place that I want to stay. To have friends I want to stay with. To have a partner who wants to stay with me. To have a business that stays the course. To have a wardrobe that stays in a closet, instead of living in a backpack.
Understandably, wanting THESE things now leaves me outside the little group of castoffs and dissenters I have found over the past few years. The misfits and the crazy ones. Once again, standing to the side, bopping my chin along to the little song inside my head.
I want my existence to be in a place that lives in the in-between.
Likely, a place to be constructed in my own design. Where you can want the shoulds, because they are compromises and acceptance, not submission and defeat.
When you have made a practice of living your life in a way that no one expects, it is rather foolish to believe that continuing to create your own happiness is going to be anything different.
So…thirty-five, huh? Weird.
Yep. Weird is probably a good feeling for me to enter into the new demographic-box with.
It pretty much sums up the decisions I’ve made and those to come.
Not knowing what the shoulds are, whether I want some in my life or want to continue the difficult journey of forging my own path alone, and what that makes me.
Apparently, it makes me weird.