It was August in San Francisco. The morning fog was so thick I wanted to spread it on my toast. I also wanted its gray shroud to smother the fact that my birthday was approaching and another year would be added to my social media profiles.
“Heidi,” a friend told me the night before over copious amounts of Cabernet. “Age is your biggest mile marker.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“How you are doing. What you have achieved. I dunno. You’re 36. What would Sheryl Sandberg say about how you are living your life?”
Sheryl Sandberg would tell me that I’ve had enough wine for my age and should go home to prepare for early meetings and woo businessmen with sober sophistication.
I, however, ordered another glass of wine. Sobriety wasn’t my thing – at any age.
Answering the mile marker question wasn’t easy. At my 10 year MBA reunion my lack of “accomplishments” only perplexed my past classmates. They were baffled that I hadn’t married “Picket Fence Peter” and risen up in a company with a good ESPP. “We just don’t understand,” they said, looking me like I was some bizarre creature in a zoo. I felt like I had to sing for my (hors d’oeuvre catered) supper and regale them with tales of 25 year old surfers in Bali and provocative writing.
“Well my last blog post did well. So I have that going for me,” I answered, wondering if that was a meaty enough mile marker for 36.
“Um, you write about rearranging socks and running around naked with men in wolf headdresses at Burning Man.”
“Right.” Apparently it wasn’t.
“Your blog readers would say you are still living like you’re 26, not 36.”
But is that a good thing or a bad thing? What does living like you’re 36 even MEAN?
That night I dreamt I entered a new mammoth department store called “36”. Fluorescent lighting showcased three open floors with racks of age appropriate merchandise.
On the first floor you could buy career titles. ‘Director’, ‘Senior Lead,’ and ‘Founder’ were prominently displayed on the front tables. Anything with the word ‘Analyst’ in the title was relegated to the back on clearance racks, right by the cracked iphones. I walked up to the second floor, decorated with racks of loose fitting pants and dresses with hems that hit the knees.
“Where are the short Versace leather skirts?” I asked a clerk.
“You can’t buy them anymore,” said the clerk. That’s in our sister store “26” which you are no longer allowed to enter. Oh, and while you are on this level you may want to visit our salon and chop off that long crazy mane of yours into something more manageable.”
I took my blond unmanageable mane up to the third level and entered a forest of tall male mannequins in suits. “Eligible Men” said a sign. “VP title available at extra charge. Divorcees on special.”
“Are surfers and writers available here?” I asked. “Maybe at a discount?”
The clerk looked at me and shook her head, “We don’t sell those models here. They’re pretty outdated. Let’s find you something that’s more contemporary.”
I woke up in a panic, and it wasn’t just because my subconscious had blackballed my favorite types of people. Why should our age determine what we are to wear, achieve, love, and look like? And why do we react to society’s age mandates in reactive fear, thinking we need to keep up with them?
It was like age had its own sorority. I suddenly remembered my Aunt’s advice when I was thinking of rushing a “real” sorority in college.
“You wanna join some cult of AGD, XYZ? No. I don’t think so. Heidi. You are a GDI. God. Damn. Independent.”
I got my independent self out of bed to make myself a smoothie hoping it would cure my wine hangover and birthday confusion. As I blended, I thought about my dream and my family’s insistence that we all stay independant. Should I dedicate the next year of my life to creating a new set of rules for the 30s? Or just refuse to acknowledge that any exist at all? After all, sometimes I feel like I’ve lived enough life to be 90 and should just trot off to the nursing home now. Other times I feel like a child, still learning the basics. Actual age seems to be a figment of the imagination. I glanced at my glass on the table, filled with my greenish blueish hangover curing connection I affectionately dub “Herbal Goddess Pow Wow.” Would I say my smoothie glass was half empty or half full? In a flash, I realized that it didn’t matter. If it got low, I could just refill it.
Age, just like happiness, is a choice.
As 37 beckons, I have a choice.
Choice #1: I can become fearful of my age.
I can cower to society age expectations, rapidly marry, move to suburbia and get the late 30-something “mom” haircut.
Choice #2: I can resent my age.
I can lie about it on Tinder pretending to be 29, and dance on the tables with people that shop at the “26” department store.
Choice #3: I can brazenly just live my life as I want, refusing to even think about the shackles the mere notion of age puts on us.
The choice was obvious. I booked a ticket to Montana to celebrate my birthday in the land I was born. I’d see my family and go visit an ol’ Montana quarter horse I used to ride called Freedom. I couldn’t wait to throw my arms around his wild black mane neck, hop aboard his downy back (no saddle required), and softly whisper in his ear, “GO!” We’d gallop over the Big Timber hills as fast as we could, just like we used too, all those years ago, our untamed manes dancing in the wind.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” -Mark Twain