Lessons On Growing Up: The Bittersweet Reality Of Turning 29

'Women aren't supposed to age but my twenties were hard and I'm glad they're drawing to a close'

The Bittersweet Reality Of Turning 29 Growing Up

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Picture this scene: you wake up, still wearing last night’s clothes, hungover, tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth like a fish, tossed onto dry land and left to bake in the midday sun, eyes glued shut with coagulated 24-hour-old mascara and then an impending sense of doom engulfs you like a dust cloud, particles getting in through every available opening. This is how my 29th year on the planet began, in a fairly similar fashion to how the last 9 started with, perhaps, the exception of my 27th (but we aren't here to talk about that).

So emphatically unenthused was I about my 29th birthday that I didn’t organise anything, half-heartedly inviting friends to have a drink with me that night on the day and secretly hoping nobody could make it. As I walked to the pub I realised I was going to be early and deliberately took a detour that would make me late, stopping and stalling to make friends with every stranger’s dog or stare at every daffodil and bluebell sprouting in an incongruously concrete space along the way. It’s so much easier to see and feel the beginning of things, and difficult to pinpoint the ends.

29 is an odd age. It is the end of a decade-long era and not quite the beginning of another. The impending doom I felt the morning after my non-birthday party was probably nothing more than the standard serotonin-plummet that comes with excessive alcohol consumption but, on the other hand, waking up on the first day of the last year of my twenties it was the most fitting feeling I could have felt. ‘Consumed by concern’ has been my default setting for much of the last decade; the irony of experiencing it as my 28th year drew to a close was that I have far less to worry about these days.

No longer do I live in an ex-council flat, sleeping in a room that’s not legally big enough to be let out as a bedroom, where it’s never quite dark because of the light from the incandescent streetlights in the courtyard outside because it’s all I can afford. Nor do I make the same mistakes with glaringly inappropriate partners, whom I instinctively seek out, over and over again, like a hamster glued to its own self-flagellating wheel. I do, however, still frequently find myself at the rock bottom end of my overdraft but, in fairness, I’m not sure that’s always entirely my fault and, credit where credit’s due, I do have some savings, however paltry they may be.

And yet, despite all of this I just couldn’t get excited about 29. It felt like being forced into limbo, the waiting room before the big party you get to throw when you turn 30 and supposedly wipe the slate clean. Why did I feel so weird? Why wasn’t I excited? The problem with 29, I realised, is that I’d found myself in what felt like a holding pen and I was being forced to look back over and contemplate my 20s as a whole. Inhabiting an age which, by its nature, embodies an era-ending mentality by virtue of being the ‘last’ of something makes it almost impossible not to look backwards and feel compelled to take stock of everything. 29 is not, in itself, the end of your twenties it’s a year-long preamble to your thirties.

What I realised, by turning 29 and feeling completely anti-climactic was that I, somehow, despite my very best efforts, had managed to get most of my shit together and, this year, there wasn’t really anything in terms of self-development marked as URGENT and underlined in red on my mind’s to do list. The person I was at 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 could not have said the same, but now what stretched before me was a great unknown. Having finally nailed the basics (self-love being the corniest and most important one), all roads could lead anywhere and the real question is ‘what next?’. This is at once liberating and terrifying because anything could happen and, because of this, the age of 29 is actually more significant than 30. Beginnings are easy, endings are hard.

I cannot shake the feeling that I should be sadder about saying goodbye to my twenties: the messy decade in which we all emerge from the primordial ooze of our teenage years and become the people we are, to quote Hannah Horvath, ‘supposed to be’. Your twenties are brilliant because nothing is irrevocable; you can change your course at any time but, there comes a point, when you realise that for all the joy you took in endless possibility there might actually be an equal amount of excitement in certainty: in being sure of who you are, what you want and a vague idea what it might look like.

There was a time when I would accept every invitation to every party or night out that came into my orbit. Every single one provided an opportunity; in every living room, stranger’s garden, warehouse or bar, was something exciting, a window into another possible route for my life. There was always something to be lost and something to be gained. Someone I could ‘fall in love with’ and distract myself with for a few weeks, a new BFF with whom I’d have intense conversations for 7 hours and make promises about things we’d do in the future, knowing I would not keep them. Mistakes would be made and lessons would be learned and nobody would really mind.

Now, knowing how the night will end excites me. Perhaps I’m a bit boring, I’m willing to accept that but, I'm certainly not bored. Perhaps, the long-term future is what’s exciting now. Women aren’t supposed to get older, in fact, society encourages us to fear it and go to extreme lengths to cover up the telltale signs of the ageing process. As part of the quest for eternal youth, we're taught to fear and dread the death knell of it, turning 30. But, I find myself appreciating the scars of my twenties, whether that’s a physical frown line which may or may not have been caused by a troublesome ex or the invisible wound of relentless worry about everything which has, at least for now, healed. My twenties were hard and I'm proud to bear their scars.

I'm surprised because I'm not looking back on my twenties and wishing I could eek them out a little longer. I don't want to wish my time away but a new decade is appearing on the horizon and, while I’ll never forget and certainly don’t regret my twenties, I want to get on with it and see how the person I’ve become in the last ten years gets on in the next.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

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Is Money The Last Great Friendship Divide?

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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