My wish for 30, Liz Alderman: an elderly personality

A quick look at my Whatsapp group suggests 30 is an especially emotional time for Adele. Everyone is a little choked-up. One particular 50-something guy writes: “Adele, I don’t want to cry, but please calm down and don’t be so hard.” Another says: “I am having problems with 30 because I feel so old when I see 45-year-olds dancing and singing when I am just getting my kicks.”

I have had some big feelings of my own. When I was a young adult, when I was young and independent, 30 seemed like a far-off milestone and a potentially embarrassing one. Around 30, it’s as if there’s a weight or burden attached to my old age. You feel as if your whole life’s been ordered and booked and set up. No, no, I’m not even closing my eyes right now, but I’m pretty sure 30 will only be 30 one day and that will be the day I die. What happened to the “let’s stay young forever” years? That was a very different decade. It was a time for thinking differently and a liberation from the instant-gratification of my childhood. Now I want to retreat into a kind of bubble-gum-style youth where I dance and sing and Instagram day and night. It can’t be long now, I think to myself – I’ll be 50-something in my 60s. Better know who you are before you get there.

It’s been fascinating watching this shift in generations and I’m wondering if it will ever really be over. Perhaps like the musician Talib Kweli says in a recent song: “There is more to the human experience than the years they spout.” It certainly feels that way. It’s a strange feeling to think of moving away from a specific period of time, but even if we’re in the midst of an overall ageing process, the factors that determine this most likely change are less tangible and more ephemeral than can be quantified. Which brings me to:

The let’s stay young forever thing

For a while, I did regard 30 as the “life experience when we grow up and just get on with it” decade. That lasted me until I turned 30 in the early 2000s. It was a few years before I started to understand the reality of getting older and dealing with the inevitable indignities of middle age. I was tired of keeping up appearances and feeling pressured to keep up with what other people were doing. This was another time when I thought being a bit of a she-wolf was a good idea. Now I see the wisdom in letting yourself get older – just not in a way that’s too aggressive or too pushy or too much like ageing.

How do I find a balance?

It isn’t something I can experiment with on my own. It takes a lot of support to ask for help, to go for new experiences. I don’t have a household budget that gives me the luxury of living off the fat of my friends. That doesn’t help. It doesn’t even help if I can’t afford to go on holiday.

Each event brings with it the process of dismantling “30”. For me, this has been so emotionally exhausting and challenging that it’s left me somewhat bereft. It’s also made me wonder: how can I make 30 more fun? How can I make this 10 days into a party? It seems so fundamental to my existence. But just how much time do I really have? So many stories have about a journey to a happy ending. Maybe I’m not there yet.

Liz Alderman’s book of essays, Saint Frances of Lamentation, is published by William Collins on 24 January.

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