“30 was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult. -C.S. Lewis”
Secondary school has a lot to answer for. Let’s ignore the examinations, group peer pressure and having to go anywhere every day for 8 hours with a face full of spots and humming underarms. The final years of our mandatory schooling sets us up to fail. Not by forgetting to offer us any life skills, like what a mortgage is, or how to make your emergency electric last a weekend so you can have a blow dry on Monday. School failed by making us create life plans when we were 15. At an age when our highest priority is discussing who got fingered whilst eating Sherbert Dib Dabs, we are forced to sit down, complete a whirlwind of tests and then identify career goals that will endeavour to fail us by the time we’re 21.
At 15, being 30 seems like an age where you would have your adult life altogether. We’d heard the rumours about women’s ovaries exploding at 35, and the generation before us had married, birthed all their kids and were heading for their mid-life by their 31st birthday. Thirty seemed like an age where we thought we would have it altogether. Maybe we would have a house with a small mortgage, a stable door where we would bake fresh apple pie on a Sunday? A career that made Mark Zuckerberg green eyed with envy? There would definitely have been a whirlwind romance with Chad Michael Murray in my late teens followed by a more serious fling with Orlando Bloom in my early twenties, where I would be working on bairn number 3 by the time I blew out my 30th birthday candles. At no point did I scribble down my ‘life’ goals in my FiloFax which stated, single, childless and living out of a garage whilst waiting patiently to save 40k to buy a slightly bigger garage for me and my cat. Not cool 30 year old me, not cool.
Is This The Life I Wanted?
Last week I celebrated my 33rd birthday, and by celebrated I mean I drank at lunchtime where I was escorted out of my local club and into the taxi queue by 10pm. Shoes off, the image of sophisticated 30 something, I was not. When I imagined me in my thirties, I would think of my own Mum. Married, own career, 3 fabulous children (I know that’s how she would describe us) and enough money to buy us a Findus Pancake dinner. And here I am now, 33, single for nearly 7 years, still unable to manage drinking in any kind of sophisticated manner and pumping Botox into my forehead so my Saturday Selfies look cute on Tinder.
Sure, there are parts of my life I could consider a success. I spent 8 years of my life at University, had a lot of fun and gained a Masters degree as a consequence. I have a successful career where I have adult responsibilities. I’m not on the bread line, I have a LISA, a stable relationship with my ASOS courier and a blog which people occasionally retweet with the caption “THIS”. I can afford to get my nails done twice a month, sip martinis in fancy bars and eat vegetables as a choice rather than blended in my Spaghetti Bolognese. I have friends who message me, who send me gifs of sloths and puppies and who I share discount codes to buy make up with with. If my life was a Sex and the City monologue it would be all reflective about the strength of gal pals, and self love and all that BS. But is it what others would consider a success? Can you be successful and still single?
If Life was a Shopping List?
When you’re planning your little life in a GCSE Maths class, you imagine this world of exciting adult things that seem impossible to grasp when gaining a bottle of VK on a Saturday night is a struggle. You consider a life where you walk into success, ticking off all life’s achievements like it is part of your weekly shopping list. Successful Career – TICK, Perfect Home – TICK, Large Friendship Group – TICK, Life partner TICK. Bountiful babies – TICK. Life seems like a linear path where you go around collecting successes like a game of Pokemon Go! and where things will just plop into your world until you have ticked them all off and then a big sunny ray of happiness will shower down around you and you proceed to live your happy ever after.
No one really prepares you for life being a complicated round of shit shows, disappointments and an upwards and downwards trajectory. That the more you try and grapple and collect these supposed successes the more they seem to slip through your fingers. Take dating for example, go into dating trying to collect yourself a baby daddy, and the only likely outcome of that will be a serious case of Gonorreha and a phone so ghostly your local Priest won’t touch it. For years I grappled to maintain a relationship so that I collect the success trifecta which was a cute engagement photo, elaborate wedding and insta post of tiny Converse’s which would signal to the world “I got this”. I ignored the fact the relationship I was in was as healthy as Scotty T’s undercarriage and that we both kind of despised each other. I was so scared of being alone and childless at 30. I spent 9 years with a person I hated. In reality, I was happier without ticking a single one of these items off at 33 than I would have been having achieved ‘everything’ before I turned 30.
What Is Being Successful?
Are you even over 30 at a wedding without someone asking when you’re going to ‘settle down?” Like your life is one big episode Entourage and you’re wanking off strippers and doing body shots whilst everyone else is having a curry and tweeting about X Factor. Or the enquiry, “But don’t you want children” when describing your latest life plan to go travelling in across the Med next Christmas. There is a wide assumption that without a relationship or children, you could be swivelling in a boardroom seat overlooking Manhattan and your life would still be considered mildly interesting rather than successful.
There is a societal belief that being single and childless is the most miserable existence you could experience. That no amount of success, whether in your work, home or personal life could amount to the joy a bed and belly full of babies could provide. Having spent most of my 20’s and 30’s surrounded by friends who have both, it seems that this is a delusion fed to us by some Disney marketing bullshit because I can tell you, both seem like a bit of a ball ache. I am not questioning my nearest and dearest’s happiness and I don’t doubt there is no part of their lives they regret, but spending my Sunday morning arguing over who is going to gag through an explosive shitty nappy is not quite a bottomless brunch is it? A day spent at Peppa Pig world must be the equivalent of scrubbing your privates with a Brillo pad and you’re not even allowed to numb the pain with a wine. Of course I know that any relationship has the ability to bring you fulfilment and happiness, but they don’t equal it. Having and consuming love and children don’t ensure your life is any more successful than the next.
Shove a Tiffany ring on my finger and call me pregnant, but if you expect either of those things to suddenly make me at peace with myself, you completely underestimate my level of self fuckery. In reality, I am sure we know lots of people who’s lives should amount to happiness and sunshine but are just as likely to have an existential crisis as the rest of us. For having things, gaining accomplishments and ticking off that ‘life’ list doesn’t ensure contentment.
And what if ‘life’s’ successes are not achievable? What if you can’t have children, can’t afford IVF or have experienced something that means pregnancy is a definite no go? What if getting too close to anyone is too painful, or complicated or intimacy is just off the table? Are these people not successful? If people have chosen to jump off the linear train track and embarked on another course, shouldn’t their experiences and achievements be considered successful too?
Where Do We Go From Here?
My 18 year old life plan (yes I did need to use my phone’s calculator to work that out) is a bit old hat now. Orlando Bloom spends far too much time doing yoga and paddle boarding naked for me to find him attractive, and don’t even talk to me about the Chad Michael Murray and Sophia Bush marriage breakdown, I am too emosh. My dream of becoming famous and getting papped falling out of The Hawley Arms with Noel Fielding may still be achievable but even he’s gone all family friendly on the Bake Off to be a definite certainty.
There are some achievements I ticked off long ago which bought me some joy at the time but are pretty forgettable now. Whilst others still bring me contentment day in and out (what up, successfully maintained adult friendships). The long term goals of finding the ‘one’ and living my ‘Little House on a Prairie” life still exist but by no means rate anywhere above learning how to drink Vodka without falling over or being able to afford Laura Ashley wallpaper. 33 year old me knows that contentment doesn’t come from ticking off life achievements and that no matter how hard I wish, winning the Lotto is not a reasonable career goal. Instead I will accept that your idea and my idea of successful may differ wildly, and we’re all just flailing wildly trying to be grown ups on a 15 year old’s perception of adulting.