Terms & Conditions
Thoughts on Turning 30.
Seriously, whose great idea was it to let me turn 30? I’m still 29 for another month, and I can tell you this with confidence — I am so not ready. And now I’m expected to lose the training wheels of adulthood and officially settle into this adult life I’ve been calibrating for the last 10 years? It’s taken me this long just to get any sort of grand perspective on the subject. Although, my body has been starting to show my age for a while now. The proof being in the seven gray hairs that are scattered around my head. I had four when I started this essay, but I’m telling you, this aging thing is happening fast. And how am I am handling my upcoming birthday? Funny you should ask…not too well. I would like to tell you that I’m accepting it with humble grace, as elegantly as Dame Helen Mirren struts around on the beach in a bikini in her 70s. But I mean, come on. That’s not human. What’s human is being 29 years old, thrashing around in a state of total helter skelter wondering how the hell I got here and where the fuck the pause button is. And isn’t my happily ever after supposed to be here by now?
When I turned 21, I asked for MapQuest directions to the real world for my birthday. What did I get? A Bloomingdale’s gift card, which was great and all. But it meant that I had no other choice but drive around in circles until I figured it out for myself. Ladies, you take a right at the first job with health benefits that comes your way and turn left at any guy who only texts you between the hours of 11:30 pm and 3:30 am on Friday and Saturday nights. Guys, you take a right at the same job and don’t text girls only between the hours of 11:30 pm and 3:30 am on Friday and Saturday nights. Still, it’s not that simple. You’re bound to change lanes about seven times in your 20s. Maybe you’ll change lanes seven times in a year. But that’s what I didn’t understand back then. A year is just one year. It’ll pass, and so will another and another. You’re bound to question why you chose this career and this city and these friends. You’re bound to question why you got into a relationship with someone who only likes you some of the time and never follows through, but you swear that when they’re good they are so good. You’re bound to call home crying and questioning everything you know to be true and your hair color and your beliefs. You’re bound to ask why does everything have to be so damn hard? And when did adulting become a verb?
But that’s life in your 20s. Everything is that much harder because you’re figuring it out on your own for the first time and you’re not even sure who you are yet. You’re testing the waters to see where you belong in this little world and discovering what you believe in. When I was 23, I spent 6 months as a vegan. I was so adamant that I believed in it and that it was the true path to being healthy! And while I’m at it, shame on you for eating meat. So, fast forward to Thanksgiving dinner when I saw a big turkey staring me right in the face. And guess what? I wasn’t appalled. I was hungry. No, I was starving. It hit me in that moment that I was so, so not a vegan. I had spent half a year of my life starving, letting my new beliefs drown out the grumbling of my stomach because I wanted to have one single thing that I could easily define myself with. I let myself eat about two pounds of turkey that night and I only stopped when it hit me that other people might want some for themselves. My adventure in veganism began with the best of intentions, but it turned out to be a truly bad fit for me and made me rediscover a part of who I am. And that’s a girl who needs her meat.
Growing up you think the world is this big massive place, when actually it’s very small. Not the globe, but your life. It’s just one tiny sliver of what’s out there. And yet, it feels like everything and more, do or die. And sometimes it’s overwhelming trying to process what that little sliver should look like. You feel like you have to decide right this minute and preach it from the rooftops. But if you look back on your last few years, did your entire sky come crashing down because you couldn’t make up your mind? Did the world stop turning and economies fall apart because you weren’t sure you were a consultant or a documentary filmmaker, a lawyer or a small hipster coffee shop owner? My guess is probably not. My guess is that you’re still working through what your future looks like and trying to color in the lines so that everything else around you doesn’t unravel. But deciding right now, in three months, in seven days, in one more year — that’s turning your life into a science. How are you supposed to know who you are and what you like and what you don’t like when you’re only 20-something years old? All things considered, you’re still brand new. You don’t have to decide it all right this instant. That’s not how this life thing goes.
If I could give myself a compliment on how I handled my 20s, I would say that I did myself right by never settling. I tried things. I tried to make jobs and relationships work. But at the end of the day, I always stood up for myself when I thought I could do better. I always found a way out of a bad situation. And it was never, ever easy. Easy is falling into a trap, letting happiness become a series of settling for average because it’s easier than going through life as if you’re treading water. Easy will never stay easy if you’re paying attention. Survey your surroundings. Survey how you feel. Survey what your gut is telling you even when your mind works to negotiate what you think is right. You know when you’re not happy. You can drive that car any which way you want to. I swear. Don’t stay at a job that makes you cry on your commute to and from the office. Don’t let your friends tell you how you should handle your life. And don’t let the guy come upstairs who you know is great but will never treat you better than the neglectful way he treats you right now. Try something new. Try dating yourself. Try veganism for all I care. I mean, it wasn’t for me but, hey, I still support animal rights. It took me 29 years to realize that big life decisions are usually the sum of 20 small decisions, and you only realize you made that big decision in hindsight.
