Alright folks. Pour yourself a drink, find yourself a seat and settle in: this is gonna be a long one. And it’s like heart-on-sleeve confessional, so walk away if that’s not your bag; if it is, get ready for some honesty.
As I approached yesterday’s momentous occasion, I was asked repeatedly, “Sooo, how’re you feeling about turning 30?”
Sometimes the question was asked in a light-hearted way, but more often the tone was one of serious concern and/or commiseration, frequently with a gentle, reassuring hand laid on my shoulder. For many people, it seemed that turning 30 was akin to awaiting a serious medical diagnosis – “How are you feeeeeling? How’re you holding up? What is it like to face your own mortality??”
My answer was usually something along the lines of, “I feel fine about it!”; “I love birthdays, so another one is always good!”; “I can’t wait to celebrate!”; “Really, I don’t feel that different from 21.”; “They say 30 is the new 20.”
And all of those answers are true, so I didn’t give it much more thought. When Rachel and I planned out the blog posts for January, I said I would write about turning 30 on the day after I turned 30 – after all, I’d been asked about it enough. As I started to think about this post and what I wanted to say, the concerned/worried/commiserating tone of my friends and family came to mind and I started to wonder, “Well…how do I feeeeeel about turning 30?” The answer is a bit more in-depth than my initial off-the-cuff responses.
So here we go – allow me to reflect on how I feel as I enter a new decade.
Chapter 1: I am born.
Just kidding – we’re not going that in-depth. But I am throwing in some old birthday pics throughout this post for visual interest – otherwise, it’d just be a ton of words. And let’s pause here to note that apparently I was born in a prison hallway (seriously, how stark and grotty is that background wall?!) and to observe that even upon the joyous occasion of his fourth child’s birth, Rock Brockman couldn’t hold a smile for a photograph. Or maybe he’s thinking, “Good grief! Another girl! What does a dude gotta do to get a son up in this piece?”
Aaaaaaaaanyways, I digress.
So, I’m 30. It really is true that I don’t feel that far removed from 20. I feel like 30 snuck up on me. I couldn’t possibly be 30 – I was 23 only a few months ago! But then I think back to high school or college, and it seems sooooooooooooooooo long ago, and yeah, I’m a pretty different person now.
“Okay,” I hear you say, “That’s a given – we all change, dummy.”
I suppose what I’m getting at is that I am not different now in the way I thought I would be different, if that makes sense. If you asked 18-year-old Susanna what she thought 30-year-old Susanna would be like, she would not have described my current existence. Again, that’s not a shocking revelation. Who among us can say that life panned out exactly as we expected or hoped? What I’m realizing and embracing more these days is the idea that things change in a way you can’t predict or expect; and they will continue to change in that way. And that’s neither good nor bad. It’s just fact.
My reflections upon turning 30 are many, but I find myself returning over and over to the same two themes: 1) singleness/marriage and 2) changing friendships/relationships.
Sooooooo, to take a step back, where did I expect to find myself at the age of 30?
Clichéd as it may be and much as I hate to admit it, a large part of the answer revolves around marriage. I definitely expected to be married by the age of 30.
My teenage self would have said she’d like to be married by 24 (at the latest! Ohgoshcanyouevenimaginebeinganyolderthanthatwhenyougetmarried?! You might as well be dead!). Of course, as I hit my mid-20’s, I could look back at and shake my head at my youthful naiveté (ah, there was so much I did not know!). Twenty-four was far too young for me to be married! I was really very content not being married at that point in my life. But even so, I would rationalize things in the back of my head – that teenager inside of me balking at my tragic spinsterhood – “Well, if I’m married by 26, that’s still good…Um, or 28…I guess 30 would be okay.”
It’s only been in the last couple years, as I approach that final deadline – that looming number, that age beyond which I am a certifiable old maid – that I’ve shed that niggling voice in the back of my head. The subconscious personal pressure I was putting on myself to find a man and settle down has dissipated.
That’s not to say that I no longer have any desire to be married. Of course I do. It’s not as if I’ve completely thrown in the towel and will now retreat into isolation, but I am no longer setting myself secret expiration dates. If it happens, that’s great. If not, that’s fine too.
So I guess how all of that relates to How Do You Feel About Turning 30 is: I feel comfortable in myself. I feel happy and confident being single. My past self might be shocked that I am still single at 30, but I’m not lacking self-confidence or suffering from crippling self-doubt over the fact that I’m not married. I’m pretty sure I’m awesome and hopefully at some point in time, I’ll meet a dude who appreciates my awesomeness and is equally awesome himself and we’ll live happily ever after being awesome together.
As an aside, I actually often find myself thinking, “Oh my goodness, I am soooo glad I’m not married!” By and large, it’s for really selfish reasons. I like my independence; I like controlling my own agenda without reference to another person; I like having my own space. Honestly, sometimes the thought of having someone else constantly around me makes my skin crawl. I certainly haven’t met anyone yet who I like enough to even consider always being with them. And I know enough married people to know that marriage is actually really hard and requires a lot of work. Again, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone yet who is awesome enough to make all the effort seem worth it. Yes, that simplifies marriage a LOT and doesn’t address the really great things about it, but still – considering all that, I’m a-okay being single.
