By Helena Andrews
In two weeks I'll be 30. The big three-oh. The end of my 20s. The dirtiest of birthdays. But I can't for the life figure out why this is such a big deal.
Back in December, when The Washington Post profiled me, my sarcasm didn't quite translate perfectly in print: "My life sucks. When your life sucks, a winter boo with his own apartment would be awesome to have," the reporter quoted me as saying. Obviously, that was a joke — even though the present weather has me reconsidering the benefits of seasonal companionship. My life doesn't suck. My life, actually, is almost exactly as I pictured it would be when I started fantasizing about all the amazing things I'd do "when I grew up."
When I was around 7, I told my best friend Melissa that I wanted to be a "businesswoman," despite having no clue what that entailed aside from skirt suits, pantyhose and shoulder pads. It was the '80s. Every movie or television show I ever watched showed "independent" women working among men. Even Lucy was always bugging Ricky to let her "be in the show." She wanted a piece of what was going on outside their tiny apartment on the Upper East Side.
To 7-year-old me, being a successful woman meant being unconstrained. This was also around the time when I wrote my first book. I can't remember its title, but it was about me; Melissa; her little sister, Marcy; and boys. Frances, my mother, put my 30 pages of college-ruled paper in one of those fancy reporter folders with a see-through front flap. I even had a page for "advanced praise" and one for "other books by the author."
More than two decades later, a reporter for a Dutch newspaper wanted to interview me after the Post profile was published. "So what's the big deal about 30?" she asked me right off the bat. "We don't get that here. The obsession with that age in the states is a mystery to us." It was a mystery to me, too.
Sixteen is big because most "normal" people get their driver's licenses then. So it's basically the age of freedom, baby steps into adulthood. I never really crossed that threshold. I've driven a car maybe three times in my life for a grand total of 10 minutes. I have been in the possession of a non-driver ID since the late '90s. It's the same card they give kids.
My 18th birthday was the first I celebrated in New York, and 21 was significant because it made all the debauchery I conducted in that city legal. But after that, it seemed as if birthdays were less about celebrating and more about counting down.
In one of my favorite songs, "Little Girl Blue," Ella Fitzgerald sings, "When I was very young the world was younger than I … Now the young world has grown old, gone are the tinsel and gold." It sounds kind of depressing, true, but what I love about "Little Girl Blue" is that it acknowledges (in 1935, no less) that getting older kind of sucks.
As the years rack up, I'm finding that the race seems so much less important. And if we're not running toward something — the corner office, the new condo — then what exactly are we doing? Living?
"We're friggin' 30 now," I said to a friend the other day, by way of explaining how a woman our age should comport herself, which most certainly didn't involve throwing temper tantrums on the sidewalk. "It's time to grow the heck up."
Thing is, not many of us know what growing up looks like, aside from additions to our résumés or ring fingers. For me, it has to be about actual growth, letting go and getting over it. The big deal about 30 is that some of us lose the comfort of benchmarks. The birthday road signs — 13, 16, 18 and 21 — are now behind us. The path ahead is entirely free of helpful signage.
That's incredible and incredibly frightening. But what else can a "little girl blue" do? The only way to go is forward. So instead of blindly following the directions that our collective "successful" GPSs continue to dole out en masse, I plan to surrender to getting lost.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.