The day I turned 30, I woke up in a tent at Glastonbury desperate for the loo. My crew were still asleep, I couldn’t find my glasses and didn’t want to put my contacts in until I’d washed my hands, so I decided to venture to the loos blind. It was raining and the queue for the loo was so big when I got there that I made an executive decision to just go back and wee in a pot near my tent. On the way back to the tent, what with my blurred vision, I fell over a tent string and landed faced down in the mud. I lay there for a minute thinking of that Radiohead video where everyone’s lying on the floor and they won’t explain why.
My family had all texted me the day before saying ‘Happy Birthday Sarah!’ on the family Whatsapp — my brother had got the date wrong and then they all just followed suit. “Thanks, it’s not actually until tomorrow guys…” I replied. When I made it back to the tent, I checked my phone again and had a message from my mum saying “Remember: Age doesn’t matter when you’ve got style. Just think of Joan Collins.”
84-year-old Joan Collins.
It was the last day of Glastonbury, I knew we were due to drive home after the last headliner that night, so I couldn’t go too wild. I’d had my fun over the last few days — over the last 10 years in fact, so a more chilled out day would be fine. I lay on my sleeping bag for a while until the rest woke up and sang happy birthday to me and another boy in our group who was 25 on the same day. I put my greasy festival hair in a bun, looked for some clean socks, put on my emergency pair of sunglasses (having lost my favourite pair) and cracked open a beer for breakfast. We’d partied hard for four days, and so no-one else felt like joining me for the 9am beer, except one girl who I didn’t know all that well at the time who said “I’ll join you babe” — and who I’ll love until the end of time.
I stoically drank my way through the day, on a completely different wavelength to everyone else. My Glastonbury crew that year was a group of my boyfriend’s very charming 26-year-old friends, and we’d all had a great time, but on that Sunday, I looked up and it was like the Red Sea had parted, with my boyfriend and his friends on one side — the carefree 20s — and me and Joan Collins on the other, mourning the loss of our naturally voluminous hair.
The fact that the Sunday night headliner was Ed Sheeran didn’t help matters. I’m not a fan of Ed Sheeran’s music on a good day, but others in my crew were, so we stayed to watch. I was in such a foul mood by the time the final song played that as everyone around me started hugging each other and jumping to the beat of Sheeran rapping “you need me man, I don’t need you”, I sloped off to cry. My four-day Glastonbury hangover had somehow escalated to include my entire 20s. I was so relieved when Ed stopped singing with no sign of an encore that I practically sprinted back to the campsite to pick up my stuff and start the journey home into the next phase of life.
In hindsight, I’m pretty embarrassed by my reaction to turning 30 — I was at Glastonbury for god’s sake, what a way to celebrate. But then, the other day I was watching Friends on Netflix and it rolled on to ‘The One Where They All Turn 30’ — an episode which had gone totally over my head the first few times I’d watched it — and it made me feel so much better.
“My 30th was the day I started counting backwards from what I wanted, the way Rachel does: I want this many children, and I have this many years to do it in.”
The episode starts on Rachel’s 30th birthday and she won’t come out of her room. Tag, her hot young boyfriend comes out first to lay some ground rules for the day and request that no one says “old” or “downhill” or “they still look pretty damn good!” [cue canned laughter]. Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe have all already turned 30, so the episode is one of those ‘look back’ episodes which I always felt lacked quality narrative. Rachel asks her friends around the breakfast table “Is it just me? Am I overreacting to this?” and Joey consoles her with “Turning 30’s not that big a deal” until the others remind him how upset he was on his 30th birthday and time turns back to show Joey shouting “WHY GOD WHY? We had a deal — let the others grow old, not me!”
The rest of the episode comprises of the six friends looking back at their thirtieths and remembering their respective breakdowns. Ross buys a shiny new sports car to make himself feel young and hip which works until it gets blocked in by two other cars. Monica gets so hammered she can’t stand and falls apart at the surprise party Chandler has planned for her. Chandler seems okay about his until Joey has another outburst asking God why he’s letting them all “get so old”. Phoebe deals with it best, using the day to tick off some bucket list items like bouncing a mile on an inflatable space hopper, though the day takes a turn for the worse when she visits her twin sister Ursula who reveals they’re actually 31. She leaves the group at the coffee house, claiming she just wants to be alone.
Back in the present day at Rachel’s, she’s opening a card Chandler has bought for her which says ‘Happy Birthday Grandma!’ Rachel starts crying and says “To be a grandmother you have to be married and have children and I don’t have any of those things” and then goes to her room and slams the door. When she’s feeling better, she comes back to the table and starts planning for the future. She wants three kids, she says, “So I should probably have the first by the time I’m 35… So I don’t have to get pregnant until I’m 34… But I do want to be married for a year before I get pregnant… So I don’t have to get married until I’m 33… But I’ll need a year-and-a-half to plan the wedding, and I’d like to know the guy for a year and a half before we get engaged, which means I need to meet the guy by the time I’m 30…” Then she starts freaking out again, realising she’s already behind schedule and breaks up with Tag who protests “this is just because you’re turning 30”. “Yeah, it is”, Rachel answers, “But I think I’m past the point where I can just have fun.” When she re-joins her friends, she jokes, “If I only want two kids, can I keep him for another year?”
As loved as it is by noughties teenagers who had cable, Friends got a lot very wrong. According to The Independent, there were only two people of colour in the entire show. Someone makes a homophobic joke every time any male character displays any sign of stereotypically female behaviour. And Monica is fat-shamed throughout. I guess you could write off this episode about turning 30 and Rachel’s fear about not being married or having kids and deciding she’s too old to ‘just have fun’ as yet another problematic Friends moment, but I don’t think it belongs in that pile. That is how many women feel when they turn 30, it’s just not very woke to admit it now. The thing Rachel does of counting backwards is exactly what I started doing that day too. I hadn’t expected it, but suddenly all of those antiquated clichés about women in their 30s started whirring in my head, and I thought about my fertility and about what I really wanted from life and it wasn’t watching Ed Sheeran hungover at Glastonbury.
Seeing my fictional childhood friends freak out the same way I did over the big 3.0. helped. I did lose it that day, but that’s okay, because no one told you life was gonna be this way… It also made me think it’s okay to stop and take stock and think about what you want on your 30th birthday, and maybe even make a few decisions about life. Just because you start thinking about your life and what you want more seriously doesn’t make you uncool, unfun or unfeminist.
If I could do it over, I’d probably make sure I had a few friends present who were over 26, and I’d leave Ed Sheeran to watch Kano. With my 31st approaching, I’ve also decided to take a leaf out of Phoebe’s book, and buy an adult-sized space hopper.
Originally published at https://www.refinery29.com.