The other day, I was talking to a twentysomething when the subject of age came up. In the space of a single moment a shadow fell over his face and his cheeks became suddenly gaunt, his eyes filling instantly with the kind of ashen fatigue that only the prospect of a cane-braced creep through a park could bring.
“You know,” he said with a shudder, “25 is pretty close to 30.”
Thirty, he went on, was the great, horrible beyond. Soon—too soon—he would be needing or wanting or needing to want to get married and to bring toothy, sticky-fingered children into the world, driven by some kind of impenetrable force that would be more an ending than a beginning. After all, he explained, that’s simply what happens when you turn 30.
Within days of that fatal birthday cake (do you still even get cakes when you’re 30?), it seems that he would inevitably find himself at Crate & Barrel formulating a gift registry that lists the latest in stainless steel colanders and carved mahogany napkin rings. Worse still, he would actually want those stainless steel colanders, envisaging them hanging in neat perfection from hooks in his kitchen between copper pots and Teflon frying pans, artfully reflected in his array of gleaming crystal wineglasses. He would fill his mornings with the Style section of The New York Times, his afternoons with crossword puzzles, his evenings with self-help guides. Even his dog (would he still be allowed to have a dog?) would turn gray and ragged, tail drooping as it moped from cashmere throw pillow to custom-ordered woolskin pooch puff. So it goes, he seemed to imply with a sort of resigned shrug. He would be doomed to this 800-thread-count eternity until one eventual misstep on Junior’s toy car would send him tumbling down the stairs to either his grisly death or—heaven forbid—a week stretched out in agony across the divan with a bad back. So it goes indeed.
Yet some voice deep within my head, perched somewhere and listening apathetically to the metronomic tick-tick-tick of my biological clock, didn’t quite agree. What’s so wrong with turning 30? It doesn’t sound so dreadful to me—I rather like colanders, to be completely honest. And more than that, what’s so great about being a meandering twentysomething?
Here I was thinking that I had finally reached the great beyond—18!—when wham, suddenly that’s just not “beyond” enough. No, that was simply an ascent up the rocky slopes of the Mount Vesuvius that is life. It is only when I turn 30 and reach the peak at long last that I will see, in the way that only those on the brink can, that 30 is not over the hill; 30 is straight down into the seething lava pits of the volcanic chasm.
It might be that going to college isn’t really the end of childhood—that the rickety training wheels follow you along out of your parents’ house as you head off to Sosc class and your first mismatched apartment. Maybe adultness happens all at once, grabbing you around the waist at the toll of midnight on the day of the big three-oh and flinging you face-first at organic polenta and stretch marks. Either way, the difficulty of the change probably has much to do with the fact that the other side more than likely has a whole lot less PBR waiting.
People cling to their 20s as though those years are the last bit of life that they have left. Your 20s are college, loft apartments, road trips, dating around, hip Moroccan restaurants, cheap beer, and good looks; your 30s are a desolate expanse of diaper changes, suburbs, work, and wrinkles. Nothing sits on the other side of that gray-haired void except for boredom and arthritis: Turning 30 means that you will never have fun again.
But I wonder: What is so desirable about being a nose-picking, wine-sipping, barhopping twentysomething, anyway? Give me my 30s now—another layer or two of foundation, some New England kindergarten waiting lists, a real job, an actual house, an hour of hollow-eyed drifting to and fro along the bestsellers shelf at Barnes and Noble, and most importantly, a glitzy divorce lawyer when it comes time for that. I’ve got it all mapped out, and you had better bet that when I finally finish scaling this volcano—in 11 years, 1 month, and 29 days—I’ll be waiting, gift registries and Crocs in tow.