Do you think you are old? How about them? Aging only made them more attractive…
There is a certain cocktail of fear, frustration and depression that only birthday milestones can inflict on a person. Reaching any of those multiple of ten birthdays is if not a trial, at least a contradictory, controversial moment for most of us. It starts early on, when you’re a child so happy and proud to have finally achieved a double digit birthday, it’s a time when you begin to feel so big and important, you have finally become somebody who matters. In what almost seems to be a blink of an eye, ten becomes twenty – the moment you’re not in your teens anymore is a bittersweet victory, you feel like there’s finally something to back up all your claims to be treated like an adult, but the pressure which comes with having that wish granted starts to reveal itself as a constant rather than an accidental consequence. By the time you’ve reached your mid-twenties, there’s already a gnawing thought tormenting you once in a while, especially when nothing seems to go according to plan – the dreaded, end-of-life-as-you-know-it thirty is the next big step and it’s not at all as far away in the future as you might like it to be.
I am no longer ashamed to admit it, I was one of those women fearing the ominous number whenever I had the feeling time had a mind of its own and a cruel way of passing too fast, preventing me from doing all that I wanted to do. Some things are inevitable and the illusion of a disillusion disseminating birthday eventually became reality, not only a mean allusion in the back of my mind. However, having a close male friend that turned thirty the same month I did put certain things in perspective, making me break out of my selfish shell for a moment or two and actually acknowledge that this isn’t a critical time only for women. I used to think men simply ignore this milestone and women are the ones most tortured by the ticking clock. As it turned out, the men I witnessed crossing their thirties threshold took it considerably worse than the women I had a chance to see experiencing the same ordeal.
I woke up and I immediately felt worried – worried that the new decade wasn’t actually making me feel any different, depression and despair hadn’t taken over me; in fact I was feeling quite pleased with myself, the way I normally do my birthday. There was no trace of the pain, sadness or frustration I used to think would accompany this frightful day, it was just a birthday like any other; it occurred to that the introspection was meant to find fault where there wasn’t any. I switched on the TV and focused my attention on a news channel while drinking my coffee. There hadn’t been any relevant cataclysms; no nuclear war had started; no meteor was on its course to collide with the planet; no signs of any pandemic. It was clear, I realized, settling more comfortably, cup of coffee in hand: the end of the world wasn’t scheduled for that day just because I was turning thirty. And why should that happen, since even my own little personal universe was calm and safe, surprisingly unaffected by the matter? Just to make sure, I subsided to my vanity and closely inspected my face in the mirror – I hadn’t turned into a crone over night, no wrinkles were menacing to scar my visage in the near future, I could still pass for somebody in her early twenties if I was well rested, everything was the same as before. I was the same as before, not feeling thirty, far from looking thirty; the only difference was that I was actually thirty, but that suddenly stopped meaning that much, because I liked who and where I was, I had managed to come to terms with my existence and accept myself quite a while before that day. I wasn’t twenty anymore, but was it really that bad? I looked around at my home –
everything was the way I wanted it to be, every item was my choice and there was no sign of the awful, shabby furniture that used to give me nightmares when I was twenty and still a student. A beautiful bouquet of roses which had been delivered early in the morning was sitting in a vase on my coffee table, soft, quiet reminder that my special someone knows just what I like and hadn’t forgotten the special day. And that messy pile of wrapping paper and cardboard in the corner – that was my own present for myself, the pair of boots I had ordered online arrived just at the right moment. Life was certainly no worse than at twenty!
Not only did I survive my thirtieth birthday, but I actually enjoyed it. So why had I been so unsure about the way I’d react even if I had already reached the point where I wasn’t too worried about turning thirty? Remember the close friend I was mentioning earlier? We are the same age, we grew up together and we even turned thirty together, only he did it several days before I did. We know each other so well, yet there are still times when his behaviour surprises me, and after having seen how much of a blow this birthday was for him, I started worrying about what it would do to me… All of the sudden, there was no more time for this guy who had always been somewhat naïve and idealistic in many of his beliefs, almost annoyingly able to always see the good in people and situations. Who would have thought that I, the vane woman, would be calm and rational about my age, whereas he, the serious male, would be the drama queen who has a meltdown? After being grumpy, bitchy and displeased with everything and everyone for no good reason on his birthday, I finally managed to get him to share his troubles on mine… Well, it was mostly a rant, half self-pity and the other half reproachful because I didn’t share his opinion and I would stubbornly not change my idea about my thirtieth birthday being a joyous occasions and not at all the doom and gloom he was describing.
Think of all the aspects single women in their thirties complain about on TV shows and now imagine a man doing just the same – that’s the gist of his turning thirty paranoia. He was single, and if he hadn’t managed to get married up to that point, what were the chances for that to ever happen? All his male friends who wanted to get married, had already done it (and most of them regretted it, I might add), so it must be him, there was something terribly wrong with him. And if there were no perspectives for him to get married, then what were the chances for him to have children? And he wanted children, and all his married friends already had children… But not him, no, not him, everything was over and hopeless for him. Then he moved on to his career, etc., with the occasional flashbacks about not having a wife and kids. And by the way, why the hell was I not feeling the same way, since we were the same age, how could I not see that all was lost and meaningless? There was no point in trying to explain that a man in his thirties is young and attractive, so he didn’t need to worry about finding his better half (or halves, who knows…); there was no point in enumerating all the positive things in his life; his self-pity and disappointment had to run their course before he could see clearly again. But by the end of the evening, I thought I’d have to stop him purchasing adjacent burial plots in the graveyard for both of us as a special birthday gift for me – we were thirty, therefore practically dead.
He isn’t the only man I know who panicked about this dreaded age. Another example is a twenty-nine year old guy who started talking about marriage on his first dates simply because he couldn’t picture himself thirty and not married, it was simply unacceptable. We weren’t close friends, so we lost touch at a point; but I know that he is still single and in his late thirties now, so I bet he’ll make for quite an interesting case study when he turns forty.
All joking aside, age is every so often a terrifying monster for all of us; and like the vane creature that I am, I do my best to if not avoid, at least diminish the tell-tale signs the passage of time leaves behind. But I refuse to obsess over the inevitable, I choose to focus on the matters I can change – life is hard enough as it is, why add unnecessary worry lines? But I often think of the revelation brought on by my friend’s thirtieth birthday – men fear aging as much as women do and we all have good reasons to feel this way. So is there a way of preventing the illusion of time from becoming the disillusion of a lifetime? Do let me know if you have the answer to this one…