I turned 34 today.
It’s not a very exciting age, is it? It doesn’t have the shock of 30 or 40, and it isn’t any kind of official middle. It’s just 34—twice 17, which wasn’t a particularly good age for me, either.
But it does carry the usual post-30 stigma.
We live in an awkward time, you see. We grew up with the fantasy that we would find a career and stay with it our entire lives. This was a fantasy that belonged to a different generation—a generation that was only just getting used to the idea that we did not necessarily have to follow in our fathers’ footsteps. If you are unfamiliar with this transition, watch The Graduate. The soundtrack should be familiar to you; the feeling of being lost in a world in which you are expected to know your path implicitly may also be familiar.
When I was a kid, all you needed was a college education to get you somewhere. A decent education could get you anywhere. There was a premium placed on all of this—without it, what the hell did you think you could be? The picture in my head was always of me as some kind of blue-collar worker in New Jersey. Sorry, New Jersey fans, but it’s true—in my young brain, being uneducated and unsuccessful meant ending up in New Jersey. I guess that’s what happens when one’s formative years occur in Manhattan.
We have only recently realized, I think, that our expectations of what our lives ought to be are fairly (and recently) antiquated. And so we still judge ourselves according to these old rules. By 30, we are supposed to be successful. By 30, we are supposed to have husbands, wives, children, careers. We are supposed to know both who and what we are—in fact, who and what we are ought to have melded by now. Even the 90s and the grunge movement didn’t dislodge this assumption. In fact, one might argue that they only highlighted it.
As of 3 hours ago, I am 4 years past 30, and I have neither career, nor child, nor spouse. I have had this nagging feeling that I am running out of time. I don’t know what I am, and I have only the vaguest grasp of who I am. I have an excess of education—collegiate, graduate, and professional. I am charming, funny, brilliant, and in the right light I am not so bad to look at. And yet I am single and unemployed. I have nowhere to be, nobody wondering where I am, and not one person on this planet is waiting for me to punch a clock. I’m still intimidated by barre chords on the guitar, and I really have to focus when tying my shoes.
According to the old rules, I am nothing, a wastrel. I am The Dude, only with some theoretical potential. According to the new rules, what am I? A sort of elite disenfranchised? Your standard bum, just waiting for my turn that never came? Or just your average mid-30s post-Bubble Bay Area citizen who is too educated not to interview, but too inexperienced to hire?
Honestly, I don’t know anymore. I am acutely aware of what I can be and similarly aware of what I am not. I realize that the dream is not the same as it used to be. That doesn’t make the old dream less attractive. And the part of me that loves routine and security would love to be settled by now, with a wife and kids and a golden retriever and house slippers and fuzzy bathrobes and all of that comfortable-sounding stuff—but I am realizing that, while all of those things sound neat, the fact that they have not already happened doesn’t mean that they won’t. It also doesn’t mean that they have to. Nor does it mean that I have failed in any way if they don’t happen.
So, I’m 34. Despite the feeling that I am running out of time, I think I am okay. It’s not an exciting age, but I survived 2010 to make it here, so that’s something. Also, failure is relative. In 34 years, I might not have found a career or started a family, but I have (inpo):
- Watched the rain fall on the ocean from the window of cathedral ruins in Ireland
- Fallen in love
- Been on stage with Hole
- Learned Latin
- Spent an afternoon with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
- Watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least thrice
- Hung out with Walter Murch
- Seen a woman ride a motorcycle on stage and then perform opera on the trapeze
- Cuddled an Oscar for Apocalypse Now
- Been too afraid to officially meet Tommy Tune (I was, like, 5 years old.)
- Made some of the most incredible friends a person could ever hope to have
- Met Bella Abzug
- Gotten a BA in Medieval Studies, an MA in History, and a law degree.
- Tasted the second-peatiest Scotch ever distilled (ew)
- Hung out with the two best siblings a person could have
- Written some godawful poetry
- Invented a treat so good my friends call it crack as an understatement
- Slept with some seriously hot women
- Tasted extraordinarily rare whiskies and wines
- Gone to the rescue of random people on the street
- Woken up to Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
- Never moved to New Jersey
So I guess I’m cool with being 34.