In the last 10 years, I changed jobs twice at one company. I tried out a startup and hated it (I mean it made me really, really miserable). Then I went back to the first company to my first job there. It wasn’t a seamless start to my career, but nothing about it proved irreversible. I eventually figured out what I wanted to do, it just took a little time for me to get there. And I’ve been on well over 100 first dates, a quarter as many second dates, even fewer third dates, and so on. I’ve fallen in love once and had my heart broken by the same guy at least twice over the course of five years. He couldn’t commit, although always reassured me that we had ‘long-term, maybe lifelong potential.’ He wanted things to be breezy (his word) because he could not withstand the storm. He wanted to stay in the calm waters where he knew he could swim his way out of the moment he got scared. All the while, I wasn’t scared off by the growing pains. I was willing to fight for us and do whatever it took to make us work. And that was partly because I wanted our relationship to define me. Who am I? His girlfriend. What am I doing with my life? Spending it with him. But he wasn’t ready to fight for me, no matter how much he swore that he could see us together. Ironically, he’s now engaged to someone else.
That’s another thing I didn’t understand at the time. I wanted him to save me, the part that wasn’t sure who I was and what I was doing for the rest of my life. Now I get it. Now I know that no one is going to save you unless you save yourself. I mean, who do you think you are — Matt Damon?
I cried for weeks after he left me to go back to her and I swore that I would never recover all the pieces of my shattered heart. And yet somehow, I did. I stopped pining for him and us and what we could have been. I know that I gave it my all, even though he couldn’t come through for me. I did. I took care of myself. And yes, there are moments when my mind quiets and it hits me that I’m 29 and still single, and if I don’t change thoughts fast enough I wind up in tears wherever I am — the backseat of a Lyft, the subway, Bloomingdale’s, the corner bodega when I’m buying apples and almond milk. I mean, I’ve cried all over New York City. That actually may be the most normal thing I did in my twenties.
I look back on the last ten years of my life and see a dizzying series of zigs and zags that I would have never have found on MapQuest (give me a break, it was 2008). And has it been pretty? Fuck no. Sometimes it feels like I’m living out a Jackson Pollock painting with the body of a Picasso. Everything about my life has often made little to no sense. Did I learn a lot? Fuck yes. I learned that I’m not invincible, but I’m hella durable. I learned that I can zig and I can zag. I can fall and I can stumble. I learned that I can and will continue to make mistakes. No matter how smart or mature I become, I will sometimes let that stupid guy upstairs and convince myself that he won’t be a total jerk this time around. Maybe he will finally be the guy I know he will mature into, even though he’s not there yet. Because even after all this time, no matter how mature I become or how many gray hairs invade my head, I am still capable of making a wrong turn. The only difference is that now I know that these are momentary parts of this little sliver that is my life. My little world is not perfect, nor am I.
And trust me, I thought by the time I was 30 that I would be married and settled down. A house in the suburbs. A dog. Kids. A black Range Rover. My husband would love the shit out of me and all I would have to do is love him back for as long as we both shall live. And life would be that simple. All ups, no downs, no left turns back to the guys who are just not ready to commit. But that’s not what I got. I got the 30 that means starting a new decade on my own — married to myself. I got the 30 that means that I’m the most important person in my life, and I can take the time I need to make sure that I’m happy. I got the 30 that means I spend at least one night a week combing through my hairs looking for new grays. That’s just how this life thing goes. Unexpected. Unrelenting. Unfuckingbelievable.
I’m just now beginning to accept that this whole ‘happily ever after’ thing is actually one colossal lie. In fact, happily ever after isn’t an ending at all — it’s just an ellipsis. It carries you from the moment you settle into the life you choose to the onset of forever. And sometimes it’s not pretty. Sometimes it’s bitingly difficult. It suffocates you. It causes you to obsess over whatever isn’t going right. Sometimes happiness feels painfully impossible. But that’s another thing. Happiness was never really a guarantee to begin with. I know, I know. That’s not what you thought you signed up for. Well, not to sound too much like a customer service agent who is reading off a script written by some guy named Stu in legal, but it’s in the terms and conditions of life in teeny tiny print that you and no one else ever bothers to read. Except Stu.
I see it like this. Happiness is a fleeting emotion. No one can ever stay happy forever. That would mean they’re emotionally invincible and that doesn’t exist. Happiness is just a baseline status quo. It’s the starting line. And from there you’re bound to endure dramatic ups and downs, moments of feeling lost and directionless, and the cavernous depths of self-doubt. It’s all written in the contractual agreement of the happily ever after that you signed up for.
You just gotta hope and wish and pray for tiny moments of bliss in between, learning the right turns from the left, knowing that you’re going to get through it. You’ll always get through it. And hey, I’ll even get through my 30s.