There is no script for that nebulous state of “adulthood” that creeps on slowly as one bypasses their early 20s. There’s no right way to do it. But even if there’s no cut-and-dried route to Being a Grownup, it’d be pretty foolish to assume that aspects of a prescribed structure somehow play no role, no matter how weird your hair is, or how visible your tattoos.
I’ve been checking a lot of boxes on the default script over the last few years: Got married, graduated university, got a job, bought a house… And today, I can legally and truthfully tell everyone that I am in my 30s.
For me, that conjures up a number of (white, upper middle class) images that are variously applicable (or not!) to my life: Having different kinds of wine glasses for different kinds of wine, driving a sensible silver sedan, blazers, forced laughter, dinner parties, candle holders that were actually DESIGNED to hold candles, less than 50% Ikea saturation in one’s household furniture, “taking a class”, competitive attachment parenting, kale, cleanses, increasingly less interesting gossip, the list goes on.
Truth be told, I’m actually pretty on board with some of those things already, and others will hopefully cease to seem like necessary markers of a person’s journey through this life. I’m a homebody, to my own disappointment, so I love dinner parties that end before midnight, with the dishwasher loaded and running. I can cook like a champ, and I enjoy entertaining, not least of all because I can control everything! I only have one kind of wine glass, but I only ever put one kind in it (and I assure you, it’s the wrong kind). I look so boss in a blazer.
uh oh looks like somebody escaped from BUSINESS JAIL
I’ve been telling people that I’m 30 for about the last month, and that’s felt very solid and factual, despite it not yet being true. I could see people reacting to me differently, like “Oh, I thought you were perhaps an attention-seeking youngster, but now I can see that you’re actually an eccentric adult.” I seem to have an increased legitimacy with the people I regard as the Real Grownups. It was the same thing with getting married—realistically, it didn’t change our relationship much, but they way people treated us was quite obviously different. Being legitimate is a weird thing to want when you’re not convinced that the system that judges legitimacy is itself legit. But it makes things easier, interactions with strangers smoother, and so I suppose “legitimacy” is a sibling to “privilege”, maybe even a fraternal twin.
So here I am, 30, an adult, with the spouse-n-house combo. I have more knowledge and experience than I’ve ever had, which is kind of a double-edged sword: I’m more confident of my competence for day to day things than ever before, sure, but I’m more aware of the great unknowable and uncontrollable things of life. Somehow those loom larger every day. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, and I’m trying to learn how to simply be. I think my 20s were a time to build skills, and the rest of my life is for learning when and how to use them, refining all the while.
I want to make things, I want to support people (with appropriate training and boundaries and self-care) in a professional capacity, I want to write, I want to cook, I want to have things that are wonderful and a little bit bad for me. I want to be appreciated. I want to stop wasting my time trying to prove my worth, and just enjoy being worthy. I want to grow into a wise old community matriarch, but I’m still not sure if I want to be a mother myself (but yes, I love your babies and would like very much to hold them).
I want to stop being so forgiving of things I have yet to heal from. I want to really, truly let those things go, on my own time, and not just the anger (I can’t stay mad), but all of the attachment to my own suffering. I want to get Buddhist philosophy about it all, and ignore those calls to shenpa.
I can look to younger iterations of myself and say that yeah, it gets a lot better, but the struggles remain. They evolve, they are often less central and all-encompassing, but sometimes far more so. But you will always struggle. I will always struggle. One has to learn to struggle well.
To me at 5: You aren’t really wired for the social world you’re about to enter, but I know you already have inklings of that. You’ll love the learning, though, and there are a few fairly magical people who will make it a lot better for you. You’ll get a reputation for being imaginative and a little odd, and that will never go away. Hug your grandma.
To me at 10: I don’t have great news for you. Shit is about to go down, and continue going down for the next five years. A few deeply cruel children will find your vulnerabilities and tear them wide open, inviting the rest of the school to traipse through your heart. The other kids don’t really mean it, though—but every minute they spend focusing on you means another minute they are free from the taunts of the alpha jerks. When you see Mean Girls in another 9 or so years, you will feel so fully understood that it makes some of the worst memories fade a little. I wish I could retroactively point you toward therapy, but the school’s counsellor will do her level best and it will keep you alive until you can take the reins yourself. Take some heart, though, the two people you are closest with now will remain dear to you 20 years down the road.
To me at 15: Yeah, that guy with the ponytail likes you back. Go for it, you’re together for a long time, and at least 2/3rds of it are wonderful. You are going to love the next five years, they are as great as the previous ones were shit. I don’t even have advice for you, you will handle yourself quite well, but if I had to tell you one thing: You will cool in your affections for AFI, so maybe rethink the tattoo. Hug your other grandma.
To me at 20: long exhale You’re on a precipice looking out onto a lake of shit, and that cartoon coyote is about to push you off. I’m sorry. It’s really just 2006 and the start of 2007 that is terrible, I swear. It’s two massive and shocking losses rapid fire, and it’s going to mess with your brain chemistry. Those things that feel like strokes are actually panic attacks, and the faster you get your butt into therapy, the better. A really special guy will come into your life for a while, and even though it’s not forever, the affection and respect and friendship absolutely are. You will play at rockstardom, and it is not for you, but you will learn a lot from the experience and get an iron liver. Sorry honey, but you never practice the bass very enthusiastically, so you never really get any better at it. These are chaotic times. Another special person will come into your life, and they will stay, and figure out all the best ways to delight and annoy you.
To me at 25: Well, we’ve just about joined up again. Don’t worry about going back to school, you will absolutely crush it. But don’t get too invested in the highs from good grades—sure, the letter stays on your transcript, but the rush is ephemeral as fuck. You’ll know more and you’ll know that you know nothing. Your patience for ignorance will be rubbed away, and that’s actually not so great for you. You might consider trying to not take others’ thoughts and values so bloody personally, you little raw chicken tender, you.
To me today: Goddamnit, be nice to yourself. You are nicer to the person who shoves their armpit in your face on the train then you are to yourself on a weak day. You don’t have to beat others to the punch when it comes to taking you down. The playground bullies of the world have either matured or found themselves far away from your sphere, and they can’t hurt you anymore. Don’t compare yourself to other folks on facebook who are fit/with kids/with their own business/publishing/etc-you’re getting the highlight reel, never the b-roll where they shit themselves at hot yoga or almost slapped their toddler, or cried over a pathologically unfinished draft. They don’t look at you with disdain, nobody is doing that anymore, and if they are THAT IS THEIR DING-DANG PROBLEM. You are a special, colourful little easter egg, and you are loving and loved and weird and actually pretty great. You are thirty, and you are alive.
(p.s. YES THAT IS A JIMMY BUFFET REFERENCE IN THE TITLE, TAKE ME TO MARGARITAVILLE POST HASTE)