The Thing With Thirty-Nine

When I was about to turn 30, I remember having this moment one day where I was thinking about it — I’m turning THIRTY! — and just freaked out, for what seemed like an hour.

It wasn’t any sort of surprise. I knew it was coming, ready or not. And yet, it was like I only realized just then that I was leaving my 20s. Forever.

I thought about the things that I had done, and the things I hadn’t. And I just felt … anxious.

And just as quickly as that panicked feeling washed over me … it subsided. And I was fine. Thirty came and went. No tears, no melancholy or feelings of regret. I stared it in the face, smiled, and carried on.

And now, here I am again.

Only this time, the number that’s zapping me with anxiety is 39.

My birthday is a little less than two weeks away, and I feel as if I’ve got this big, important paper, this test, to write, and I’ve procrastinated so much, that I’m running out of time to prepare.

I mean, it’s nuts.

I’m an adult who takes care of herself (mostly), pays her bills, and works professional in a stable job in a field that is becoming increasingly unstable. I have my health. I’ve the type of privilege that allows me to do things that I do sometimes take for granted. I have a living parent whom I love very much, and more friends than a woman could ask for.

I’ve even been trying to get myself used to the inevitable, saying, “I’m 39”, if something age-related comes up.

And yet.

A few days ago, I stumbled onto this New York Times article about single men in their 30s and 40s – bachelors, both gay and straight – who expressed their regret or yearning for companionship (marriage, even) and families.

(If you’re suddenly irked and didn’t even click on the link above, click here for some readers’ responses.)

Following that, I found myself listening to a CBC Radio documentary  about the generation of women – my generation – who are 39, or turning 39. I suggest that you listen to it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

To me, the takeaway seemed to be that there’s this sizeable cohort of women who, like me, are single, childless and a little mystified that we were apparently sold this dream of Having It All (careers, marriages and children) and we find ourselves panicked that the bill of goods and the actual end product don’t match.

One of the women interviewed, a publicist, said the one thing that (on its face), I think I’m currently identifying with. From the day she turned 39 until the day she turned 40, she said felt this ball of panic that she couldn’t get rid of; it felt as if she “couldn’t shake this feeling of time … it just keeps marching on …”

Of course, she’s alluding this societal idea that by the time women are of a certain age, they’re supposed to have hit those marriage/motherhood milestones. But I think that’s where I differ.

Trying to imagine one’s life — getting married, having kids, and so on — is, I think, a very human response. And for a relatively large number of people, that’s really important to them.

Just not every single person.

Did I think I’d be married by now? Sure. Or at least in a long-term relationship. Do I occasionally get emotional about it? Sure. But you can’t always get what you want.

Kids? Well … that was never as clear. But as I get older, and more of my friends are having children, the prospect of being responsible for another human being seems daunting (and for that moment, I relish my single status).

Are there pros and cons to singledom and married life with kids? Sure! But there are pros and cons to everything in life! It just depends on what’s important to an individual.

What about men and women for whom marriage is not an imperative in their life? Or thirty- and forty-somethings who don’t have that so-called yearning to bear and raise children? I know some. They regret nothing.

What about people who — married, single or otherwise — like their lives just as they are? Who, as time marches on, are marching in lockstep, and cherishing the lives they’re leading?

Taking marriage and kids out of the equation for a moment: I thought that by now, I’d be more sure of myself, period. That I’d know what I want out of life, and make decisions minus all the fear, insecurity and second guessing.

What I’d like is to shake off this … obsessive worry, and not spend the next year paralyzed by panic over some perceived human milestone that I didn’t hit.

And, above all, when 40 arrives and the door opens, I don’t want to shuffle through, trembling and shielding my eyes from the bright, shining lights.

I want to stand up straight, hold my head high and — with a smirk and a dash of swagger in my step — pass through the entrance.


7 thoughts on “The Thing With Thirty-Nine

  1. Cindy says:

    I turn 39 a few weeks after you, Diane.
    Technically, I hit all those stupid expected milestones — and 39 is daunting anyway.
    I made some choices and sacrifices career-wise to have those kids, and feel like a failure sometimes because of it.
    What is it with this world telling us how we’re supposed to live our lives? And you never do it right, know what I mean? People freaked out when I got married at 23 and had my first child at 24. They freaked out when I had my third and fourth kid. They freak out that I have 4 kids and work a professional job.
    And the world tells you to be dissatisfied with your perfectly awesome life.
    I’ve been telling that feeling and those expectations to shove it — so nice to see you doing it too.
    Can you hold the door for me to swagger in after you?

  2. stine101 says:

    I think it’s totally natural for everyone when turning any of the “9’s” (29, 39, 49…) to take time to reflect on life and what you want out of it – and freak out a little. Who has a perfect planned life? No one. I don’t think there’s a person, male or female, who doesn’t come to that point in life.. at least in our culture.

    (In fact there’s science to it – )

    The rest of the time – like she said in the doc, “no one has time to think” – life is passing by so fast, most of us don’t find the time to question our life path, and if we want more – whether that’s a career, family, relationship… I do think there’s something about our generation that is living life by our own rules… that message “the world is your oyster”… yet somewhat we’re still lost – because we don’t know what we want. We’re stuck in a place where we’re figuring out a world that’s much different than previous generations – yet influenced by them in so many ways.

    I also think we all have different paths or destines in life that we will embark on sooner or later. I believe that most of the time these aren’t really planned, but come by happenstance, and it’s about taking the opportunity… whether you recognize it as that or not.

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