On my 25th birthday, a pair of 30-something co-workers teased me that this was the end: once I crossed that threshold, I was never going to be young and fresh again and the magnitude of that transition would force me to straighten up and conduct myself like an adult. And by adult, I think they meant cranky teetotaler who spends her weekends alone watching Friends on DVDs.
In response, I partied like I was turning 21 and woke up hours late for work. I had made such a fuss about my own birthday that no one didn’t know why I was late or why my eyes were puffy and bloodshot and I was wearing what looked like gym clothes. I was pretty embarrassed to still be doing the walk of shame at 25, but at least a small part of me felt victorious – I had held adulthood at bay for another year and proved to everyone that I was still young and fun. I refused to let an arbitrary number determine how I acted or how the world reacted to me.
But eventually, I just got tired of it. I felt the call of the civilized world. Having enough money to go on vacation? Better than paying for a round for the bar. Sleeping peacefully because I have health insurance? More relaxing than drowning my problems in beer. I just grew up, on my own and in my own time.
But as my thirtieth birthday approached, new party poopers emerged (some of them younger than me!) to pester me with questions like, “Are you ready for this?” “Do you feel old?” “Do you know your mom had four kids by the time she was 30?” “Are you going to get cats?”
I tried to muster up an appropriate amount of worry and regret, but it just wasn’t there. In fact, I realized I knew how to work hard, how to motivate myself, and how to wake up most mornings feeling good about myself. I have so much more practical life experience and my knowledge of my favorite subjects continues to deepen. Why would I want to be a twenty-something again?
Having crossed that threshold, I enjoy people automatically taking me a little bit more seriously because I’m in my thirties and not in my twenties. I like knowing I can apply all the life lessons of my first three decades to whatever will come my way in next thirty years. I have a job that looks a lot like a career and a car and a nice place to live. I go on day trips and I have an exercise regimen.
And I did party on my thirtieth birthday. I carried on like I was 21 all over again. Maybe that’s how I’ll pass every birthday. But on most nights, I do my own thing. I go for a run, or I volunteer to teach English, or I meet with my Chinese tutor. I like to watch documentaries in the local theater and wake up early on Saturdays to go to the farmer’s market. When I’m at home home, I make cheese platters or Chinese food and then I read or watch some TV.
|I am a responsible adult.|
With every passing year, I am more certain about what I like and what I don’t like. I don’t need to try everything to find out what works for me. The open-mindedness and liberality of my twenties was great, but the constant insecurity and uneasiness was a high price to pay. I used to go crazy feeling like I had to indulge every interest of mine. Within the past year, I narrowed it down to the three that I think will help me live the life I want: writing, running, and studying Chinese. Everything else has been demoted to a distraction.
I love my life. I feel calm and confident. I don’t second-guess myself. I don’t feel obligated to be open to every experience and every invitation. I don’t feel guilty for being ambitious and hard-working. It’s easier to keep negative people out of my life because I know what I can do without them.
But it does sting a little every time I pull out my ID and the waiter says, “No, that’s okay. I don’t need to see it.”