When I'm Honest About Turning 35, Sometimes It Feels Like I'm Being Left Behind
Confession: I am 35.
Is that really a confession? Is that what I mean to confess?
Maybe what I actually meant was:
Confession: I am 35 and not married and I don't have kids and I'm not a publisher and I don't own a big house or a car and I'm not where I always thought I would be at 35.
Yes, that sounds more like it.
Sometimes it feels like I'm being left behind.
I am the bridesmaid, standing at the altar in the pink satin dress and matching shoes that I'll never wear again, heart cracking a little each time I'm not the one saying "I do." Each time someone else is chosen "for better or worse."
I am "Aunt" Katie, aunt in quotes because I'm really not the aunt, just the stand in, the title bestowed upon single friends who gaze wistfully at sleeping babies, and buy the impractical dresses with tutus because they're just too cute to resist. Who thinks when another baby is born, this may not happen for me.
I am the sales rep, I am the apartment dweller, I am the car leaser. Nothing too permanent, nothing that lasts. It’s a life lived in pencil instead of pen. It can be erased in an instant.
I'm not where I always thought I would be at 35.
I was emailing with a male friend recently, marveling about our mutual friend having her third baby (THREE children?!?). I trotted out some of my canned lines about having children. I prepared them years ago, anything to avoid the pitying stares that get doled out to the childless 30-somethings:
- "I'm SO not ready to have children."
- "I can't even take care of a plant."
- "I want to be able to plan an impromptu trip to Vietnam without coordinating with husbands/carpools/nannies/schools. I want to just get on a plane and go."
I say them so frequently that I barely even know what they mean anymore. They're just lines in a play that I repeat back from memory with the same practiced gestures, the same indifferent expression, the blocking of this scene always the same.
But somehow, this week, I actually heard what I was saying. Maybe because I was talking to a male friend and I didn't feel any pressure, or competition, or hint of pity from him. Or maybe because it felt like a milestone birthday. Or perhaps I just got it for the first time.
I really meant those lines. I am not ready to have children. I kill every plant I've ever had. I do want to just get on a plane and go. It's all really, really true.
So here I sit, throwing a pity party for one, mourning the loss of this imagined life. Dreaming longingly about a life that, as it turns out, doesn't even fit.
It's like waking up and finding that the pair of shoes you had been lusting over for months actually pinch your toes and don't look good on you because they are so not your style. But you wanted them because everyone else wanted them so they must be special and so you just had to have them.
I don’t actually want that pair of shoes. I don’t actually want that life I imagined for myself.
The night before my birthday, I began reading a book that just arrived by Karen Salmansohn called Instant Happy. It includes simple but meaningful messages about finding happiness in your life. One passage stood out in particular from the others on this birthday eve:
"Much of the pain in life comes from having a life plan that you've fallen in love with, but that doesn't work out. Having to find a new life plan hurts. The trick is not to become too attached to any particular life plan and remember that there is always a better, even-happier life plan out there somewhere."
What? You mean we're not stuck with this dream that was formed at age 11, or at 25, or last night even? We can actually do a re-write? Go back and choose a different path, like in those Choose Your Own Adventure books that everyone read in the 80s?
I can choose my own adventure now. I can explore every ending. I can rewrite the story. I can change the outcome. I can change my confession.
Confession: I am 35.
I am successful.
I am following my passions.
I am an intrepid traveler.
I am a writer.
I am happy.
I’ll choose that ending for today.