Can You Be Happy at 30? Damned at 35? Delirious at 40?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Crimes to the Third Degree.
Itâ€™s an odd question that surfaces among one of my more social-able writersâ€™ groups. Are people really happy at 30? And what happens to make them sour on life before they turn 40, so much of it stinging them around 33 to 35 years old?
We were talking about editors in NYC, about how most are in their 20â€™s and donâ€™t understand life away from their Sex and the City mentality of single, no kids, and lots of shoes. One of our favorite new womenâ€™s fiction lines to write for was based on women in their late 30â€™s and early 40â€™s who are starting overâ€”as many women at this age areâ€”but the editors couldnâ€™t relate to these women and decided that 30, rather than 40, should be the cut-off age for our novelsâ€™ protagonists. Yet a woman at age 40 has much different concerns and a much different outlook on life than a woman whoâ€™s 25.
â€œThey donâ€™t understand why a woman in her mid-30â€™s isnâ€™t over her divorce within a few months or done with grieving her husbandâ€™s death within a year,â€ one writer whoâ€™d been through both and written about it told me. â€œThey donâ€™t understand the quiet sorrow of realizing that youâ€™ll never have the child you wanted or be the concert pianist you dreamed of.â€
We each began to recall where we were at 30, whether we were truly happy (or thought we were), and when things began to change. And we discovered a few things.
At 30, life is full of limitless possibilities. Weâ€™ve never hit anything we canâ€™t handle. Often, our careers are just taking root, and weâ€™re married with young families or planning for a young family. Weâ€™re in our first home and we still have the illusion of being able to come and go as we please, if we ever have time to. For most of us, we were full of hopes and dreams and possibilities and nothing could stop us.
Then something stopped us. For most of us, something happened in the next few years that knocked us on our asses. We hit the first things in our lives that we couldnâ€™t handleâ€”a physical injury, divorce, aging parents, problems with our children, a lost promotion, a dead-end job, legal problems, financial problems. We medicated ourselves with pills, alcohol, religion, affairs, staying busy, heads in the sand.
So it wasnâ€™t that a happy 30 became an unhappy 40, years later. At some point, most of us reached a point of acceptance. Our relationships were flawed, there would never be another child (or any children at all), the dream career weâ€™d sacrificed for would never be anything more than a nightmare until we changed jobs, weâ€™d always have a physical handicap, our parents were mortal (and often manipulative), and life would never live up to all possibilities weâ€™d imagined, though at times wonderful things would happen that weâ€™d never dreamed of. The biggest problem at 35, most of us agreed, was struggling against the disappointments and dashed hopes and not seeing the sunshine up ahead, that more people loved us than we knew, or accepting that life could indeed be really good, even if it wasnâ€™t exactly as theyâ€™d hoped for at 30.
And so most of this group of writers who had passed the age of 35 agreed that they were actually in a different state of mind at 35â€”and especially at 40 and olderâ€”than they had been at their oh-so-happy 30. None felt they were as exuberantly happy as theyâ€™d seemed at 30, but many were quite content with themselves, having reached a place of peace after struggling with divorce, death, infertility, troubled children, dashed careers, ailing friendships, and then finding their own inner strength and beauty.
One woman said sheâ€™d released all the â€œinfinite possibilitiesâ€ that had kept her life in a holding pattern in her 20â€™s and early 30â€™s, and that now, in her late 50â€™s, sheâ€™s truly happy and just gets happier every day. She also said that other than having a firmer body, sheâ€™d never trade 60 for 30.
Always nice to know.