“When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured, Now I find I’ve change my mind and opened up the doors.
Help me if you can, I ‘m feeling down And I do appreciate you being around.”
~”Help!”, The Beatles~
I am bout to turn 32 this week. I sometimes feel like I blinked at 18 and wound up this in the body of a 30 something year old over night. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that time goes by too quickly. I have been reflecting on some of the ideas and myths I had created about how my life was supposed to be in my early 30s. I find some of it amusing and some of it hard to work through. Preconceived notions are just that, notions of ideas in this thing called life you cannot predict.
Some of my own personal stories (myths) I told myself would be reality by this age:
- I don’t have a picket fence, sparkly left hand diamond, or a life partner: I’m going to be very open and put out there at the age of 18; a huge part of my life goals and dreams were to be happily married in my mid 20s. This to me was just part of the way life worked out, what I had engrained in my mind from the age of young girl, and what society (myself included) thought should happen. It was just part of the pattern in life that a woman was supposed to take. You were to go to a 4 year college, start a few meaningful relationships in your early 20s, have something stick post graduation, get married, settle down into: careers, suburbia, and parenthood. Your 30s were for appreciating your growing wealth, having student loans paid off, rearing school aged children, climbing the ladder at work, being part of book/wine clubs with girlfriends, and your next worry being should your family drive or fly to your next vacation. My life would be moving towards the “summer of my days.” Here is the real deal, I have dated…..a lot! I put myself out there and had some long term relationships with men I still care deeply about. I had my heart broken. My romantic dreams burst like a bubble. Why is this? The reality is relationships are hard work. This dream life goal that involved Waterford Crystal at the 15th year mark never once included serious illness (ovarian cancer), job loss, career stalemates, relocations, differences in how your would rear children, arguments over burnt toast in the morning and more.
- So no, I don’t have a life partner/husband but I’ve put myself out there. I’ve gone on an amazing amount of bad dates. One man even had his credit card denied after showing off by ordering fancy wine, appetizers you name. He racked up quite a huge bill….and then he got angry his card was cut off. He literally accused me of having a fake rack and nice things some other rich man had bought me. Needless to say, I sternly asked him to leave and called a girlfriend. (I enjoyed the rest of the wine that I paid for and for the record I have no surgical enhancements.)
- Despite events like the horrendous date listed above.I was always optimistic and upfront with all of these men. If I really saw nothing progressing further; I was upfront. My aunt told me to never burn bridges with a respectful man just because you don’t feel a “spark.” I didn’t settle for anything I knew I didn’t want. I may have been over picky.
- I’ve learned how to be incredibly self sufficient and figure out how to do things like fixing the garbage disposal by myself (it was a disgusting task I hope to never do again by the way…) I’ve gone to weddings solo and had a great time. I’ve learned how to be my own plus ones whether taking myself to the movies, reading in a coffee shop, or attending something I wanted to go see.
- I didn’t settle. There were some men I could’ve “stuck it out with” and just “been.” I would’ve been happy on paper and miserable deep inside. I stuck to my own truth about what I truly wanted.
- I still ache at the end of a stressful day for a person to have my back, vent to, and be my “other half.” I have learned that the very best part of a relationship is having someone just there. That person who is in your corner always, tells you when you are wrong (kindly), and wants the very best from you. I’ve had this in relationships and sincerely wish I would’ve valued it more when it was in my present. I openly admit I see this in other’s relationships and enviously wish for the same in my future.
- All of my internal struggles would disappear by this age. My self esteem would be perfectly intact, body image issues would dissolve, and I would be at perfect happiness with myself. I am so incredibly guilty of the “I will be happy when..” syndrome for most of my life. I will be happy with my figure when I weigh X amount. I will be happy with who I am when I have a serious relationship progress to marriage. I will be happy with my looks when I can afford the really good spa treatments like Botox and cellulite removal. This ties directly into what I now understand about worthiness. I was tying my present happiness into my future aspirations (or lack of reaching those said aspirations.) We live in a world plastered with the idea of perfecting slowing down the aging process equates for a meaningful life. Reality people; we all age! I still highlight my hair, try to perfect covering up those enormous zits that pop up overnight, and seriously wonder if I would ever Botox wrinkles in the future. I have made strides about tying my outer appearance to my self esteem; however I am a woman who can openly admit I still have daily struggles. I still wish I could remain a “perfect” size 2 without working out, and eating garbage. I would love waking up looking as airbrushed as the models I see in magazines. Those pesky laugh lines and wrinkles that keep appearing…well lets just say I wouldn’t hate it if they went away overnight. The only difference in my projections and what I thought, is that I’m learning to not tie my own worthiness/happiness to perceived flaws in my appearance.
- I would be supermom of the year to 2+ kids. The reality is I am one of the few women in any of my friendships circles that doesn’t yet have children. I didn’t ever see 32 as a place in my life that didn’t include children. I love children and very much aspire to have my own children someday. Life threw reproductive issues (surgery and ovarian cancer in my later 20s.) Part of this experience made me realize how very much I DO wish to have children someday (and how much I would like to be a Mom.) Part of this ideology comes from 20 years of watching other people’s children. Whether it was babysitting for my own cousins, being a full time nanny, being asked to watch my supervisors children and more; I have always been a go to of trusted support to watch other people’s children. Commentary such as, “you are such a natural, I’m sure you will have your own very soon!” consistently came from family, friends, and parents of children I watched. I am still at an age where I can healthily bear children. I need to let go of the notion that it has to be by a certain age. I also need to stop beating myself up for being one of the only women my age (that I know) without a start down the mommy hood path. I have to let go of this perfect notion and know that what happens will happen. Medical technology does amazing things and I’m very receptive to the idea of adoption. In the meantime, I get to be fun Aunt/Cousin Kate to so many children I love and adore. I get to spoil them rotten and send them home. Time will tell if these tables will turn.
