In exactly one month, I will turn 30. See, you’re doing it too! I can practically hear you doing it. Something as subtle as one raised eyebrow, a slight widening of the eyes, or an uncomfortable shuffling of the feet. Or something a little more vocal: “The Big 3-0!” you’ll boom. Or “Wow, the dirty thirty!” My turning 30, it seems, holds more weight, more momentous heft for everyone else than it does for me.
I’d always thought these weird life-markers and milestones were culture-specific, that the way everyone in my life, well-meaning and otherwise, never seemed satisfied with the direction my life had taken was relative to my South Asian background. It’s always struck me as a particularly “Desi” (broad generic term for those who originally hail from parts of South Asia, including India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka) trait, this exhaustive dissatisfaction with other people’s children and your own. Maybe I relate to Jane Austen because the measure of a woman in that era is similar to the measure of a South Asian woman today: a list of accomplishments define you. Back then, it was “can she sing/dance/paint/speak multiple language/play the piano?” Today, it is “is she educated/thin/tall/religious/moderate/career-driven/family-oriented/capable of speaking the native tongue/married?” You are a pirouetting, walking resume, balancing contradictory plates on every limb and extremity, all while smiling and keeping up good posture and flaunting your child-bearing hips.
I love our “aunties,” the myriad of women my mother’s age or older who convene on you, clucking, at every dinner party and get-together, every wedding and funeral. They are to me a beloved gaggle of geese, irksome when I was younger, harmless and lovable as I get older. But it is their standards that sometimes define my mother’s opinion of me. While I have come to terms with the fact that nothing I do will ever be enough (the string of dissatisfactions will merely change over time from “Does she have a degree?” to “Does she have a career?” “Is she engaged?” “Is she married?” “Does she have children?” “Does she have a [whatever-gender-her-current-child-is-not]?” “How big is her house?”), my poor mother frets at every turn.
“So-and-so’s daughter just became a doctor,” she’ll say, wringing her hands. “Her eyes are slightly crossed, but oh the proposals she will get!”
“Such-and-such’s daughter – the one who is 10 pounds thinner than you—she’s getting married this summer,” she’ll sigh upon hanging up the phone.
My mother, bless her, deserves a lot of credit for never pressuring me, never even bringing up the term “marriage” while I was going through my education and my career. And I think her pestering would not be as bad as it has become over the past year or two if the clucking aunties weren’t whispering disappointments in her ears.
But turning 30…that seems to be universally dreaded. Somehow, the feeling of my impending doom or looming expiration date is compounded by friends and enemies from all sides – Desi, non-Desi, Muslim, non-Muslim, American, European, etc. When I turned 29 last June, I was determined not to let society’s idea of what 30 means enter my consciousness. Somehow, age has never been a big deal for me. I am not a woman who blanches upon being asked her age. I’ve never lied about it nor does it define or shame me. You get older, you get wiser, and I think I’ll look pretty damn sexy with silver hair (I mean really, just look at Storm from “X-Men”).
Yet all of my female friends automatically commiserate when I mention, in a neutral tone, my upcoming 30th birthday. One of my favorite people looked at me with wide sympathetic eyes and said, “It’s ok, it’s really nothing to be afraid of,” – like I was about to get a tetanus shot. My male friends gleefully look for signs of hormonal-girl-crazy, and they seem to think all my eggs will suddenly drop right out of my body in front of their eyes, followed by my uterus, and then somehow I’ll shrivel up like the Nazi from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” who drinks from the wrong chalice, thinking it’s the Holy Grail.
What they are creating is a self-fulfilling-prophecy-loop. Thirty was just a number, but over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself poking at body parts and checking for oncoming turkey-neck in the mirror (I do detect a slight wiggle, and if it wasn’t there before, I’ve certainly created it by pulling at my skin to see what it would look like). This is not helpful. I’d shake my finger at you, but I’m afraid my diner-lady arms will jiggle alarmingly and a minor earthquake will be reported in Japan as a result.
Your reactions to 30 mean I have to work harder to maintain equilibrium. I am determined to regard 30 as just another number, to celebrate it as an age where I’m confident enough to know what I want, yet open enough to embrace new experiences. It’s where I decide what parts of my 20′s I want to keep and which ones no longer fit me. It’s where I’m comfortable in my career, my skin, and my body. It’s a new chapter. There is no new wisdom, no great epiphany, no life lesson I could tell you now. I’ve lived just enough, but by no means that much just yet.
And for the record, should I ever find myself within the vicinity of the purported Holy Grail and a batty old knight, I’m fairly confident that I’d choose the right chalice. Now please excuse me while I try to keep my uterus from falling out with some pipe cleaners and a bit of duct tape.
Zainab Chaudary works in politics by day and is a writer by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets at @TheMemorist.
(Photo Credit: Danny Kenny)