In a new column, Doree Shafrir reflects on life in her thirties. But in the first installment, she goes back to her twenties and finds that her 22-year-old self maybe wasn't so clueless after all.
I loved Sarah Haskins' new video, which is all about turning 30. As she says, now that she's "old," she's paying more attention to commercials for incontinence and osteoporosis. (She also wears a really heinous pantsuit throughout the entire video.) At the end, when she takes all the pills at once, she suddenly finds herself wanting to go to clubs and do young people things. (She's still wearing the pantsuit.)
I reached that milestone 2 years ago (the 30 milestone, not the incontinence or pantsuit milestones-fortunately, I have yet to hit those), and it's funny: Before I turned 30 I certainly thought of it as a turning point. When I was, say, 25, I was sure that 30 was going to be this magical turning point when I suddenly got all my shit together. I wouldn't feel "old," per se, but I'd feel more content, secure. Life would be less of an emotional rollercoaster. I'd probably even be completely done with my quarterlife crisis!
And in fact, turning 30 was sort of a relief. I threw a big karaoke party and got drunk and felt, looking back, that my twenties were all about highs and lows, and my thirties would be about security and really getting to know myself.
Then I turned 31 and thought, oh, fuck, it's really happening.
I first moved to New York ten years ago, after graduating from college, into a teensy two-bedroom apartment on Allen and Houston streets, on the Lower East Side. I had the smaller bedroom; it fit a full-size bed and a dresser, and not much else. I paid $850 a month, which was tough since I was making $25,000 a year working as a sales assistant at a magazine. I remember my take-home pay every two weeks was $712. (That's me, below, around that age, hamming it up in a supermarket.)
By the fall I had a new job and a new life plan: I was going to go back to school and get a PhD, and become a professor. It's funny when I think back on that year-I was 22 and everything seemed so slow. In college, everything changes every four months and I was discovering that it takes longer for things to change in the real world. I was at my first job for three and a half months, which felt like an eternity. I'd been at my second job for only a couple of months when I decided to apply to grad school.
I have a file cabinet in my apartment now that's like an archive of my life from the late nineties to the mid-aughts: bank statements, contracts from long-forgotten freelance gigs, back issues of the newspaper I worked for in Philadelphia. I was rooting through the cabinet a couple weeks ago, in an eventually abandoned attempt to clean it out (a shredder would probably be helpful, here), and I found a journal I'd kept for a few months in 1999. It's a spiral-bound 80-page Mead notebook, with the $2.29 price sticker from Duane Reade still affixed in the upper right hand corner. Anyway. I guess on the night of November 15, 1999 I was feeling restless, because I filled four pages with lists of what I wanted to be doing or have achieved in ten years, three years, one year, and one month. (Note: This is not a task I perform regularly. I must have read an article in a women's magazine or something that this was "helpful" when one is "floundering.") This is part of what I wrote in the ten-year goal list:
- have a PhD [nope]
- be married [nope]
- have a child [nope]
- have a dog [yes!]
- live in a big apartment in Brooklyn or Philadelphia or Boston or San Francisco [sort of—I live in Brooklyn, but no one would call my apartment "big"]
- be working on my second book [sort of! I did write one book, with ex-Jezebeler Jessica Grose, and would love to write another one, if anyone has any great ideas]
- know another language [again, sort of—in graduate school I took German and Italian, but I can't really communicate in either one now]
- have a garden [and once more, sort of—we have a backyard but our landlord tends to the garden]
- have really good friends [yes!]
- know how to knit [I learned how to knit soon after this and still have not finished the scarf I started around the year 2000]
- know how to sew [barely]
- be in the middle of reading a really great novel [not at the moment, no! But if you haven't already, I highly recommend Zoe Heller's new one, The Believers]
- have an article published in The New Yorker [why, yes! I wrote a Talk of the Town last month, thereby getting in just under the wire]
Strangely, my list of things I wanted to be doing in ten years is actually, and strangely, more accurate to real life than the lists I made for what I wanted to be doing in three years and one year and actually even one month.
Looking back on the list after ten years is also funny because it neatly glosses over all of the highs and lows of being in your twenties. I went to grad school, dropped out after an agonizing year of going back and forth about whether or not I should drop out, worked for a couple years at an alt-weekly, and then went back to school. I dated a string of wrong guys and a couple right guys. I became an intern at the age of 28, which was horrible and humiliating and turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
When I was 22, though, if you'd told me I was going to be an intern when I was 28 I probably would've just crumpled to the floor and sobbed.
I hesitate to use the term "quarterlife crisis" because I think it's vague and sort of pointless—it's called "growing up," really—but there was definitely a time, around age 25 or 26 or so, where it seemed like nothing was going right and whatever decision I made was going to be the wrong one, and I was letting everyone down, and nothing would ever get better, even if I did finally finish that scarf. Not to mention that for years, 30 seemed like it was so far off. That was when people officially became adults, after all, age 30. I remember when I was 22 looking at some of the people I worked with, who were, like, 27 and 28, and thinking they were so immature because they still partied with us 22-year-olds, and shouldn't they be married and settled down by now?
Needless to say, when I was 27 I wasn't settled down. And I laughed hysterically at Sarah Haskins' video, but there was, nestled in there among the jokes, a small kernel of truth. I don't go to clubs in pantsuits or take incontinence medication, but I am starting to feel like I've entered a different phase of my life.