In 1997, Glamour magazine published its now-well-loved list of Thirty Things Every Woman Should Have & Should Know By The Time She’s Thirty. As you might imagine, it’s chock full of materialism, sexism, stereotypes, beauty myths, and other eye-roll-worthy tidbits. This year, the entire list was expanded into a book (Maya Angelou: “Every woman should have a good cashmere sweater by the time she’s 30.”), and everyone got into the love it/shove it game with Glamour’s ideas.
It was a timely list when I stumbled upon it, and here, 30 days until my 30th birthday, I’m looking to tackle items on the list every week until I blow out the candles on my cake. I know I can only speak from my experiences — everybody has a vastly different experience of their first 30 years! — but I’m hoping that I can lend a little bit of reality and a dash of humor to the list. I’m quite looking forward to 30 — and not because of anything listed 15 years ago. Here we go!
By 30, you should have …
- One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you’ve come.
Barf! First of all, the obvious: we’re not all dating boyfriends. Duh. Some of us have girlfriends. Some of us have boyfriends and girlfriends. Some of us eschew gender in our identity and the people we love.
Let’s be generous and push their narrow vocabulary aside: what’s at the heart of this statement? One partner who you can imagine going back to, and one who reminds you of how far you’ve come.
I don’t think anyone would argue that people spend a lot of their twenties banging up against other human beings in a quest for intimacy, sex, relationships, identity, happiness, drama, satisfaction, and, of course, love. Love, sex & dating take up an ENORMOUS proportion of our society’s culture. But really, what do these two things imply? That you still romanticize one past relationship in some weird Hollywood way, and possess one terrible roller coaster of a disaster that makes you cringe every time you think about it? What’s helpful about that?
Truth be told, I could tick the box off on both of these items (the former lives in Barcelona; the later involved a lot of drinking), but these aren’t the relationships I wanna carry into the next decade of life. When it comes to love & sex in your twenties, I feel more like this: accept where you’ve been, and know what you want.
I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for the heartaches I’ve participated in. But you know what? They make my heart shaped like my heart. It may be stating the obvious, but when it comes to love in my 30s, I want more of what I want, and less of what I convinced myself was good enough.
2. A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family.
Oh, material possessions, blah blah blah. This implies that you’re a) living in an income bracket where you shop at CB2 and b) that your family owned nice furniture and could afford to pass it onto you. Having been on the east coast my whole life, I do feel lucky that all seven (yes, seven) apartments I’ve had in New York have had some furniture donated by my folks. My father even dumpstered a bright yellow bureau for me that I had for several years. Everything I own is a mash up of what’s been there before, what friends were getting rid of, and what my priorities are (a good bed, a big bookshelf, a big desk).
A better goal for thirty? Have a home that you like going home to. It took me years to realize that when I lacked shelves, my floor became littered with bags and stacks of boxes and books and magazines and things. So I put up some shelves. That made me happy. I rearranged my room so that the bookcase separates my bed from the world. It’s like having a reading/sleeping fort. It’s not a $850 walnut bedframe with awesome shelf space (if you’re getting rid of one of those, please let me know). But it’s my room, and I love it. Do something to make your room loveable, whether it’s moving the bureau into the closet, organizing all your books by color, or buying a cheap floor lamp from Ikea. (Floor lamps rule).
3. Something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour.
The employer of my dreams? The man of my dreams? Where the hell am I? Is this some scenario where a patron-of-the-arts or Abby Wambach or Harper Collins wants to see me in an hour? Are you Hugh Grant? Is this a rom-com?
And, wait — fairy god person and/or lady friend of my dreams is going to be concerned with what I’m wearing?
Listen. If anyone wants to see you in an hour in your thirties, go in whatever the hell you’re wearing, and make sure it’s worth the trip. The G train is a lot more reliable than it was when I moved here eleven years ago, but still, man. If you catch me in my PJs slouched at my writing desk singing Carly Rae Jepsen, drinking microwaved coffee and editing a book review, that’s what you’re gonna get.
I’ll be really, really honest and say that yes, on countless occassions I have called/texted/whined to friends about what I’m wearing and how I wished it was better. (Does this dress make me look pregnant? How stupid do I look in this hat?) I pledge, though, in my thirties, to give less of a shit what people think about what I’m wearing. Do I think that my outfit is awesome? Then it’s awesome.
4. A purse, a suitcase, and an umbrella you’re not ashamed to be seen carrying.
Groan. What are you ashamed to be carrying? Really? Use a duffel bag if you love a duffel bag. Use a cheap black umbrella with Duane Reade on the side if you lose them all the time. Use a purse or a tote bag or a knapsack or a wallet that you like, whether it’s cotton or designer or has fourteen pockets or needs to be laundered. Use whatever the hell you want to get around in this world — it’s good that you’re getting around!
Wait a minute. Youth ends at thirty? No way. Thirty is still young, as my friends who are older than me have been telling me for years. Sure, I think it’s a good and noble goal to turn thirty with respect for where you’ve been and curiousity about where you’re going. But I’m not kissing youth behind. I’m waving farewell to my twenties. I’m shouting hello to the future.
6. A past juicy enough that you’re looking forward to retelling it in your old age.
Old age! Old age like your thirties?! Pssshhht. I’ll agree to this: everyone should have some good stories from their twenties. But everyone will continue to live good stories in their thirties and beyond.
When I was in college, Dorothy Allison came to speak, and my professor was a friend of hers and said she would introduce me. When this happened, Dorothy Allison and my professor hugged, and within moments were sharing a hearty laugh about their past in New York. “Remember,” Dorothy Allison laughed, “when we got locked out of that apartment?” My professor threw her head back in a bark of a laugh, clasping Dorothy Allison’s arm. In this moment, I thought, I want this. Today, I have it. I’ll be turning thirty with a rich canon of friends and stories and adventures, so that if I were to bump into almost anyone from my past on the street, we could share a similar moment, our heads back and laughing.
Alright. This is practical, unavoidable advice. Maybe you won’t physically have some money set aside when you turn thirty (because it’s all been funneled into your student loan debt for the last eight years). But I think it’s a fine time to start at least thinking financially about the future. Would it kill any of us to learn what a 401K is? How many people have a real savings account? Long-term planning, while frightening, can also rule. Look into affordable housing lotteries. Sign up for a financial planning mailing list. I don’t think turning thirty means you need to have all your money ducks in a row, but at least be aware of those ducks, y’know?
8. An email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account — all of which nobody has access to but you.
Girl, who is reading your e-mail?! Hell, who has a landline? I think this one is very 1997, and at its core, I guess, it just means: be independent. I don’t know how marriages and these things work (ha!), but being able to stand on your own I think is pretty important. I mean, my best friend has my password to OkCupid so she can look at my crushes when we’re on the phone, but otherwise? It’s all mine.
Next week: power tools, skin care, friends, antiquated definitions of success, and What Every Woman Should Know