Wednesday, 22 January 2014

It's Great to Turn Thirty

Well, I know that many women quite illogically dread turning thirty, but until today I never read about a woman who avoided it by committing suicide. Yes, I read about it in the Daily Mail, which is a British tabloid, but still. The woman must have been seriously mentally ill, poor girl.

I have not only turned thirty, I have turned forty. But well I remember my thirtieth birthday! I was divorced-and-annulled with no boyfriend, working in a temp agency, living in a bachelor flat (lovely bay window, mind you), paying the lowest possible fees to my therapist, and I had an absolutely rocking birthday. Naturally I planned it myself.

A bunch of old friends from Toronto came to the smaller city in which I lived, 100 Km/60 miles away. A bunch of local new friends came, too. And my brother Nulli was there. We all went to the best Chinese restaurant in town and had a massive feast. Then we squeezed into my tiny flat for cake and champagne. I still remember that Josie gave me a pink leopard-print plush frame--in which I put a magazine photo of Keanu Reeves--and a "Grow Your Own Boyfriend in a Glass" doll which I still have somewhere, never having put him into a glass.

Heavens, I was poor. But it was an amazing birthday, and my brother, due to turn thirty himself in a year, was rather inspired by it. For one thing, I said that the great thing about being thirty was that I would not make the same mistakes I made in my twenties. Nulli said that made a big impression on him.

My thirties were much better than my twenties, I must say. They rather sagged during the BC years, but they improved later because of the friends I made through blogging and writing for the Catholic Register. They definitely ended on a high, because I had married dear old B.A. and my first book had been published in two countries and would soon be published in Poland.

Well I remember my fortieth birthday! I was married to marvellous B.A., writing for pay and for art, living in an attic flat created in 1820 in a house built in 1686, paying for the cheapest possible flights on holidays, and I had an absolutely rocking birthday. B.A. took me to our favourite French restaurant in Edinburgh, where we treated four of our friends to a great meal. They brought nice gifts, including a red sequined evening bag I can't take anywhere except the givers' house because it makes me look like a...hmm...

Anyway, it was a great birthday. After lunch B.A. took me either to a film or a snazzy hotel bar or both--I recall being a bit tipsy, really, which is why I probably don't remember that bit clearly.

Heavens, we are poor. Sort of. I admit we have a very good time on what money we have, and when I am seized with sudden agony that I am an utter failure, not having four children and a house in the ever-spreading suburbs outside Toronto or even a proper job in an office, B.A. reminds me that I have had two books published, and answered countless emails from readers. He might also point out that I chose to live my life like a scholarly hippy, since I picked totally impractical subjects to study, like Catholic theology. And that it is even more impractical to compare myself to high school classmates and my own brothers and sisters.

(Still, I think I convinced him that it sucks not to be fluent in a second language when one brother is fluent in French, and one sister is fluent in Spanish, and one sister is fluent in French AND Spanish, and my sister-in-law is fluent in French and Romanian, and my nephew and niece are fluent in French and Romanian and know American Sign Language because my brother is an early language acquisition nut. I sat there with Julek i Julka, tears running down my mortified monolingual cheeks. It's not like I didn't try learning French, Italian, German, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Latin and Greek--it's that I never became FLUENT. How come THEY'RE all fluent when I'm not fluent in ANYTHING? Sob, sob, sniff.)

One thing I do not feel bad about is being over forty. Being over forty means only that I haven't died yet and implies that I enjoyed good health in my youth, which I certainly did. I was most definitely tired of the lifestyle of a twenty-something when I was thirty-five and stumbling around Boston looking for a night club to celebrate my birthday in. Thank you Jonathan and Ted, but what nonsense. I made my Single-at-Forty birthday plans then; they involved a quiet family dinner with any children then in my family. Naturally, as I married at thirty-eight, this plan was replaced by the above.

No matter how much I write, or articles or books I publish, or readers I help, I will probably always occasionally feel like a failure for some reason or another. So think about that if you are twenty-nine or thirty-nine and dreading the next birthday. And if you can read this, you probably look and feel a lot younger than any woman your age in Afghanistan. Here's Sharbat Gula, a Pashtun, at 12 and at thirty:
We Westerners should count our blessings and give thanks for them every day!


Nzie said...

