I don’t remember a specific moment when I stopped caring about others’ expectations of me. There was no pivotal last straw. It was sometime around my thirties (maybe it was thirty).
Twenty was nothing. It was limbo. No longer a teenager, not quite old enough to legally party, so nineteen wasn’t that transitory. But, twenty-nine? Twenty-nine was a horrible year of anticipation of the worst: the big three-o. When you’re thirty your partying days are over. You’re comfortably married with several children, a house, and a steady grown-up job. Thirty is when all your stars align and your shit comes together. That year of twenty-nine was a dreadful time of waiting.
My problem with thirty was that I’d already done most of those things in my twenties. I did them early and skipped the partying. Not for the responsible nights of studying and hours spent interning or accumulating clinical hours, but for the settling down stuff. No, I skipped right past the responsible part and played the role that was expected of me. I graduated high school. I went to college and picked a safe major. I got married at twenty-two (luckily to a man with whom I was head-over-heels in love and who felt the same way about me). As soon as I graduated college, I started having kids.
By twenty-six, I had made several not-so-thought-out financial decisions that locked me into the life I have now, and by twenty-nine, I was not happy – though not quite miserable – with the life I was about to settle into at thirty.
Now, I take responsibility for the choices I made. No one forced me to make them no matter how much pressure I felt like I was under. I twisted my own arm. At twenty, at twenty-one, at twenty-six, I didn’t have the vocabulary to express why I was unsatisfied, why I felt angry, why I felt cheated, why I had regrets; but at twenty-nine, it all came to a head like some great pressure building up and somewhere around thirty, it spilled over.
I’m the sort of person who always just kind of flitted through life without giving serious thought to my future or how my current actions might impact it. I was privileged, spoiled, entitled. I did what any good girl would do growing up in a conservative state, I got married. I didn’t really think about it much. It’s just what you did. I suppose I thought he had more of an idea of how this whole thing was supposed to work by virtue of “I did my part, soooo…” Apparently, he was just as clueless as I was as to how this whole adulting thing would pan out.
I could blame a lot of things for my situation, but when it comes down to it, at one point or another, everyone has to grow up, and you’re never really ready for it. I sure wasn’t. When I got to that point, I was irritated by how much I still felt like a child, not an adult. No matter how responsible I tried to be, I felt that I was perpetually viewed as an eighteen-year-old kid, or maybe more like a twenty-one-year-old almost-adult. I felt a lot of pressure to behave a certain way growing up, but right around thirty I realized that I still felt that pressure, even though I was no longer technically a child.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t actually been a child for a very long time, even though I’d continued to act like one. Now, here I was in my thirties and I hadn’t participated in a lot of the rites of passage that many people do in their twenties. I felt cheated even though I knew I had cheated myself. I was bitter. I had regrets. But, at some point I was at least able to say I’m done.
So, here I was, thirty-ish and realizing that I had led a life up to this point that wasn’t my own. I had cared too much about or listened too intently to what others in my life said life should be, and I’d lost all those years. I rode in the passenger seat, never taking charge of my future, never actively participating in the decisions that will surely affect the rest of my life. In my thirties now, I’ve stopped giving a flip about what others might say is inappropriate for my age. I’ve stopped watching and waiting. I’ve tuned out all those voices, real and imagined, that have told me how to live. No more formulas. No more people-pleasing and waiting for rewards for good behavior. They never came and I don’t want to waste the rest of the years I have left doing anything besides what I want, what’s important to me, and what makes me happy. In the end, my actions don’t truly make anyone else happy or unhappy, so why should I worry about them?