The author at 35.
Image: Pixabay

As a 35-year-old woman with three to seven grey hairs, a scattering of chin hairs, and a stress wrinkle that asserts itself in the grim light of the subway station, I have never felt more alive, vibrant, youthful, or attractive. Therefore, I would like to correct the record set forth by this profile featuring Amber Tamblyn, a woman who is apparently “hurtling towards middle age” at the tender and young age of 35.

Age, as some say, ain’t nothing but a number. Forty is the new 20. Thirty is the new 17. Fifty is actually what being 35 feels like, right? Is there a hair on or around my undercarriage that, in the right light, gleams silver? Maybe. Is it difficult to drink one wine, a weird tequila drink, some beer, and then wake up the next morning feeling ready to write a four-page research paper, unaided by Vyvanse? Depends on the day. Who can say how I will feel at any given time. Something something barometric pressure, knee pain, aches. If the wind blows in strong from the east, I feel a tickle in my throat, and the dull roar of a headache; the hamstring I pulled during a dance recital in high school tingles when it snows. I am 35, and I am young(ish), strong (ish), and most of all, alive.

My hands are the same hands they were when I was not running full tilt towards middle age, except I have a weird wart on the middle finger of my right hand that is quite resilient. Perhaps that is the first harbinger of my dotage. Perhaps I am skipping middle age completely; maybe I will enjoy my prolonged youth until one day, I wake up transformed into my final form—a dumpling-shaped Baba Yaga with chopsticks for fingers and a visage that is wrinkled like a tiny walnut.

Maybe 35 was middle-aged in the olden days, when people still had to churn butter for their English muffins and women laced their stays so tightly they couldn’t breathe. If the average life expectancy was around 70 or so, then by 35, if you hadn’t accomplished anything at all, you might as well pack it up and ready yourself for the journey beyond. Middle age is a demographic for advertisers to start selling women Boniva and Retinol; it’s also a stage of life that comes for everyone, but I firmly believe that the actual end of young adulthood is subjective.

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Have I fucked up because I don’t have three children, a house in New Jersey, and a husband who works in insurance? What small series of mistakes have I made that have led to me to where I am? Middle age begins when my knees hurt all the time, not just some of the time, and I’m terrifically sorry to say that I don’t think now is that time.

There’s a stage between young adulthood and middle age that no one acknowledges—adulthood. Adulthood—not “adulting”—is when you have figured out what works and what doesn’t work for your body, spirit, and bank account, and have adjusted your life comfortably to work around those immutable factors. If you have roommates but have saved money and feel comfortable with the life you’re living sans regret, congratulations, you’ve arrived.

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Adulthood is the necessary stop before middle age—it’s the precious years you have to enjoy the fruits of your panicked adolescence and the fug of your 20s. It is a time to feel competent and capable and free—still young, not green, but just regular. If all of a sudden you feel that you simply don’t care about anything that you used to care about five years ago that seemed very important, congratulations bucko, you made it.

But as a woman, I am not allowed the privilege of enjoying adulthood, and so, here is what will happen when I turn 36 in a few short months. I will go to sleep a young woman and wake up a wizened crone—a sad sack of a woman whose usefulness and vitality is far behind her. I will forgo a brassiere, letting my breasts succumb to gravity’s infernal pull. My body will follow suit. I will drag my skin around me like a stole. The autumn of my life beckons from the horizon—a future full of cottage cheese and soft bread. As my teeth fall from my head one by one, I will gather them in a pouch and offer them to the beatific deity waiting to collect the vestiges of my youth.