To the boy who stood me up at the Ferris Wheel:
Once in awhile, especially around this time of year, I think of the summer before I turned 17, which happened to be the summer before my senior year of high school. I went with my friends to an amusement park and we met some boys there. By we, I mean they. They met some boys. (Don’t worry, Dad, I just, two years ago at the age of 28, stopped being afraid of talking to boys). But there was one boy who was supposed to meet us back at the Ferris Wheel later in the day. He never showed. Our first stand-up.
At that point, we had senior year and the summer after senior year and college and our 20s all in front of us to wonder and worry about. We felt invincible, which is funny to me looking back because we were anything but risk-takers. We didn’t drink, smoke, drive fast, sleep around, or cause any kind of actual trouble. We stayed out late, listened to music while driving around town, and had bonfires. But the feeling was still there. We wanted to be forever young, but what would our life be like in the coming years? Would it look like Dawson’s Creek or One Tree Hill? Or more like Friends, where all our closest friends have a key to our cool apartment? Was it really like Monica said to Rachel in the first episode – “Welcome to the real world! It sucks. You’re gonna love it!”? Or was it going to be like the John Mayer song, “I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above”?
Depending on whether you raised kids throughout your 20s or you tried to figure out with the h-e-double-hockey-sticks you wanted to do with your 20s – or both – your 20s have been this delicate balance between reaching for what you want, and letting go of what you thought you wanted. It’s this awkward space of wanting to be respected for being an adult but not having enough experience to be considered a full-on grown-up. (Until you make a mistake, in which someone will promptly tell you, “You’re an adult for crying out loud!” Or until you say your age and it’s under 30, you get “Oh, I can smell the breastmilk from here.”)
You get to 25 and you want to freeze time. It’s the perfect age. It was for me, anyway. Life still seems like this grand adventure ahead of you, body parts are staying in the right places, fat melts off within hours of eating a package of Oreos, and life is just wonderful because you’re only 25. You don’t have to be a total grown-up yet, but you get a lot of the perks.
Then you approach 30. And you begin relating to the memes: (Disclaimer: I actually do have several friends who are in their early 20s whom I adore, and I love hanging out with them. So at least I don’t relate to all the memes).
And then you realize the difference in your thinking patterns. For example, driving through back country roads of Alabama in the middle of the night:
Age 20: “Adventure!!”
Age 30: “This is stupid. I’m going to hit a deer. And die out here in the middle of absolutely nowhere.”
You also put your hands up to your head in full-on distress, and you frantically wonder, “Where did my 20s go?!” You run through every decision, every important conversation, even some menial ones that are somehow stuck in the muck of your memory. You replay your days like a slow-motion movie, analyzing the last decade until you decide either you spent it well, you wasted it, or somewhere in between. Most of us are caught in the middle, because the reality is that as we live and learn and grow, there are these in-between spaces where we feel stuck. We’re not moving forward, we can’t go back to fix a mistake, we’re just kind of teetering in the unknown. And inevitably that space feels wasted, even though ultimately it’s the site of much of our personal growth.
A subject on Humans of New York had this perspective:
“What was the happiest moment of your life?”
“When I turned 30.”
“I just felt like I’d made it through the crap.”
As I sit here with my semi-age-appropriate sparkly nail polish, I hope I’ll feel the same. That the moment I turn 30 is a great moment because it means I have a ton of crap behind me and a ton of life ahead of me. I have a go-go-go adventure husband, so embracing that sentiment is inevitable if I want to stay married, which I wholeheartedly do. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still be silly. I’ll still make fishy faces. And I’ll still watch Dawson’s Creek and Saved By the Bell from time to time so I can reminisce about my first loves (Pacey Witter and Zack Morris, respectively). I’ll still rock out to some 90s boy bands, as I did last night, because that’s what my generation gets to do. I’m also going to continue to taking pictures of myself with friends and family, and will continue refusing to call them ‘selfies’. And on the flip side… Maybe I’ll write another book and raise a kid or two. And check a few more things off my Life List. Whatever I do with my next 10 years, you can likely expect another writing like this in the months leading up to my 40th because I’ll want to make sure I spent my 30s well. Ideally, I’ll take what I’ve learned in my 20s and apply it to my next 10 years. We’ll see. 😉
So, back to the boy who stood me up at the Ferris Wheel: you’re about 30, too, and I hope you’ve had a great decade. My almost-grown-up self thanks you for helping me and my friends avoid a potential disaster, but I hope you’ve learned your lesson and have stopped standing up women if they’re dutifully waiting for you. (My dad thanks you, too, because he’s probably having a mini-heart attack just thinking about this).
And to all ’84 babies turning 30 this year, and in fact no matter how old you’re turning, embrace the next 10 years. You’ll have your oh-my-gosh moments of what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-life, but you’re only as old as you want to be, and as the late, great, Sinatra said, you have a head start, if you’re among the very young at heart.