On my thirtieth birthday this year, I stood in my bathroom and eyed myself like a kindergartener might eye Santa as she waits in line to sit on his lap—with cautious excitement. Here I was, thirty. It was official. I didn’t look much different than I did in my twenties. In fact, I didn’t look all that much different than I looked in high school. I still had the long, stringy hair. I still had the somewhat uneven eyebrows and embarrassing inability to put on eyeliner evenly. My clothes, still purchased from the sale rack at Gap, didn’t scream “mature”. I was, for the most part, exactly the same.
My fiancé, a friend, and her boyfriend were waiting for me in the living room, waiting to take me out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. Sushi. My favorite. I could hear them making small talk about the weather, I could hear the clinking of ice in their glasses as they waited for me to make my entrance. I realized at that moment that I was never on this end of the waiting game—that it was usually me stuck on the couch waiting for some princess to fix her bangs or eye her ass in a full length mirror umpteen times. It was usually I who had to keep the drinks filled, the guests happy, the talk small. My twenties were all about making other people happy and distracted.
I reached into my jewelry box and found a pair of earrings and held them to my ears, the way I’d always imagined mature women to do when they got ready in the mornings. I looked at the chinsey diamond studs in my ear, a gift from my ex, that hadn’t been removed for six months or more. They were tarnished and old. I took them out and threw them in the box, replacing them with long, dangly gold ones.
‘A woman in her thirties’, I told myself, ‘wears gold’.
My fiancé, L, rounded the corner to the bathroom. ‘You ready?’ he asked in his hungry voice.
I looked at him through the mirror. ‘Not yet,’ I said.
‘Why not? You look fine,’ he said.
‘I don’t want to look fine,’ I said, calm and collected as a driver’s ed teacher. ‘I want to look fabulous.’
‘You do,’ he said impatiently. ‘Come on. Let’s go.’
I picked up my purse and walked out into the living room, resisting the urge to apply lip gloss as I was making my way to the front door, like I always did. Instead, I looked at my guests with the kind of self-assuredness that only the exceedingly rich and famous possess, as though I was a celebrity gracing them with my presence and they should do their best not to lose their cool sharing the same air space.
‘I’m ready now’, I said. ‘A woman in her thirties takes her time.’ I explained, nodding toward the empty glasses on the coffee table.
L snorted. ‘A woman in her thirties is high maintenance,’ he quipped.
And so it began, a simple phrase that has followed me the first six months of entering this decade. Of course, it is silly. It’s become a long running joke among my friends that I will often start sentences using this phrase, reminding us both what we imagine a woman in her thirties to be, and not allowing us to revert back to those irresponsible, uncultured days of our twenties.
‘A woman in her thirties drinks Seltzer.’
‘A woman in her thirties doesn’t steal People magazines from the dentist waiting room.’
‘A woman in her thirties buys brand name toilet paper.’
It is, however, more. It is a reminder that, while we are certainly not old, we are certainly not young. We have husbands and boyfriends and aging parents and kids and dogs and career paths and breast exams and Roth IRAs to think about. We are defined by much more than the jeans we wear and the credit cards we hide. We can’t make the same quick decisions that defined our twenties, decisions that, regardless of right or wrong, were often excused with a breathy ‘Well, she’s young.’ With our age we have moved on to a new realm of legitimacy as people. A new start. We are now, like it or not, women.
A woman in her thirties reflects.