what happens when you turn thirty

This is a guest post from one of my favorite writers. Her name is Erica. I met her in a class that actually changed my life. In that class, I thought, “I want to be like Erica.” Later, she was in my tiny writing group. The entire time I’ve known her, she has worn the most unassuming clothing. Like she really just likes to be comfortable. In this city, I had never seen someone do that. She struck me immediately and continuously as a person who likes being herself. Who can just sit there being herself for as long as you need to sit there with her, figuring yourself out. I was thrilled when she wrote to me yesterday and said she needed to write this post. Then she wrote it. 

I turned thirty yesterday. I was in my twenties for a long time—a whole decade. I turned twenty in Maine, where I was living in staff housing behind a luxury resort, paying $35 a week in rent and saving money for a trip to Europe. How’d I get to Maine? My car broke down and I found a job. It was adventurous, I was young, and my life was yawning open like a carpet unfurling.

In Maine, I learned how to hear complaints from guests at the hotel without rolling my eyes. I learned all the wrong ways to be a customer. I learned that having a compassionate boss makes a big difference. I met a man in his sixties named Legs, who told me that losing his girl had been his Auschwitz. And I said, “Everyone has their Auschwitz,” but I didn’t know, then, what mine was, what it might be. In fact, ten years on, I think it’s a little dramatic. But still, I understand my point—that everyone suffers more than they think they can suffer. Everyone has to face what once seemed untenable.

 When I was twenty, I didn’t ever expect to turn thirty.

Thirty felt like something I’d experience during the trip to Europe I had yet to take: seeing a distant shoreline—no, the faint suggestion of a shoreline—from a ferry and thinking I’d never actually make it to that new country. When I was twenty, most of my friends were older than me. Throughout my twenties, actually, most of my friends were older than me. Their lives became a little more stable a little sooner than mine. A lot of them got married. Now, a lot of them are having children, or are at least thinking about it. A lot of them already finished graduate school before I decided to go.

I lived in Vermont from the time I was twenty-one to twenty-three, after six months in Europe where I learned how to open my mind (only sometimes with, ahem, help), how to speak quietly in a cathedral, how to communicate love to the non-English speaking parents of friends you met in America. In Vermont, I learned how to live with people of all ages, and how to love people who were older than I was by more than a few years. I learned that when a man asks for or gives a massage, that’s definitely code. I learned that in Vermont, it’s not called soft-serve—it’s called a creamee.

In Vermont, thirty was the age of almost nobody. We were all in our twenties, except the much older people, who were in their forties and sixties and seventies. It seemed like we collectively skipped thirty, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how great life would be if I could go straight to being old, straight to retired. I felt like a working stiff, like the fun of life was through, because I had to earn money and I didn’t see an extended vacation in my future as payoff. I thought that if I could just get to seventy, but with all the benefits that those years are supposed to have, then I’d be the luckiest person alive. I’d have friends and a partner and a pet and a house with nice furniture, and maybe I’d have had some kind of career that didn’t carry the monotony of a regular job. But I didn’t want to actually experience that. I just wanted its results.

I can see where I was coming from, then. I was feeling bad for myself, lonesome and unsure of my future, of what I really wanted to do. It was an aimless moment, a moment when I visited Montreal often, to go to concerts by myself at places like Club Soda and La Sala Rossa. Once, the lady at the border said this: “Why would you go to a show by yourself?” I said I didn’t have any friends, and she let me through. That wasn’t entirely true, but it often felt true. I had a hard time, in Vermont, because I was learning how to be a friend—how to invite people into my life and keep them there.

Last week, I surprised an old roommate from Burlington by showing up in her new town, Ithaca, without giving her a heads up. I knew she’d be there, and I knew she’d welcome me. And this is what I learned in Vermont: that some friendships endure, when they’re treated respectfully, and in those friendships, people settle into one another in beautiful ways. In Ithaca, we sat at a kitchen table drinking beers, telling our respective stories of heartbreak, and then she took me into town, where I met a whole bunch of her new friends and we talked the way we’d always talked, like only a week had gone by.

When I left Vermont, it was to move back to New York City, where I’d lived so long before that it doesn’t even fit into my twenties (this is shocking to me too, and I lived it). I was going back to college, and the acceptance into school had buoyed my confidence, begun to show me what I was worth. And in New York I learned everything—or at least, I wanted to learn everything. I took classes in disciplines I didn’t know anything about, like physics and urban studies and philosophy. I read every single thing that was assigned—required and recommended. I read things that weren’t assigned, books that were returned to the cavernous basement library where I worked. I was ravenous for information.

In the midst of all that reading, all those papers, all the problem sets, a little cat found me, and she taught me the most important thing, the thing that books and friends and parents and everyone else couldn’t. That there’s a way to take care of a living thing, to fall in love with it, that gives you something you need in the process. Nora and I grew up together, then, in the folds of down comforters and in the comfort of a space that was only ours. And then we outgrew that space, and we invited other people into what we had created—first friends, and then lovers.