I'm looking forward to turning 33 - because I am a major Tolkien fan, and whatever else is going on in my life, I'm planning on throwing myself a hobbit coming of age birthday party. :-) It's so cheery I don't even mind when my college freshman brother names Abigail Breslin as his celebrity crush (I swear she was 9 yesterday, right?). I have a few years and LOTS of ideas.

Malgorzata said...

Hi Seraphic,

I turned 30 last week and since I've been very busy recently and going through a rough patch, my birthday seemed more like a ray of sunshine.

I looked at the mirror and saw a girl who is looking much better now than on her 20th birthday. I'm also more confident, self-aware and outgoing than I used to be ten years ago.

There was a very particular man at my workplace (university) who commented : you have no flat, no husband, no kids, no stable job. But his rude remarks didn't spoil my humour.

So I'm very glad you wrote the post on the subject because this is exactly what I feel: one's thirties may be even better than twenties.

Sheila said...

I am a few years out from thirty, and looking forward to it. I have more confidence, more direction, more guts than I had ten years ago. I swear I even look much better than I did at twenty. My face has more character instead of being a perfect blank, and I smile more now. I've also learned a bit more about how to dress and do my hair, and to ditch the makeup that wasn't working for me.

But probably the main reason I like my looks better now is that I like myself better now. I feel more sure of myself, so when I look in the mirror it's more like "hello there old friend" instead of "ugh, I wish I looked like a movie star."

Heather in Toronto said...

Oh Nzie, what a wonderful idea - I'm turning 33 this week and I forgot it counts as my hobbit coming of age!

Being in my thirties is so much better than being in my twenties was.

Pearlmusic said...

I have been 30 for half a year already and I am telling all women not to be afraid of it, Single or married. Yes, you may get the feeling that your best days as women are gone, but that's not true, actually. When I look at my twenties, which were supposed to be the time of my life, all I can see is a decade of anxiety, partying & drinking too much, saying stupid things and thinking I'm so cool, hanging around with too many wrong people, unsuccessful dating life, unwillingness to come to terms with my own limitations etc.
So, as I came to bid farewell to those years last summer, it was a HUGE relief supported by the awareness of who I am, a better relationship with God, myself and people around me.

Julia said...

I still have six and a half years to go before 30, but I'm looking forward to it. By then, I hope to have bought a flat with my sister. I've started doing mortgage, property and deposit research, and I think buying a place will be more achievable than I initially thought it would be.

Pearlmusic, I think that one's twenties are over-rated as well. A lot of people in their twenties are highly anxious and kind of poor. My advice to 19-year-old me would be to stop worrying about everything all the time. Although it's only been four years, things that used to make me anxious back then don't really anymore.

Notburga said...

You are absolutely right, Seraphic; this is a thing I always try telling younger colleagues.

One of them actually flew the country on her 30th birthday(O.K., took a short trip somewhere, (a)to make the best of a bad thing, in her opinion and (b) not to be at home when "it" happened.)

It turns out that in some parts of Germany, including the one this unfortunate girl came from, there is a really cruel custom: Anyone turning 30 AND NOT BEING MARRIED is either played some tricks or has to perform some ridiculous tasks, such as sweeping in front of all the doors of the village.

Luckily, no such customs existed where I was when I turned thirty. I still remember the feeling of somehow having, suddenly, become so much more mature, and wise, so much more able to look down with fond condecension on the young twenty-somethings (such as my students) - all in one day.

I have already started to think about the potential good things associated with becoming fourty (especially if one is still single by then). My thought is that this would be the time to turn into an ECCENTRIC SPINSTER. This sounds like being great fun - I have actually begun to collect ideas for this (

Modesty said...

@Nzie: Your hobbit feast has inspired me. That is how I shall celebrate turning 30 this coming november.

I think my 20s were pretty good...okay really good which is maybe why 30s have slightly less appeal. In my 20s I had my dream job for a year, I traveled overseas a couple of times, dated a lovely man (whom later cut ties after feeling called to priesthood. I think it was a cop outs), and I was creatively fulfilled with lots of single friends. Certainly wasn't wasted. I'm going to miss it.

NOW, I'm in a miserable temp job, going to therapy, haven't had a good date in a couple of years it feels like, and my last single friend just got engaged. BUT thanks to therapy I think that's going to turn around. I want to end my 20s on a positive note.

