In a week it’s my birthday. My thirtieth, to be exact. It’s supposedly a B.F.D. type of birthday, yet I don’t have the strongest feelings about this number. I know I should feel happy, because the alternative to growing older is frankly unacceptable. I should probably also feel some amount of dread, because that is the expected thing in American culture, to view the gradual encroachment of age with loathing and despair. Especially being a WOMAN, whose ovaries have yet to be fertilized and so forth.
Instead, like with most things in my life right now, it’s a mixed bag. Looking back on this decade, overall I am pleased with how everything turned out. I’ve traveled a lot, made friends all over the globe, and am generally happy with my life. Yet…slightly guilty about feeling pleased, and increasingly self-conscious about how others might regard this jobless, aimless nearly-thirty-something. People often react with surprise when they hear my actual age – “no way! I thought you were…” anywhere from 18 – 24, and of course I’m flattered (Asian genes FTW!).
It recently dawned on me, though, that people likely are responding to the output and the subtle cues before them, none of which indicate “grown up responsible lady”: un-maquillaged face, propensity for wearing primary colored clothing carried at “Forever 21″ and “Target,” lack of gainful employment, absence of 401k or other retirement funds, residence in older sister’s house, self-hacked bangs. Using Facebook as a social yardstick, I have fallen way behind on several milestones: most people in my age group seem to be either on their second child, or second marriage, or maybe both. I have as of yet felt absolutely zero inclinations towards joining in on this particular ride. It is this lack of desire that makes me wonder if I am a little slow. It’s a repeat of the 6th grade leap, when one day all the girls were into boys and perfume and clothes and music, and I still preferred to retreat into my pretend universe, with my toys and dolls and imaginary friends. Eventually, I felt shamed into abandoning the citizens of Toyland, in favor of grunge CDs and issues of “Tiger Beat” — but with some lingering sadness.
I recently ran into an ex-boyfriend, in a spectacularly awkward fashion*, at the retirement party of a college mentor. Daoud was there, as was his wife and two kids. Two! In the time since I last saw him, he has been busy succeeding at being a doctor and propagating his genetic inheritance. Not that this is a race – but if it were, I would be probably losing, hardcore. All I have to show for my twenties are some postcards and an overworked liver.
I don’t regret the time that I’ve spent – my twenties were pretty solid. But I must, since I need to start thinking about post-mortem legacies, dedicate my thirties to something a little more permanent, a little less selfish, a little more world-bettering. I have opted not to fling myself back into the overseas TEFL pit, not right away – though, the life of free rent and global travel, it is tempting – but , rather, to settle down roots and channel whatever skills I might have accumulated into some productive output.
Right now, I have the idea that this may take the form of becoming a teacher of American children. Specifically, inner city Baltimore children. (Yes! I know!). We’ll see how this goes.
* is there really any other way to run into an ex, after a long period of no contact? Here’s how things had awkwardly progressed:
- Francine, coordinator of the event, runs over to me, screaming, “I AM SO SORRY. I DIDN’T KNOW HE WOULD ACTUALLY COME.”
- While calming her down, I realize she is referring to Daoud, the ex. The awkward ball is definitely in my corner. Will I go around the building, seeking out this encounter? Or will I forfeit my turn and continue to stay where I am?
- I opt to stay where I am, and continue chatting with my friends. Like the totes mature near-thirty-year-old I am.
- A woman slowly pushes a stroller, circling the group. Side-eye maybe happens.
- I again forfeit my turn.
- Eli finally pipes up: “I think the wife just strafed us.”
- Daoud, SO MATURE, comes up to me and initiates contact. We chat for a bit and he updates me on his life. I update him on mine.
- That wasn’t so bad. I guess?