Obviously, it’s not always easy to be a-okay with being single. And that brings me to my second Reflection on Turning 30: that relationships/friendships will and do change with time. Relating it back to marriage, this change/shift is particularly evident when a friend gets married…or when a sister gets married.
I can’t pretend that I don’t sometimes find it really hard being the only single one in my family. My relationships with my sisters changed the second they got married, but the feeling of being left out/behind has been more intense as I’ve gotten older (after all, I was only 18 and 19 when they all got married) and as my sisters have started having kids. I am (obviously, I hope) not pointing my finger at them and wailing about how they exclude me. It’s perfectly natural that they would move on to this next life stage, but marriage and motherhood are experiences that I haven’t had and therefore, it’s a part of their lives that I can’t fully share.
Of course, family is one thing; friends are another. My sisters will always be my sisters and we’ll always be intimately connected and in touch (yay!), but sadly, the same isn’t always true for friends. So as more and more of my friends have started getting married in the past few years – moving into a life phase that I have yet to experience – I’ve begun to really think about the way that friendships and relationships change as we age.
And I’m becoming more comfortable with this irrefutable, immutable fact.
In my ideal world my best friends from high school would be best friends with my best friends from college and then all of them would be best friends with all the best friends I’ve made since college and also best friends with my family including my parents and their best friends. And we would all continue to live in our different places and have our different experiences that make us interesting and unique, but we could easily get together any time we want (think teleportation) and hang out and talk and do interesting things together. In other words, it’s not that I want people to remain stagnant; I want everyone I know to experience interesting things and explore different places. I just also want to be able to maintain the same level of friendship as they do those things and hear all about it and be continually invested in their lives.
Obviously, this is not possible. Or natural.
In reality, relationships shift and change. It would be abnormal for me to maintain the same level of intimacy and friendship with ALL the friends I’ve ever had. In actuality, some friends will drift away completely; some relationships will become less intense; some casual friendships will suddenly develop into incredibly significant and important ones; some friendships will always be important and significant no matter what changes.
Yes, again, this is not a life-changing revelation. I’ve always known this to be true, but it’s not always been easy for me to accept. I mean, truth time: I weep openly every time I watch Bridesmaids (yes, Bridesmaids – that “female Hangover“, raunchy, slapstick comedy) because I think it so perfectly captures what it’s like to be friends with someone and to still care deeply about each other as your lives go in two very different directions.
So this idea of changing friendships isn’t a new concept, but what I’ve come to accept in the past few years is that it’s okay when these changes happen. It should go without saying, I don’t mean if there’s a major rift in one my friendships, I am going to just shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh well! Things change – no biggie!” I don’t want my friendships to fall apart because of a major feud. But friendships change naturally for lots of different reasons and often there’s no huge emotional fallout involved.
My amazing surprise birthday brunch/visit this past weekend made me so grateful for my dear friends and family who went above and beyond to give me an incredible birthday. I was blown away by it. And it was a perfect reminder of relationships changing being perfectly normal and natural.
By and large, the people who made this past weekend possible were people I didn’t know five years ago (other than Bethany, of course). I’ve developed some clearly awesome new friendships since coming to London. I couldn’t have done that without allowing my older friendships to shift and change (moving to different country will usually force that to happen), which doesn’t mean those older friends are any less important to me. It just means that we can’t possibly maintain the same level of intimacy.
And my relationships with the friends I’ve made in London will also inevitably shift and change because of marriages, distance, kids, whatever. As much as I might want to, I can’t have that idyllic best-friends-forever-with-everyone-always-all-over-the-world experience that I desire. Different friendships will have more or less significance at different points in my life, but I will always care about all those different friends. And that’s a really great, really okay thing.
Anyways, that’s a whole lot of writing to essentially say… At 30, I am happy where I am. I am okay with being single and I’m excited to build on the friendships I have, allow them to change when necessary, and establish new ones as they come my way.
Honestly, all of the above could be summed up as “First World Gripes: Just Shut Up Already, Your Problems Are Not Really Problems” (incidentally, that’s also the name of my upcoming memoir*). I really have nothing to complain about. It’s a pretty good life.
Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end of this post. I told you it was going to be a long one. As a reward for sticking with it, I present you with this picture of me at my dorkiest:
Damaged, wet hair from swim team practice? Check. Purple corduroy overalls and garish floral turtleneck? Check. Underbite and awkwardly spaced teeth pre-braces (which I was to get shortly after this picture and to keep for the next seven years)? Check. Playing with the “World Wizard” educational geography toy I requested for my 9th birthday? Double check.
Thanks for reading, guys! Here’s to 30!
* The Lifetime TV movie version will obviously be titled First World Gripes: Just Shut Up Already, Your Problems Are Not Really Problems: Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?: White Whine: The Susanna Brockman Story
Judith Light and Tori Spelling will naturally have starring roles.