Thirty, by then, was the shoreline coming closer, the way an outline finds itself filled with green, and then, finally, trees, as you move toward it. At twenty-six, I was living with a man, a man who was thirty before we met. I did laundry for both of us, and watched baseball at night instead of going out, most of the time. I ate brunch with my friends, but we weren’t hungover. When I went to visit my sister in Australia and a friend in New Zealand, it was a short vacation, two weeks, and I used vacation time to take it. I’d never had vacation time before. I’d never had a retirement fund, either.

When I was twenty-seven, I left him. I moved a half-block away and learned that distance doesn’t have to be measured in neighborhoods. I learned that being compassionate must also apply to the self. I learned that kindness doesn’t always solve an unfixable problem. And I learned calculus.

Like a boat off-course, thirty started to fade again. Having a partner, at thirty, seemed like one of the requirements. A degree, probably, too. Maybe a stable domicile. Maybe a relationship with my parents that felt rich with history and love. I was on track, for some of those things. How many things does it take to count as adulthood?

Today, I’d say none. Nothing is imperative when it comes to adulthood. But then, I wasn’t sure. The next two years, the twilight of my twenties, had me falling in love again, in a completely different way, with a person I would never have imagined myself falling in love with at twenty, twenty-two, twenty-six. I learned, at twenty-eight, that love exists in the places I never thought to look before. I learned that love can be larger than I ever thought, even though I always thought it was huge. And I learned that the more you love people, the more they love you back. The more you trust people, the more they trust you back. And the more you give people, the more they give you back.

I’m in graduate school now. I started when I was twenty-nine, and I’m older than almost everyone. I don’t mind, though. Now that I’m thirty, I’m learning that friends are everywhere, if you’re open to making them. I’m learning that the more I share with people, the more connections we find, and the more we have to learn from each other. I’m learning that my decisions have been the right ones—even the wrong ones have been the right ones. Once, I wanted to skip this coming decade. I wanted to get through it without experiencing it. I’m glad I know better know. I’m setting sail again, and right now, there’s not even another shore in sight. You know what? I feel free.


*  *  *

Erica Sklar is an MFA candidate at UNC Wilmington, where she spends a lot of time hugging animals. She writes personal essays and is at work on a book about surviving the loss of a sibling. You can reach her at erica.sklar@gmail.com

Other thoughts about turning thirty? What was it like for you? Or what do you expect it to be like?

Erica’s Unroast:  today I love how my thighs look in short (but not too short) shorts


Kate on June 20th 2012 in friendship, guest post

30 Responses to “what happens when you turn thirty”

  1. lik_11 responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Beautiful post!!! Happy (late) birthday. You’ve learned a lot in the past 3 decades, thanks for sharing it with us.

    PS- you’re the only person I’ve heard say (in their 30s) that friends are everywhere. That’s a really nice thought.

  2. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    what an awesome post! don’t skip out on anything…and “even the wrong ones have been the right ones”…very true.

  3. ashley responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Wow! Well said. This is a great travel through time. Thank you for sharing Erica’s beautiful writing and insight

  4. Melanie responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Love this post! So well written and thoughtful. I have friends strewn about the globe too, and it’s a really nice feeling. Some are in their 20s, some are in their 60s, and some are in between.

    And I like the part about: How many things does it take to count as adulthood?

    I believe the answer is none as well.

  5. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    @Ashley (and Kimmy Sue and lik_11)
    Thank you for responding so immediately! I am sitting here being all excited that I’m getting to share Erica with you guys, and I love reading your reactions!

  6. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    And Melanie! That one came in as I was commenting! Of course, Melanie.

    I also loved that line about adulthood. I think that will stick with me.

  7. Kim responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Thank you Erika and Happy Birthday – and thank you Kate for posting this!

    Loved every word, and am thinking how long ago it was since I turned 30. Funny thing is, whenever I’ve looked in the mirror, whether I was 20 or in my 40s, I’ve always looked like me! :)

  8. Rebecca responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    You are turning 30 so gracefully! It’s so nice to hear your words on the matter. I too turned 30 this year and while I don’t mind it so much, I definitely feel like I’m have a 1/3 life crisis, lol. I’ll try to keep what you have to say here in mind though. It seems like a good way to look at things.

  9. Lynn responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Lovely Post, thank you :) (Happy Birthday, Erica!) I am turning 30 this year too (Nov. 20th), and I’ve been wanting to write about it some way, this has inspired me :)

  10. Chrissy responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    A beautiful post by a wonderful person! Thanks for sharing you lessons and your life. You make 30 look awesome!

  11. Steph responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    I love the idea that friends are everywhere. Thanks for the great post. I’ve been feeling lonely lately and this was yet another way for the universe to say, “Hey, do something about it!”. I struggle with horrible depression and sometimes find it difficult to leave my bubble. I’m going to print this and hang on my closet as a daily reminder. I love guest posts because I get to “meet” even more interesting people.

