It started about two months ago. I gave my birth date to someone over the phone and she immediately paused for dramatics. “Oooh,” she said, “not too long before you’ll be the big three o.”
She said it like that, too, “three o.” Not “three, zero” or “thirty.” But two giant syllables, with space in the middle for all the emphasis and implication in the world.

“Yup,” I said, “anyway, about that appointment.”

This has continued to happen way more than I care to think about as the weeks approaching the big “three o” fall away. I’m a little shocked at how many strangers make the connection and they the declaration. It’s always “big.” It always feels way more important than I feel. And even though I know it’ll come and go, and I’ll be 30 instead of 29 and not feel any differently, I do have to admit that it’s unnerving me. A lot.

There’s no non-humiliating way to say this, so I’ll just say it: I haven’t done anything conventionally “right” or “successful” with my life. I’m so far from having a career, getting married, and having kids it’s laughable. I don’t even have a couch. I can’t afford a couch. A couch is literally too big of a financial commitment for me.

And honestly, I don’t want a couch, and I don’t know if I want the other stuff either. Whether I want it or not isn’t even relevant. It’s that I’m “EXPECTED” to have it already. My peers are busy buying houses, hunkering in, having babies. Whereas I’m feeling embarrassed and slightly ashamed when my parents send me my rent check every month. Sometimes I feel like I’ve disappointed them, like I’ve disappointed everyone who believed in me when I was 6 and gobbling down knowledge like it was better than cookie dough, which was the best. But, maybe I haven’t disappointed anyone but myself.

The other day I told my friend Arlie, “I don’t have any career goals except that I’m poor and need money. I’m doing the writing thing, but that only makes me happy.”

I didn’t even realize how I’d put my happiness in an “only” category, below my “success” and “career goals” until he pointed out that I had. Apparently, even though in my soul I believe that happiness is important, my brain has been convinced that success is better. That conventional is better. That I’ll get rewarded if I do what I should because it’s better. To all this I KNOW, I should know better.

As I’ve been thinking about this over the last few months, I’ve remembered feeling the exact same way when I turned 16. I felt (and wrote at length and with great drama) that life was passing me by, that I was sitting around waiting for it to begin. At the time, my friends were doing things like dating and driving. I felt (again, dramatically) very left behind and very unaccomplished.

I never got to drive, but I did figure out the dating thing eventually. (Ok, maybe “figure out” is a stretch. Let’s just say I muddle through as best I can.) And yet, I’m still here, feeling like a straggler, like I’m schlepping behind everyone else. When I was 25, I thought I’d have it all figured out by the time I was 30. Or, I’d at least have paid off my college credit card.

Maybe by the time I’m 35?

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3 thoughts on “The Big Three O

  1. I’ve been beating myself up & feeling depressed about the same stuff for several years. And I’m 33. You a talented person with a great personality and you’re doing something you enjoy, regardless of how “useful” it may be, and (some) people are supporting you in doing it. Celebrate the “big” 3-0 by singing “I did it my way”. Some of your more conventionally “successful” peers might be singing “Cats in the Cradle” when they hit the “big 4-0”. Me? I’m considering applying at Aldi’s and Panera Bread, and yes maybe Hardee’s. And a friend of mine is helping me get started with cleaning houses as a side job. And I still consider my my main job as a board member of the Bisexual Organizing Project. I make “use” of my political science degree every day, when I use my critical thinking skills, even if no one is paying me for it.

  2. If you think that’s something, honey, let me tell you, I’m dreading the big 6-0 in a couple of years! Whew! How did time fly like this? Please enjoy the flight and be proud of each milestone, for living and loving life as you uniquely do so.

  3. Oh, and by the way, for many people who have been busy acquiring various “things,” a current trend has been “downsizing.” Just think, you’ve saved yourself lots of yo-yos if you think your way of life is still limited. Your horizons seem daring and vast from my point of view. I seriously doubt that anyone is disappointed in you! Quite the opposite! Not meaning to diminish your very authentic feelings which you have every right to have! Just giving you my take on these matters from an outer point of view, as someone who’s known you for about 10 years (though we’ve seen each other very little for quite a while, to say the least) and thinks your place in this world at age 30 looks quite lovely indeed.

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