As it is for most things, it was for this, too: my thirtieth birthday anxiety greatly exceeded the perils of the day itself. The anticipatory anxiety was for naught. (Though, when does worry actually prevent the ominous from occurring? Alas, never.) Then again, I wasn't nervous so much about the actual day as about the internal and external shifts I believed should take place naturally. Would I make these shifts in the way that I felt I should?
Would I start wearing sensible shoes? (Oh wait, I already do.)
Would my face wrinkle overnight? (Not possible, thankfully.)
Would my house look and feel like a home? (Start by lowering expectations.)
Would I feel settled? (Will I ever?)
The day came and went, and it was a sweet one. But nothing really changed. I felt no sudden mature urges to take out the trash, fold the laundry, plan meals, bathe the dog, or send birthday cards on time. I do feel some need to find meaning outside of making my own life comfortable.
I used to find meaning in my daily work, and at the end of each day I knew that I had worked hard and helped others because I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. To do my job effectively, I forced my introverted self to pretend to be an extrovert. Now, I spend most days mostly alone, reading articles, writing papers, and getting frustrated with statistics, and I know I’m not contributing in the same way I used to.
Perhaps, some day, will, children make my life feel more full of meaning? I have always thought I would have kids, but just to be certain I really did want them—and was not just doing what I thought I should or what people would expect—I read Meghan Daum’s anthology, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. I poured over the book, captivated by the life stories of these writers and mesmerized by the certainty they felt about their decisions. Yet I was undeterred, and still want kids.
Perhaps there is a place for religion, or a community of people formed around a religion? It won’t be Christianity, because even though there are so many wonderful Christians I know, I’ve been repulsed too many times by those who call themselves followers of Christ. (In the current case of Syrian refugees, I just don’t understand how someone could truly understand what these people have endured and still think that Jesus would want them to reject refugees out of ignorance and fear.)
I mostly enjoy going to synagogue with Jacob, though I feel like an outsider. As if having red hair isn’t enough to set one apart, I don’t know which pages to flip to, I almost always forget to flip the pages the opposite way, and I know zero Hebrew. The community feels welcoming and sincere. Reading books like The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret helps me understand Judaism just the tiniest bit more. (I highly recommend listening to Terry Gross interview him; it is one of my favorite podcast episodes of this whole year.)
What else feels meaningful? Reading emotionally laden and psychologically rich novels like Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Planning ahead to make a satisfying meal full of nutrients. Hanging out with friends' babies. Going out for a fun meal with family—and watching the family scarf down sardines!
I’m hoping I have decades left, but there’s no way to know, right?