  12. Ashley Perry responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Jesus, that was beautiful. You just made me cry in public.

  13. Emmi responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Yes and yes – the wrong decisions have also been the right ones. Yes!

  14. Katie responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Wow, what a treat that was! Kate, I think we are pretty similar (ha, I have determined that just from reading your blog!), and I also have the thought “I want to be like Erica.” I always seem to have 1 or 2 people in my life that have such a composed yet crazy life tale and way of looking at the world. And they are the most inspirational! Stories like this put it all into perspective. I have a big move coming up and lots of changes happening before mid-August. So, my brain forgets to think about the big picture. All it wants to do is think logistics. Thanks Kate and Erica for this message about living an open life, and happy bday Erica :)

  15. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Hi! Thanks for reading! And I’m not at all surprised to learn that I’m not the only one having that thought about Erica :-)

  16. Ginger responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    I love this :) I turned 30 last August and it’s been a bit of a struggle honestly. I feel like at this point I should be so much further ahead than I am, while at the same time trying to move past the identity of being the young one to have reached this level in my career. It’s odd to let that go.

  17. Janet T responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Erica, you see life as an adventure so your age will never matter, you will always be young at heart.

  18. Skeeto responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    I consider Erica a friend. Thanks for sharing your insights! Beautifully written. SV

  19. Patricia responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    I will be halfway to 94 tomorrow, and Erica is correct…friends are everywhere…even the wrong decisions are the right ones…and live the best part of your life right now…and then every part will be the best part!!
    and if you are still trying to do the math, I will be 47 lol

    My birthday request was my friends and family get together and do 47 Random Acts of Kindness

  20. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    I love that birthday request!

  21. Patricia responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    There have been some great R.A.K. in my name..one friend mowed her neighbours lawn, the neighbour just had a baby, one friend took a hungry homeless guy to a all you can eat restaurant and fed him…one of my sisters ( I have 4) babysat her neighbour’s kids overnight ( there are 6 kids lol)
    My Monday Morning coffee group collected bottles and canned goods for my favorite charity!!
    We are going to a local park tomorrow evening and giving out Rootbeer floats to whomever comes to the park…it should be fun!!

  22. viviane responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    kate, i having been meaning to write you to let you know how much i appreciate the candor and the grace of your posts. a wholesome and healing experience for me to read about how you live so authentically. I feel the same about your friends erica’s post. thank you so much.

  23. Kate responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Thank you for telling me! I’m flattered.

  24. erica responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    To everyone:

    Thank you, so much, for your sweet responses, and your kind words, and for sharing your feelings about growing up. Today I saw Lake Erie, and it looked like the ocean, but not. Thirty has been wonderful, so far. I know things will just keep getting better.

    So much love.

  25. Mallory responded on 20 Jun 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    this was amazing. if you ever publish anything, i will probably be the first person in line to buy it. amazing.

  26. Sathy responded on 21 Jun 2012 at 7:16 am #

    I’ve read your blog for more than a year now but haven’t left a comment before. First, I just wanted to say that I love your blog, and I think you’re amazing. I wanted to leave a comment for Erica because I just turned 30 two months ago as well, and I loved this post and wish I had such rich experiences to share. I’ve lived in India all my life and haven’t really lived in more than 3 cities. But, my favourite line was “I learned that love can be larger than I ever thought, even though I always thought it was huge.” I actually wanted to send her an email and ask her how she found that love because it’s eluded me in the last ten years. I’ve fallen in love only once in ten years. For the longest time, I kept thinking it was because of me. Because there was something wrong with me. But, the closer I got to 30, the more I began to realise how it wasn’t my fault, and I was meeting the wrong people. Anyway, Erica, just wanted to say, Thank you. Your post has convinced me that it really isn’t me.

  27. erica responded on 21 Jun 2012 at 9:16 am #

    shameless plug, for folks who want to read more by me: http://www.masters-review.com/buy

    I’m in this journal, but so are nine other writers whose work is beautiful and brilliant. I’m honored to be among them.

  28. Danielle responded on 23 Jun 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    This came at the perfect time. Recently, I’ve been questioning if I’m even an adult and if I can even accomplish what it takes to be an adult. I loved this… I feel much less anxious about life right now. Thank you for your words… it was an experience!

  29. Debra responded on 24 Jun 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Dearest Erica. I’m 58…my daughter will turn 30 next year. In all this time I find I’m still learning what you have already. I enjoyed the read and wish you all the friends and blessings this life will bring you! You deserve it :)

  30. Eat the Damn Cake » deciding to trust other women again responded on 26 Nov 2012 at 11:01 am #

    [...] She’s busy, in a writing program down south. I’m busy, here in NYC. We never really got the chance to get really close, but I’ve always liked her. [...]