Y’all, today is my 35th birthday. And to paraphrase another spring holiday, it has me asking “Why is this birthday different from other birthdays?” Actually, the question comes out a little more like “Why the fuck is everyone acting like this birthday is so different from all my other birthdays and why do I feel so weird about it?”
I’ve had no fewer than three people wish me a happy birthday this week and then, on learning it’s my 35th, look slightly troubled and say reassuring things like “Oh, it’s not so bad” or “Well, you’ve still got plenty of time.” A female friend joked that she hopes I “get to be 35 forever.” Because getting old is baaaaad, and once you cross the threshold of the big 3-5, there’s no going back. Google “Women turning 35” and you’ll find equal parts scary stuff about declining fertility and why women should “settle”, and women’s blog posts contemplating the birthday with concern, dread, or deep introspection, mostly thanks to those scary articles. And don’t get me started on all the Google and Facebook ads I get: Fertility clinics! Fad diets! Botox! “35 and Still Single?”
I am not worried about my weight. I am slightly more worried about wrinkles, but I use a good moisturizer. I would like to have children. I would like to get married—or simply have a long-term committed relationship (involving frequent laughter and hot sex, of course). I think those things will happen for me. If they don’t, I will be disappointed. But I also know with 100% rock-solid certainty that there are much more disappointing things than being single at 35.
Unfortunately, that seems to be a minority opinion.
Society, ladymags, movies, all spend an inordinate amount of time dripping alarm and faux-concern over the dismal 35-year old single lady. I already vented about that in my Bridget Jones post last month. If you’re not married by 35, you’re an object of pity at best and contempt at worst. Besides the gender double-standard—no one pities a 35 year old single man—it’s an alarmingly skewed vision of life as a Jane Austen novel: once love is declared and the marriage sealed, we can run the curtain down because happily ever after is guaranteed. It’s a dangerous idea, and it leads to a lot of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Some of the saddest, loneliest people I know are the ones who bought into the idea of marriage as a kind of magic shellac that would smooth out and gloss over the cracks and damage and imperfections in their lives. What they ultimately discovered was that all their cracks and damage—and their spouses’, too—were still present, only the magic shellac had dried and hardened and they were trapped, often with a mortgage, a kid or two, and no easy way to get unstuck.
That could have been me. When I was 30, I fully intended to marry my boyfriend. We were desperately in love. But it ended, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. It was an excruciating breakup that took me a couple years to recover from. It was also the best fucking decision I ever made, and not a day goes by—literally—that I’m not thankful I made it. My life would have been significantly different—and much less happy—had I married him, although I spent many sleepless, pining nights before I realized that.
Still, knowing intellectually that I have a great life and that I’m lucky to be happily single doesn’t prevent me from quivering a bit when I read all the scare messages about how my ovaries are drying up or fuming when my relatives start tsk-tsking about when I’ll get married (Best underminery from the Sharper clan: when I was 29 and at a family wedding, the mother of the groom slyly told me “If you get married soon, Grandma will be able to give a toast at your wedding too!” Since Grandma died two years ago this month, I suppose there’s no reason to rush anymore.) Frequent exposure to pessimism, alarmism, condescension, double standards—it takes a toll.
I suspect that the bullshit will only continue to pile up from here on out. Even if I do settle down and start a family, the “ZOMG, your ancient ovaries!” alarmism will not abate—ask any pregnant woman over 35. The messages about how I’m getting progressively less attractive—and therefore less worthy and useful—will only get worse.
But fuck it. Today I’m going to celebrate NOT getting married, NOT having children and NOT giving a fuck what the Patriarchy, or the ladymags, or advertisers, or the underminers have to say about it. I have excellent hindsight, and I know that had I done any of those things in the past 35 years, I might have fulfilled someone else’s vision of what my life should be, but I would be a hell of a lot less personally fulfilled myself.
* This spring also marks the 35th birthdays of PhDork and her Dude, tomorrow is SarahMC’s (non-35th) birthday, and later this month is PSoul’s (also non-35th)!