The age 35 feels genuinely secure – like a real milestone
April 6, 2023 9:03 am(Updated 9:04 am)
The milestone birthdays we celebrate after 18 and 21 fall on every new decade: 30, 40, 50, 60 and so on. But I turn 35 this week and it feels more significant than any age I have been so far.
While discussing birthday plans, a friend pointed out that there might be good reason for this. “Did you know that, on average, the cells in your body are replaced every seven years?” she explained. “That means you were physically completely changed at 21, 28 and you will be again at 35.”
Benjamin Franklin said it best: nothing is certain in life apart from death and taxes.
We still try everything in our power to prolong youth: denial, diets, Botox. But there is so much to recommend about getting older and, at 35, that’s never been truer for me.
Reflecting on that new information, I remembered how uncertain my life felt at 28. How I had an uneasy sense that life was slipping through my fingers, that there was no time. How scarce opportunities seemed.
I rushed through big decisions in a bid to find solid ground and then, in my early 30s, every single one of those choices was undone – I was made redundant, my long-term eight-year relationship ended and the things I wanted for myself shifted.
Turning 30, supposedly a landmark birthday, was a seasick attempt to stay still when everything else around me kept moving. The age 35 feels genuinely secure – like a real milestone.
There are good reasons for this. Young adult women are now in the workforce in greater numbers than ever before in history. As one of them, I have a rewarding career which was not so easily accessible to the women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generations.
As a result, I also have disposable income which I never imagined I could have. This makes me what has rather unattractively been termed a SINK (single income, no kids) and means I have some freedom: to travel, to choose how I live.
In all of the conversations I have about ageing with friends which discuss the things we “should” be doing, the positive nuances of entering mid-thirties are drowned out. Thirty five is an age I had previously feared. Friends tell me its approach is causing them to have an “existential crisis”.
I’ll credit this to three things: first; the overwhelming ageism women still face in Western society, second; episode one, season four of Sex and the City in which Carrie turns 35 and nobody shows up to her birthday dinner, and third; the careless abandon with which strangers tell women that their fertility “falls off a cliff” at 35 (this statistic is actually based on an average, which is unhelpful, because everyone is different).
By 35 I thought I’d probably be married (the average age that people enter their first marriages in Britain is 31), have children (the average age of first-time mothers is 30.9) and a fridge that is always fully stocked. I thought I would love early mornings and have mastered the art of forgiveness. Like a juice cleanse for the soul, I thought that 35 would be personally transformative. I thought it would turn me into “an adult” in all the above ways.
It hasn’t. But I haven’t fallen off that proverbial cliff into a barren abyss of irrelevance either. Something different and, perhaps, better has happened – I have a full life and, crucially, a sense of self. There may be good reasons for this too: studies show we reach our brains are at their best at the age of 35.
At 30, the labour involved in every agonised over choice was exhausting. I felt guilty often. I couldn’t always tell the people close to me what I wanted or needed. Now, at 35, I know instinctively what is right and wrong, whether that’s in my career or my personal life. I agonise less and feel calm almost all of the time, which is pretty much all anyone can ever hope for.
We focus so much on the end of our teens and then the start of each new decade after that but, just as our cells turn over, there ought to be space to mark the changes to us that happen outside of that framework.
Time is ticking, sure. But at 35 I have something I did not have at 28 or 30. It is the sense that there is time, not that it is lacking, and this is only because significant amounts of time have passed. Thirty-five years, 420 months and 12,784 days, to be precise.
That was time I had to make mistakes. Time to reassess. Time to change course.
At 35, I am at peace with myself. Every morning I look at myself in the mirror. My face and my body are changing in the ways I worried they would – lines here, sagging there. And, actually, I don’t mind it. I don’t mind myself.
We fear ageing but only ageing, living through time, brings with it the sense that everything will be OK because, even when it’s not, you know you will find a way through. You’ve done it before.