Reflection: Life in Your 20s vs Your 30s Redux

Me at 23 (Left) and 37 (right).

Me at 23 (left) and 37 (right).

The most popular post on this blog shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. According to google analytics, the most-read post on FIRST PAGE LAST is “Life in your 20s vs your 30s.” I was surprised to see how many people from all over the world have googled terms such as “life in your 30s,” “20s vs 30s,” “life in your 20s vs 30s,” “life in my 20s vs 30s,” and “my 30s are better than my 20s.”

Google analytics can’t tell if the user is male or female (yet; I’m sure PRISM can). But, if I had to venture a guess, most of these key-word searches came from women, women like me who are either in their 30s looking back — or in their 20s looking ahead.

So why are we [I’m going to focus on women, but much of this applies to men] so obsessed with these decades of our lives? Here are some thoughts:

1. THE DIFFERENCES. The two decades are so different from each other. Life in our 20s is filled with spontaneity while life in our 30s is characterized by stability. In our 20s, we are searching: for friends, for careers, for love, for ourselves. In our 30s, we are discovering; we may have already found these things, but we’re still discovering what they mean to us.

Also, every year seems to matter in our 20s. That is, 20 is different from 22; 22 is different from 25; and 25 is different from 29, etc. If you’ve ever dated someone much older or much younger than you while you were in your 20s, you know what I mean. When I was in my 20s, I actually dated two men who were in their 30s: in one relationship, I was 23 and he was 34; in the other relationship, I was 25 and he was 34. These decade differences ended both of these relationships mostly because I wasn’t ready for the type of commitment for which they were ready — but then, again, both men were in their 30s. Duh.

The bigger difference, however, was when I was 28 and I dated a 22-year-old who was still in college. Those six years were so hugely different that the relationship only lasted three months. I’m shocked it lasted that long. Once you have a job, it’s hard to date someone who doesn’t, for example. The fact that he didn’t have enough money to have his own phone caused some issues too; I had to call his friends to get in touch with him. Let me be clear, though: He broke up with me. For a girl he met at summer camp. I must have been too old for him.

Me at 25 (left); and 37 (right).

Me at 25 (left); and 37 (right).

2. THE FUTURE. In our 20s, we are obsessed with our 30s. We’ve heard — somewhere — that if we’re not married by 30, we can forget about finding love. So we spend our 20s desperately trying to find it, even if that means making poor decisions along the way (Have you seen the HBO series Girls? Yeah, those kind of bad decisions. I made lots of those, as this project will expose). Now, at 37, I think it’s silly how crazy I was in my 20s. If I would have relaxed, maybe I would have enjoyed them more or done something more productive with that precious time instead of dwelling on the future and worrying about it. I wasted too many night imagining who Mr. Right would be. Day dreams and conversations with myself. I was either at a bar, hoping to find Him — or in my apartment, crying because I hadn’t. (On a side note: I did meet my husband at a bar, so it can happen.)

3. THE PAST. In our 30s, especially as we get older, we romanticize the past. We want to be young again, feel that pretty with less wrinkles and gray hair. We forget about the miserable nights, the tears, the loneliness, the mistakes. If we’re mothers, we feel like our lives are slowly becoming our children’s, and this can feel like a chokehold sometimes. Most people in their 30s will tell you that the 30s are better than the 20s — but I think that’s only half true. Who hasn’t thought about having zero responsibility again? You think making a 9-am class on a Friday is a responsibility until you skip it. Guess what? You have to work Fridays. And then there’s kids, some of whom wake you up a 5 a.m. and won’t nap. Those are fun times.

But really. Your 30s will be amazing, I’m sure. I have a hard time remembering most of the last seven years: a marriage, two kids, a teaching career. It all starts to blur together like headlights in the rain and I often wonder when life will slow down. Does it ever?

This all feels very stereotypical, and I know not everyone falls into this trap of societal norms. But I did. Many people do. I’m looking forward to my 40s more than anything because I think it might be the best of both — some searching, some finding, some rediscovering, some time to find myself (and my relationship) again after the lost decade of my 30s that has been career and kid focused.

How about you? What were/are yours 20s like? What about your 30s? If you’re in your 20s, how do you feel about turning 30?


2 thoughts on “Reflection: Life in Your 20s vs Your 30s Redux

  1. I’m still in my 20’s and I’m worried that I will never get married or have kids. There seems to be so much pressure. My parents keep asking me if I’m dating anyone. Did you worry about this in your 20’s?

    • Kerri, thank you for reading. All the time. My 20s was filled with fear and worry and anxiety. But it was also fun! I’m much more confident now and relaxed about life and the path it will take. It does get better in many ways.

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