PolishTraveler said...

@Modesty - I hope it does turn around! There is a time for everything, and everything in its time. I feel like ups and downs in our life don't go by the calendar! The closer I get to 30 the happier I am, even if I'm still single - partly because I know myself better and I am slowly but painfully learning that "men always tell you what is wrong with them" (and you'd better believe them the first time) and that it's not worth wasting time, energy and my heart on individuals who can't figure out if/when they want to commit.

My mom always told me the further away you get from your early twenties, the happier you get, and that's proved true for me and many people I know. It's not even 'finally figuring it out' - sometimes, it's making peace with the fact that you haven't figured it out yet and actually might never figure it out completely. In a way it's oddly comforting!

Nzie said...

For the other ladies who like the hobbit idea, this mom did a great job for her toddler and I definitely saved the link to appropriate all her brainstorming:

I agree with a lot of what's been said above. I also have a couple years til 30 (and more than that til I'm a full-grown hobbit), and while there are things about myself I'd like to improve, I prefer who I am now, more confident and feeling better about myself, than who I was at 20. :-)

Anonymous said...

Dear Dorothy,

I welcome a post on not fearing turning 30 having recently turned 30 myself and being much happier now than I ever was during my twenties. Part of growing older is to also slowly become more comfortable in our bodies, with our faces and generally realize that we are much more than what looks back at us from the mirror, and to enjoy and not fear this.

Which is why I am disturbed by the inclusion of this photograph of an Afghan woman at the end of this otherwise lovely post. You include Sharbat Gul's photograph and invite "Western women" to meditate on how much luckier they are because they, supposedly, look so much better than her at the age of 30. Firstly, she looks beautiful to me, and I'm honestly not sure what the point being made here is. Secondly, by what presumption do you assume that *all" western women look and feel better than *all* Afghan women at 30? I assume you mean this because of what has happened in Afghanistan over the last several years and what the western press continually reports about the difficulties of being a woman in current day Afghanistan. But surely we should extend compassion to women living elsewhere, in difficult circumstances, rather than holding up an image of their (to you) ravaged faces and feeling better about ourselves in comparison? And finally, it is actually exceedingly easy to simply turn this back onto "western women" because actually most south-asian women look far younger at any age than their western counterparts, it simply has to do with skin texture, and how different kinds of skin age. But this would be an uncharitable thing to say, and completely besides the point, because we are finally not about what we look like, western or non-western.

Thank you,

Seraphic said...

What I mean is that the hardship of life for women in Afghanistan is literally etched onto their faces. Afghan women are Caucasians; though not European they are what is generally referred to as "white." (I dated an Afghan as a teenager and he was appalled at the idea he might not be considered "white." White privilege is not confined to the West, believe me!) At any rate because Afghan women have delicate, fair, Caucasian skin, they age very quickly in punishing environments. If you are interested in the life of Afghan women, I recommend "An American Bride in Kabul" by Phyllis Chesler.

Poor Sharbat Gula said her last happy day was her wedding day.

Seraphic said...

At any rate, I once read a very sneering short story by a black Canadian women mentioning how elderly white Canandian women don't bother trying to look like women anymore. I had a discussion with my mother about how different women age, and she told me that, because of the harshness of their climate, Afghan women look old at thirty. That inspired me to give up worrying about "looking old" and just be grateful that I have good food, medical care, protection from the sun, etc. Sharing this peace of mind was my object here.

Magdalena said...

I will also become a full-grown hobbit in a few weeks! What a wonderful thought!

Turning 30 was ablolutely no problem with me. As many other readers, I very much enjoy feeling more grown-up and self-confident (and looking better) than in my twenties (especially the early twenties - shudder).

But I was kind of dreading my mid-thirties, they are so close to fourty, and I am not yet ready to become an eccentric spinster. But I do plan to become a smiling, happy, wise old lady when I'm over 60, no matter what my state in life will be.

Magdalena said...

Just one little question: Dear inner child, will you take over control again and go on with the bodis riper? I can't wait to see what sharlot and proodens will do to rescue hewbert.

Maddi said...

I LOVE the hobbit coming-of-age party idea :D I am 33 this year, and I WILL have a hobbit themed party. Thank you ;-)