Do you remember when you were little and you wanted a perm (okay, I’m really dating myself here), a belly ring, a tattoo, and you’d whine to your mom, “But mooooom, everyone else is doing it!” And she’d say, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”
Depending on my mood, I, smartass that I tend to be, would sometimes mutter “Well yeah. There’d be no one left to play with.”
But today I got to thinking about how that feeling never really goes away. What inspired it was a piece I came across at The Frisky, entitled “Birthday Blues: What Happens To Friendship After You Turn 30?” In it, Amelia McDonnell-Parry writes:
I have a few single friends, sure, and they’re awesome. But while I know life isn’t a race and I truly don’t feel like I’m competing, I feel strangely “behind” the vast majority of my friends in the personal life department. It’s not that I’m jealous or that I desperately wish I were getting married or having a baby right now–remember, I almost was married and am grateful not to be. But I also feel a little disconnected from them.
That’s a familiar feeling. No one wants to be left behind. After all, how much fun would it be if all your friends had jumped off the bridge, leaving you standing alone, like the proverbial cheese? But it got me to thinking, how much do such feelings interfere with our decisions? How often are the things we pick for our lives influenced by a little unconscious–and, not so unconscious–desire to head off becoming the cheese? How often are the milestones (marriage, advanced degree, corner office, fat apartment in the city, fat home in the ‘burbs, fat baby in the stroller) we shoot for not, if we were to think about it, the result of us really assessing what we want for our lives, but just sort of assumed? Everyone else is doing it…
A little more from Amelia:
I ultimately want all of those things that my friends have–commitment and companionship and children–but truthfully, I can’t always imagine those things happening for me. Of course, at age 30 my mom was pregnant with me and about to marry my dad (yeah, I was an accident), but I’m sure when she looked ahead she didn’t see, say, a divorce or a cross-country move, two things that have occurred in her life in the last decade. Turning 30 has started to make me wonder what positive and negative events are to come. I’ve always liked being “prepared.”
When I went to Costa Rica this summer, one of the big “lessons” I brought back with me was that there’s something extremely gratifying about not looking too far ahead. The chances of envisioning what the future will actually hold are slim and life is better spent enjoying things as they happen. For the most part, I think I have applied that to my life rather well, but with 30 only, ack, a week away and everyone around me going through major life changes, I’m suddenly feeling this weird, self-imposed pressure to anticipate what’s ahead. What do I want? How am I going to get those things? Where do I want to go and how am I going to get there?
They’re tough questions. Made tougher, of course, because deep down, each of us knows we are the only one who can answer them. Of course, it’d be easier to just follow the trail someone else has blazed… for a while. But what happens when we realize it’s not a fit? We’re back where we started, left with the ultimate question, which Jane, who I wrote about in Deciding For Yourself, so eloquently asked:
If I could really figure out the answer to everyone’s question “What do YOU want?” — I’d do that! But how do I know what I want…?
That is the question. We’re each on our own path, and, ultimately, the biggest job before us is not figuring out which way to go, but in learning how to enjoy the ride–to focus more on the amazing, and less on the race. Sure, it’s nice to have company along the way, but our friends–no matter how much we love them–are on their own roads, too. Sometimes they can lead us into the light, and sometimes, not so much. Trust me–I got that perm.
And my hair has never recovered.