"So how do you feel about turning 30?"
I've been asked that question by so many people in the last couple of months that I've lost count. And worst of all, with my 30th birthday this week, I'm running out of good answers. Apparently when you turn 30 you're supposed to feel different. Perhaps, though, my biggest fear is that I won’t.
As I wrap up the final days of my twenties, I've reached that stage where it seems everyone around me is making their way through that arbitrary list that supposedly means success: the ring, the mortgage, the baby (yes, it’s 2016 folks!). Having none of the above and being with those who do at my age is now, at times, awkward. Whether they mean to or not, there are unfortunately a few who look at me like someone who didn't enter the lottery syndicate that they've all now won. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that they’ve found their happiness and relish seeing them walk down the aisle or become mothers, but to them, it is as if I have lost. But lost what? How can I have lost when I never had it (nor even necessarily wanted it) in the first place? How can my life as I currently choose to live it be deemed meaningless, just because I'm not at the same milestones as others by a certain age, which in itself is just another year?
Yes, it's the end of my twenties. Yes, that sentence scares me. But it scares me most for what it means in the eyes of other people. Being 30, unmarried and living with friends in London will, I imagine, be no different from the day before when I were 29 and in exactly the same position. But everyone around me is crying out for it to mean something, and then hurriedly reassuring me that it will all be fine because plenty of people 'haven't got to where they thought they'd be' by the time they're 30 (without even asking me where exactly that is, for me).
The thing is, I'm one of them. Part of me has dreaded 30 because I look at my twenties and think, is that it? Shouldn’t I at least have a home to call my own by now? Was that meant to be the best time of my life? Yes, I’ve had my fun; I’ve found friends who are like family to me and had some pinch-me moments in my career, and if anything not reaching those milestones that society pressures us to achieve has given me the freedom to do what I want, when I want, and I wouldn’t have it any other way for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses. But the last decade has been a lot tougher than I thought it would be too.
In fact, part of me is glad to see the back of them. Despite plenty of good times, my twenties have also been riddled with anxiety and stress, leading to occasional panic attacks, hair loss and probably even further weakening of my super sensitive skin (I blame my generally sensitive Capricorn nature). Over the last few years I’ve regained control over most of these, though anxiety is never too far away and because of it my confidence has taken a beating.
Reassuringly, the media is filled with tales of people in their twenties struggling through the very same things - it universally seems to be seen as the grown-up period of teenage angst. But other writers and older, wiser friends tell me that 30 is when you start to feel good about yourself, that you care less about what people think and feel far more content. If that's what's waiting for me from the 5th then bring it on, as I need all of the above more than ever. Plus I'm hoping I haven't had the best years of my life yet, or else what is there to look forward to?
The other part of me, of course, isn't done with them yet; it’s a little like those final hours of Christmas Day where you know it’s about to be over and you’re not sure you’ve done the special day justice, and would love just a little more time to keep the party going. Mainly though, my only grievance with turning 30 is that I'm getting older, which means my family is getting older too, which carries with it its own worries; and yet, after the events of the past six months in which my mother was seriously ill (and thankfully later given the all clear), ageing is something to be incredibly grateful for.
After weeks if not months of anticipation, the big day has arrived - so how do I feel about it? I don't know yet. If the pressures of my twenties were to tick off other people’s goals, the new pressure is to feel fabulous, free and happy with my lot now that I’ve hit 30. I haven’t quite had that light bulb moment of contentedness that others have promised, but then it’s only been 24 hours and I mainly have a sense of being forced through a door that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to enter just yet. Perhaps ask me later when it’s sunk in that I’m no longer a twenty-something, and I'll try to have all the answers. That comes with age, right?
Hitting your next milestone? Find out what Editor-in-Chief Susannah Taylor feels about turning 40