- I would have more female friends than I did in my early 20s. Holy cow did I have this one wrong! My earlier 20s encompassed being a part of a group of 12 women that were very close friends in high school. I kept these friendships and then joined a sorority in college. I was the house manager and lived amongst 51 other females for two years. I also made friends via my long term student employment at Michigan State University with quite a few other women. Facebook and the former Myspace came about when I was an undergrad. Thus began the “lets see how many friends I can gather notion.” Reality is not herding friends though. Whether it was an intentional or unintentional falling out; many of these friendships fizzled. People moving across the country, only including their married friends socially (yes this is something people do), or other mitigating factors caused several of these friendships to fade away. I have learned to truly value the female friendships old and new that I have nurtured. A few have stuck around from back in elementary school and some are more recent. Maturity has helped me to see what a truly authentic and genuine female friendship truly is. The women I still have as good friends in my life are what I classify as “quality friendships.” I can go months without seeing or talking to them and our conversations feel like they picked right back up from the last point. We understand that we all have busy lives, but still put the effort out there to acknowledge, celebrate, commiserate, listen to, and be there for each other as friends should. A lot of the women I used to be closer with in my earlier 20s I still get to keep in touch with via social media. I wish them all well and enjoy seeing their life flourish. Growing up doesn’t mean you have to grow apart; but guess what its a part of life. I am very grateful for the women I have in my inner circle that I can call my close friends.
- Career and Education would be flourishing without a hitch. Majority of my career has revolved around University housing. This has been both on and off campus at Michigan State University. This has meant having to be able to work ridiculously long hours, deal with upset tenants, angry parents, make magic happen, follow the housing laws (federal and state), as well as handle those fun other duties as assigned. I had a notion in my mind when younger that as a hard working, positive, energetic young professional I would be fast promoted. This was part of wearing rose colored glasses and having a few fast promotions when I was younger. I always told myself that the next semester would be the one where I tied up those lingering extra undergraduate degrees or enrolled in a lifelong graduate class to merit towards the HALE program at Michigan State University. Reality is I didn’t receive some of the promotions I sincerely thought I deserved. I was deemed “aggressive” for speaking my voice and sticking to my belief system. My surgery (ovarian cancer) had to be scheduled when closing the residence halls. No one said this counted against me, but just like women who take the full maternity leave; the unspoken rule was that it did. I made mistakes as a supervisor I grew a lot from. I didn’t have the perfect unruffled streamline of climbing the hierarchical career ladder. I learned a lot though and never will put off my own personal pursuits for wanting more aside. As for being labeled aggressive; tough. If being an intelligent woman willing to speak my mind when approached makes me aggressive then so be it. I’ll own it (just may be work on the interpersonal approach in the future.) I’m in a transition period right now in my career and have quite a bit of time to really think about what I value in my professional aspirations. Professional heartbreak and setbacks are a part of a person’s career we don’t get a 100 level course about in undergrad.
- I would stand behind all of my life choices as they have made me who I am and not have a single regret. Okay I’m going to make fun of my own self…what a crock of shit! I can actually hear myself saying this in a past job interview, “I have no regrets because all of my choices have led me to where I am today.” Gag me with a vampire stack. I am the person I am today due to the choices I have made as an adult. I have learned from each and every one of them. I owe it to myself to be completely forthcoming and state that I 100% regret some of the decisions I have made. I wish there were times I had thought before speaking, processed something before reacting, separated the professional from the personal, and ended a relationship when it hits its expiration date. Majority of my mistakes and regrets came from a good place. (Tell that to my mind when I keep wanting to replay it over and over again in head how it could’ve panned out differently.) Impact and intent really do matter in the scheme of things. There are specific actions or things I have said that hurt other people and I still feel very badly about. May be I always will on some level. The reality is I am human. I make mistakes which correlate to regrets. The better way to answer this is to “embrace the suck.” We all screw up. Own it and admit you were wrong. Real maturity is owning up to mistakes/regrets, and growing from them at some point.
The reality of being a young, single, female 30 something isn’t to proudly admit I’ve screwed up and become cynical. Part of my personal journey is admitting that I set up unachievable life standards, goals, and thought I must rigidly abide by them. The truth is beating myself up over what I have not accomplished is keeping me from enjoying the planned and unplanned things I have accomplished. I survived my 20s and am learning everyday to be more at peace with who I am (this took work!) I’ve leaned to “embrace the suck” and use it for motivation. My value as a person is not on preconceived notions society (and myself) have inflicted. I also never thought I’d have the cuts to love so fiercely that it would hurt so much when it was over. I never thought I’d have the courage to stand up in front of people and speak up for the minority of the group. I never thought I’d value myself as more than a number on the scale. I used to let a stain on my shirt ruin my day. I never thought I’d fall and have to pick myself up again. Guess what? I have and am doing it daily. I never thought I’d be brave enough to show my feminist values, and openly advocate for issues that effect women. Saying the word sex in front of a group of people would have made me run for the hills in my early 20s. Guess what? I now am going to be speaking out on sexual violence…publically. I’ve learned to embrace the suck and throw out the plans. I’ve pulled the cork out of my ass and learned to just live. I may not have a three car garage, extra educational intitals behind my title, perfect children, and an ideal life to date.
Here is the thing? NO ONE DOES! The people that portray that they do have the same internal struggles we all do and are just as human as you and I. As the late John Lennon said, ” Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
Boy that couldn’t be further from the truth. Embrace the suck. Suck on a lemon. Enjoy the ride. As Lennon stated, “life happens”…and boy it sure does.