When I was a child, my parents would watch this American TV show called Thirtysomething. The characters were in their 30s, grappling with spouses, kids, high-flying careers, cancer scares, mortgages, the lot. Back then, the concept of those things was so foreign to me that the people on the show might as well have been in their 300s. I still feel that way.
Case in point: I’m writing this from my bed, where, at 3 in the afternoon, I am still wearing heart-print pyjama bottoms and an "I Heart Papa Francisco" T-shirt. That said, my similarly aged friends and I spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be in one’s 30s: We just want a nice meal, some good wine, and a comfortable bed to fall into afterwards. We gloat over the fact that certain pals are just now getting to the point where they no longer feel compelled to party every night. I often hear myself saying things like, "I’ve learned so much about myself," which is unforgivably treacly, but undeniably true. If anything, my 30s have opened up my world and helped me discover new interests. Ironically, just as some might view me as growing more boring with every birthday, I feel like I’ve become infinitely more interesting — to myself, anyway.
I can’t tell you what’s it’s really like to be a 30-something person in London. I can only tell you what it’s like to be 36-year-old me. As much as I wax on about feeling wiser and preferring quiet nights in, I am still giddy when my five-year-old niece refers to me as a "kid," because I’m "not a mummy." (This drives her mother, my younger sister, insane.) And, is there any greater kindness than a younger friend saying that so-and-so is "about our age"? I think not. As you’ll see from my experiences below, it’s all about balance. Or, to put it more accurately, still trying to figure it all out. To paraphrase Britney, I’m not a girl, not yet in my dotage.
Most of my OOL (Out of London) friends started buying homes in their mid- to late-20s. If you want to feel your stomach drop, compare your friend’s dirt-cheap mortgage for a two-bedroom house in Leicester to your astronomical monthly rent for a single room with a view of the DLR (the catch being, of course, that you then have to live in Leicester). London folks take a bit longer to get in the property game, but now that I’m in my 30s, I’m seeing one friend after another buy. I wish I could say I’m joining them, but the truth is, I’m still (gasp) sharing with a flatmate. I’d like to have my own place within the next year or so, if only to allow myself uninterrupted weekend lie-ins, free rein over the decorating choices, and Jane Austen movie marathons without a running commentary. Will I buy? Not anytime soon. I may be getting older, but I’m just not ready to commit to a mortgage — especially when it means leaving Zone 1.
Shopping in my 20s meant heading to the mall, buying a cheap going-out top at Forever 21, and wearing it for one or two nights before it shrunk in the wash or fell out of favour. If I was feeling flush, I might buy a uni-appropriate tee at Abercrombie & Fitch, or, more likely, add to my impressive collection of Gap twin sets. Nothing cost more than £30, and nothing really lasted more than a season. When I look back at my wardrobe from that time, I see a distinct lack of direction. Now, I’m the girl (er, woman) who will spend £500 on Acne boots, but will balk at spending more than a tenner on a basic T-shirt. I like to buy things that I think will be investments: the best underwear, the best jeans, the designer dress that I’ll one day give to my daughter (if I ever get around to having one). But, it’s not just what’s on the label. It’s about how it fits into my style. My uniform is an Alex Wang studded Rocco bag, skinny jeans, a Sandro blouse or top scrawled with some sort of French phrase, and Converse trainers. It’s semi-androgynous Parisienne, and it influences every purchase I make. A 75-year-old model once shared that prints are a no-no as you age (for her, anyway), and I’ve taken that to heart. Unless it’s stripes, I’m inclined to pass. New me still has a few kinks to work out, but overall, the look is less trendy, more timeless, and more focused.
I broke up with my devoted boyfriend so I could move to London, and, well, sometimes the dating situation here feels like some sort of karmic retribution. Men my age don’t seem terribly interested in dating women my age because, as one friend put it, “You all want to get married and have kids right away.” That leaves younger men, who are pretty and fun to look at but can be infuriating. My last flame worried that if we got serious, he’d be preventing me from ever having a child. Yep, foiled by an imaginary child I never even said I wanted. I have little experience dating older men, but the one who wined and dined me a couple of years back lied about his age throughout the evening, finally landing at 49. That kind of insecurity is a no-go. Most of my friends have paired off and are embarking on parenthood, but I can honestly say I don’t feel too pressured to follow suit — unless I read The Daily Mail, in which case I’m convinced my uterus has already shrivelled up. Maybe the whole biological-clock thing should keep me up at night, but frankly, it doesn’t.
Night buses and head-throbbing house music? No, thank you. While I’m not averse to a good ol’ house party or the occasional dance-off, I’d just as soon curl up with a glass of vino in some dimly lit cocktail bar where I can actually hear what my friends are saying. I’m sick of shouting over a sound system. I’m sick of having my drink spilt down my dress when some drunken reveller bumps into me. I’m sick of pretending that this thump-thump-thump song makes me want to dance. Now that I’m in my 30s, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove by staying out all night and twerking around with a glow stick in each hand. Been there, done that. The resulting hangover is simply not worth it.
I managed to get that whole crap-boss-hellish-job thing out of my system in my 20s. Now, I’m the one at brunch who silently picks at my toast while my friends wail about their long hours and terrible supervisors. Being a freelancer helps a lot. I can more or less set my schedule, I love what I do, and I can take my laptop and work from Turkey or Spain if the travel bug strikes. If I don’t have time for a yoga class or an early-evening cocktail, it’s only because I didn’t wake up early enough or budget my time wisely. I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of girl, and have little patience for younger folks who expect a ticker-tape parade just for showing up to work. Lest I start sounding too much like a fuddy-duddy, consider this: I still don’t have a retirement plan, and I’m usually writing articles whilst wearing a pair of shorts I bought at Coachella in 2005. They have a picture of a bear wearing a sombrero on them and say “party in my pants.” Still badass?
Erin Donnelly is an American-born freelance writer who has been living in London for six years. She turns 37 in October — but don’t tell anyone.
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