During one of the multiple family dinners out that I demanded during my extended visit home for Thanksgiving, one of my sisters-in-law, D, made an enthusiastic announcement: that, soon, she is going to turn thirty.
I’m not being smug with the word “enthusiastic.” It’s an accurate description of her tone: she said it with excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness. (Alll sorts of positive adjectives that begin with the letter E!)
This surprised some of those seated around the (awkwardly oversized) table where we were busy devouring mediocre plates of Italian food at a new place in Park Slope–my parents and two present brothers.
“Really?” They marveled. “You sound so unfazed!”
The two younger women, though–my other sister-in-law, F, and me–both nodded in (eager) agreement as D, gesturing wildly above her spinach-covered pizza, explained herself.
“I’m so done with my twenties!” she crowed. “They have been awful!”
F, now forty, is actually the only person to ever warn me about this–years ago, taking a jog around Prospect Park: “No one ever tells you,” she said, “but your twenties are actually really hard. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life, everything is complicated, ugh, it’s terrible. My thirties have been much better.”
This seems contrary to just about all of cultural lore. Growing up, the only thing I thought sexier than the teenagers on Beverly Hills 90210 were the twentysomethings on The Real World: being in your twenties seemed to be about being beautiful and glamorous, working minimally and drinking maximally, walking around big cities with a fashionable haircut, leather boots and the distinct stride of a person who is absolutely satisfied.
Now that I’m on the far, northern side of those years, I know just how much the reality differs from that fabulous image. Being in your twenties means figuring yourself out. Endlessly. Working a lot of the time. Getting increasingly bad hangovers. Still struggling on a daily basis to look presentable. Not knowing anything about your future, and realizing that as years pass you know even less.
Sure: I feel more confident, and certainly more certain about my passions than I did in college. But that’s pretty much where it ends.
After dinner that night, I snuggled with my seven year old niece as she fell asleep. (Sorry, this is too adorable for me to keep to myself: my niece requires two adults to put her to sleep, one to read stories and then one to spoon with her as she sucks the thumb of her left hand and reaches around with her right to tug on your earlobe. Not kidding.)
So yeah, that alone could have made me cry. But what really sparked it, I think, basically, was that I’m in my twenties.
Someone who I’ve talked to in recent days, I can’t remember who (it could have been my mother, but it also could have been the cute guy from Oklahoma I sat next to on the plane yesterday–you know me, I’m an equal opportunity sharer), tried to convince me that this point in my life is really so exciting! “There’s so much possibility!” Mom/plane guy assured.
I get that. I get that I’m still young, that I’m extremely privileged in many ways, that I’m lucky to have at least one project demanding a serious amount of focus and mental space. (You know, that book thing I said I wouldn’t talk about.) But I am also just exhausted from so many years of being uncertain about so much. That elusive troika: where I’m gonna be, what I’m gonna be doing (books don’t pay the gas bill, much less rent), and who I’m gonna be with.
Spooning with my niece in her bedroom the other night, I glanced around her room and marveled at the gorgeous stillness of her life: wooden horses, porcelain cats, stuffed pandas; peaceful cuddling with the nearest available earlobe. I don’t wish that I was still seven: free will is kind of nice. But I do long for a time when I will stop feeling so angsty, so searchy, so preoccupied with what’s next. For a time when I’ll find it easier to just sit still.
I doubt turning thirty will make all that, magically, stop. But might as well keep hope alive: I’ve got two years left, and I kind of like the idea that I won’t be terribly sad when they’re done.