Chasing Thirty: The Scary Age

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

Over the weekend a thirty-something girlfriend and I were talking about an ex boyfriend of hers that she’s still in touch with. He’s one of those people we all have that comes in and out of our lives over the years, someone we’ve broken up with but never completely ruled out as a future possibility. She was telling me that she has a pact with the ex in question that they will marry each other if neither of them finds anyone else by the age of forty. Probably goes without saying that they were about twenty when they hatched this plan.

‘Forty seemed so old back then, now it feels like it’s right around the corner,‘ she said. Whether or not anyone who isn’t a character in a bad romantic comedy actually sticks to this kind of pact is a question for another day, but it got me thinking about that magic number we all have in our heads, you know the one I mean: the scary age. That age when you will need to take drastic measures if you don’t yet have what you want from life. The age where you’re going to marry that ex/quit your job/move to Bali/adopt a baby from Guam or all of the above if things have not gone the way you wanted.

Since it’s summer and this great nation’s universities are no longer walling off the population of 18 to 22 year olds from the rest of society, there are an awful lots of shiny emerging adults around to remind you exactly how old you are. Part of me still feels a bit like a post-grad until I’m actually faced with one and then I think ‘oh my GOD that was actually a hundred years ago.’

When I was just out of college, my twenties seemed to stretch out before me endlessly: everything I was going to accomplish—fancy publishing job, book deal, swank apartment—was going to be mine while my age still started with a ‘2’. I probably don’t have to tell you that it hasn’t all gone exactly according to plan; which is okay for now because thirty is most definitely not my scary age.

I’ve always seen thirty as a good number. You’re still young but you can at last legitimately say with dignity and/ or indignance “I am too old for this” with regards to a multitude of sins: from drinking certain concoctions (Jungle Juice and its ilk need not ever make acquaintance with my grown lady liver again) to certain juvenile behaviors a la the Real Housewives to the jeggings trend.

But thirty isn’t scary. It isn’t too late to raze the whole thing to the ground and start over with a new job, a new plan, a new boyfriend what have you. There are plenty of chances left, plenty of tread on the tires. But what about at forty? Fifty? Sixty?

So what makes the scary age scary? Something cross between recognition of our mortality and the knowledge that the choices we have are narrowing. Or perhaps it’s only the illusion that choice was ever infinite that we lose, finally, as we get older. For while certain opportunities will leave us, such as the opportunity to have children or to be a prima ballerina (in case that was ever an option for you), other opportunities open up as we gain experience and our social and work networks expand.

But is there a final exit ramp you look to? Some time far or not so far off when you will have need to made the bed that you’re going to lie in for the rest of your life? Or is never too late?

I’ll get back to you when I’m forty.

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    • jill

      Hmm… i’m going to be turning 40 in August. I don’t think it’s particularly “scary” but it certainly has a “holy shit” quality to it. I actually remember my parents turning 40. And I remember thinking it was pretty old, so that says something about that age. Then again, I don’t have kids so really I have no one around me to remind me how old I am. Except for my 8 year old neice who recently cupped my nightie covered breast in her hand and said “hmpf. kinda sagging down low today”. Hello 40.

    • Diana

      Just a little comment on the Presentation of the column. If you’re 29, that means you’re in your 30th year of life. A baby that is 3 months old is in his first year of life not his ‘zero-th’.

    • Emma

      Little girls can be far too honest at times- can be a pain – my 8 year old says to me ”mummy you are getting so old” I’m 28….crap! I felt old after I had her, so turning 30 doesn’t feel much diffrent…..