Monday, 1 August 2011

30+ Warning a mega-post

This morning, and with my 34th birthday just 2 days away I finally got round to writing this post – one that I’ve been meaning to do since I turned 30 but that somehow I never found the right words for.

Let me start off by saying that my 30th birthday in itself was a wonderful experience – I spent it in Florence with close friends – I was in a very, shall we say, ‘busy’ place emotionally but at the same time was having the time of my life – having being recently liberated from the constraints of an unhappy relationship and an unfulfilling job. Life felt full of opportunities, I felt like a child again. In a way I was going through such a turbulent time (in both good ways and bad) that celebrating (or bemoaning) having lived 30 years wasn’t really a big deal. For me, that is. A far cry from my nonchalance, I felt those around me (not my close friends, I must add) wanted to make a big deal of this landmark – 30? (insert frown) Oooh. How do you feel? Hmmm, I remember turning 30 that’s a tough one… The big 3-0 (insert raising of eyebrows). I just didn’t get it – for me it didn’t seem tough. If my concern was meant to be about looking older I didn’t understand as grey hairs or lines hadn’t creeped in. If it was about child-bearing, I had several family members with successful births in their early 40s. About being ‘closer’ to death? People of all ages get run over by buses. I couldn’t really work out what they were getting at.

But then over the next couple of years it dawned on me. Here are some excerpts from conversations I was witness to soon after my 30th birthday – sex of person in (brackets):

‘Women are really past their best over 30 (M)/After 30 the tables turn, instead of men chasing women, the women start doing the chasing – of course by then they’re desperate (M)/Women over 30 shouldn’t wear mini skirts (F)…’ I could go on here, but I don’t think it’s productive! It seemed regardless of my physical, biological and psychological state people were only concerned with the number.

This was usually followed by a polite ‘of course, that doesn’t apply to you because… [add appropriate excuse here]’

It was almost as if you were meant to feel bad about was, after all, just another birthday. It was as if 30 was a sort of cut-off point where all things good ended and you were supposed to mourn that fact. At the other extreme were the deniers (nothing to do with tights, and don’t even know if I’ve spelt it right) – ‘People think my daughter and me are sisters - which I don’t think is a healthy attitude either as it’s simply not realistic and just sets you up for a fall.

So having gone through this experience, here are a few humble words of advice for those who are temerous at the prospect of turning 30. Of course, I admit I’m not qualified to comment on turning 40, or, 50 or 60, and I’m sure my comments will come across as naïve to those who have. But still, I hope that some of these thoughts are also applicable to future milestone birthdays. I also apologize in advance for my somewhat female-slanted view on this matter.

Every year is a gift. To start off on a morbid note, we all know people who have tragically died too young, and while we may not embrace the passing of years and the physical effects of this, if we enjoy living we need to be grateful for every year we get through relatively unscathed. We are the lucky ones. There, I said it.

You’re a long time old(er). We ALL get older, and it’s important not to place too much value on a period of life (youth) that is so short. We spend most of our lives at an age we don’t really want to be at – up until about 16 most of us want to be older and then from about 27(!!) we start to want to be younger – if the ‘interesting’ bit of our life were just 10 years long then it really wouldn’t be worth living (which is obviously not the case). Try to embrace the joys of every stage of life.

Contrary to popular belief you can look better as you get older. Ok, I’m not stupid enough to think I’m going to look better at 80 than at 20, but 40 vs. 20, why not? I know living non-famous examples as evidence. So many times I hear people bemoaning the fact that they don’t have the same butt they had when they were a teenager, and I feel like asking them to get out those old photos, and having taken in that 80’s perm, bad clothes and blotchy skin, ask themselves ‘did I really look that good?’. Chances are, you now have a much better idea about what clothes, hair and colours suit you, and yes it might take a bit more effort, but I firmly believe that every lady can look fabulous at any age if she is a bit clever with her styling.

Don’t make comparisons. I say this, but know how damn hard it is to do. Half of the discontent we associate with clocking up the years is to do with not having ‘reached a certain place’ by that age. We have to remember ‘we’ are not ‘them’, people get married, divorced, have babies, get great jobs, lose great jobs all the time. If on my 30th birthday someone had told me my life would be a million times worse at 32, then a million times better at 34, no way would I have believed them, but it happens. Luck comes into play, but effort is also a huge factor.

Move to a country that isn’t age-obsessed. Ok, this is totally tongue in cheek but there is a note of truth here. My visits to the UK confirm that society seems to try to condemn 30-plus women to a life of emptyness and the press is rampant with stories of 29 year olds emplying the services of sperm banks because they left it 'too late'. Bridget Jones exists there, and is almost forced to exist, as if she has to in order to make everyone else feel good about themselves. Living in Spain – as well as trips to France and Italy and conversations with women of all ages– has made me see that while youth has great allure you don’t suddenly become invisible at 30, 35, 40, 45…and so on. The type and number of ‘suitors’ (for want of a better word) may vary, but you don’t stop being a woman. And here I move onto the somewhat Mediterranean phenomenon of the señora. Far from being invisible, in Spain it’s easy to find groups of formidable, loudly chattering 50+ señoras, dressed up to the nines in almost any corner of the city. I think we would do well to learn from these ladies (apart from their queue-jumping skills that is :P)

Related to the above, Single? ¿Y que..? I have come to the (perhaps quite obvious) realisation that not all ‘older’ single women want or need to be in a relationship and that there are many different types of relationship model. The strong women around me have shown me that one woman’s husband+semi-detached+kids, is another’s single who loves to spend their disposable income on travel, is another’s trendy 40-something couple who don’t want kids or choose to adopt. There is no ‘right’ way.

What really matters? I think even the most superficial of us, knows deep down that for the majority of us what really matters in life are the quality of your relationships with those that are close to you and being good - to both yourself and others. Treat yourself like a beloved child; lots of understanding, occasional splurges, a good education (and I don't mean in the academic sense). Find out what really matters to you (and let's hope that isn't being 21 forever) and work towards it, do things you love. This is a timeless quality.

And to finish off, here is one age-related anecdote. Before D and I were living together, one day he picked me up after work and I happened to have gone extra casual in jeans and a puffer jacket. His first comment was ‘you take about six years off with those clothes, sometimes your work clothes make you look older than you are!!’ Bless him, he was just speaking his mind, and when I was younger I may have been foolishly tempted to gradually adapt my dress-style based on this throw-away utterance. But what I instead said is that I want to dress like a 30-something woman, I’ve earnt the posh handbags and other ‘finery’ and don’t want to look like a student again, no matter how many years that takes of me and the fact that you think I can ‘get away with it. All this may sound a bit defensive but of course, what I was really saying was not that I had earnt expensive frocks, but that at 33, I had finally earnt a good dose of self-respect.

P.s. now he loves my suits or at least wouldn't dare say otherwise :p
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