30 Going on 13

“13 Going on 30” is one of my favorite girly movies. It’s a story about an awkward 13 year-old who wants nothing more than to be a grown up where everything is perfect. It’s kind of like the girl version of the movie “Big” in which Tom Hanks’ character makes a wish to be big and then has to figure out how to survive in the adult world when his wish comes true. Tomorrow, I turn 30 and I can’t help but feel like I’m still 13, trying to figure this all out.

The problem with turning 30 is that everyone, including myself, expects that you’ll have it all. In “13 Going on 30,” Jennifer Garner’s character hates being a kid so much that on her 13th birthday, she wishes she’ll turn 30 instead–the age when everything magically falls into place. At 30, she’ll have a man, a great job, cool friends, a wonderful closet and so on. And this is what I expected too.

My entire life I’ve always wanted to be older. I wanted the next big thing. As a kid, I, too looked up to women in their 20s and 30s thinking they had it all and I was bursting to get there. Then throughout my 20s, I worked my ass off to acquire all the must-haves: money, a good job, fashionable looks, and a man to get married to. Most of my 20s were so awful, I missed being a teenager.

Now, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I feel like I’m late for a very important deadline. My time to search for all the perfect puzzle pieces is up. At 30, I must already have the puzzle put together and ready for display. I look at other friends my age on Facebook–people I went to high school with, even grade school, and of course college, and a lot of them are married with children. I don’t have that. I hate nothing more than being behind. (Isn’t that why I always dreamt of being older?)

It doesn’t help that my job as a parenting editor reminds me every day of what I don’t have–optimum fertility and a family. These are the missing puzzle pieces and without them I feel like a failure. A few years ago, when I asked my sister-in-law what it felt like to be 30, she said, “well, I’m married and I have a baby, so I’m okay.” Thirty is the only birthday in which a woman goes down a mental checklist of a job accomplished. Christ, at 13, I was so freakin’ happy to finally be a teenager, I didn’t need to have met certain requirements to feel okay about it. (Well, other than accepting the hard truth that playing with dolls was no longer “cool.”)

So far, turning 30 has sucked. I threw a pricey party–the kind you send out expensive, handwritten invitations for–thinking that making a big deal about it would help me embrace it. Wrong. I just got mad at myself for spending so much money for a couple of hours with friends. I expected my boyfriend would make it all okay by getting down on one knee just so that I could enter 30 without feeling so bad. (And the more friends and family and associates push the expectation that he will, just makes it worse. So much worse.) The poor guy has been working around the clock and actually fell asleep toward the end of my fancy party. So many expectations unmet. Whether they’re fair or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m 30 and I can’t check off everything on the master list. If my sister-in-law asked me how I feel turning 30, I would say to her, “well, I’m not married and I don’t have a baby, so you tell me, how should I feel?”

Is it the fault of movies and pop culture? Why do women feel the need to have it all together by 30? I cannot be the only one who feels this impending doom and pressure. The pressure to deliver on things I have no control over is enough to make me snap. Luckily, I have an appointment with my therapist on my birthday. Part of me just wants to curl up in a ball, finish all the bottles of wine in my apartment and swallow a whole bunch of pills. I don’t want to die, but maybe a nice little overdose and a trip the hospital will make me feel like I’ve taken some action and act like some sort of public acknowledgment that I know I’ve missed my deadline and I’m not happy about it.

Those of you over 30 tell me: Where were you at 30? What did you wish you had had by then?

Those of you under 30, tell me: What do you hope you’ll have by then?

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3 responses to “30 Going on 13

  1. When I turned 30, I was content with my personal life, but not my professional one. I felt “behind” in my career…others my age had achieved more, which was hard. I’ve since realized life will never be perfect and we’ll never have it all. So we have to stop convincing ourselves that it/we will. Those expectations are impossible to meet and keep us from actually enjoying what we have in any given moment. If I had all my puzzle pieces in place at 30, I would’ve missed out on some great things/new pieces the past four years. And I’d have no new “pieces” to look forward to in the future.

  2. Lisa Pettinelli

    Where do I start? I think probably so many people don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle together by 30. Ask your sister-in-law ten years from now. Life is so unpredictable. What if you did have it all? So many things can happen to which you have no control and those puzzle pieces would just be mixed up again or even worse. Whoever gave the idea of women having it all together by 30 was stupid and full of shit. It’s impossible. There is no way someone can have it all without SOMETHING lacking. Marriage is work and most people shouldn’t be married or married other peoples soulmate(at least I think so). Being a mom is hard. Being a mom opens up a whole bunch of other issues that come out only when your a mom that can also make you want to get therapy. I am 43 now and can certainly say I wish I had stopped more often back then to enjoy it. This is the prime of your life and you have your education, work experiences, and smarts. Enjoy life to the fullest because it is unpredictable. I think seeing a therapist will help you see to that. Everyone can use a little therapy (myself included). That’s what people should have been doing along time ago. To hell what everyone thinks and the way they think it should be. This sister-in-law thinks your doing just fine and the way YOU chose to do it, it is very admirable.

  3. I completely understand!
    Growing up, I thought that I would go straight to a university after high school — where I would (hopefully) meet the man of my dreams; then, graduate as the first person in my family to have earned a Bachelor’s (or any other) degree; marry by age 25; have two kids, a nice home, and a successful professional career by age 30.
    Now, I’m 29 years old and life hasn’t gone the way I’d always planned. Because of my parent’s financial situation, I wasn’t able to go to college right after high school. I had to work and save money until I was 24 — when I finally became eligible to go to school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, even then, so I took classes with no direction of what I actually wanted to accomplish. By the time I finally figured it out, I was an upperclassman and knew I wouldn’t have my family’s support with my decision to change my major, so I kept on taking random classes that didn’t amount to much of anything. During that time, my younger cousin completed his college education and was given the honor of being our family’s first college graduate. After that, I wasn’t sure that I’d even continue on with school. Eventually, I did meet the man of my dreams. But that wasn’t until I was 26. He gave me the support and courage that I needed to finally go after my dreams — even though it is taking me longer to complete my education. Now, I’m working and trying to earn my degree; but I still haven’t reached any of the milestones that I wanted to have accomplished at this point in my life. I’m still in school; nowhere near where I want to be professionally; not married (or, even engaged); have no children; and live in an apartment — not the American dream house I thought I’d have by now.
    Even though I have feelings of fear and shame about my age and how things have turned out (especially now that I’m surrounded in school by people 10 years younger than me on a daily basis); I have to remember all of the things that I do have to be thankful for. I’m alive and healthy. I am working and putting myself through school. I’m following my dreams and loving my relationship with my boyfriend — who I intend to marry after school. I have a home and a car and many other luxuries that others don’t have. I have many reasons to be happy and hopeful. And that’s what I am.

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