Getting older wasn’t always scary for me. In fact, I remember when it was a thrill, when it made me feel so good. I was excited when I was 9 going on 10 – it was awesome to be moving into the two-digit ages. I was overjoyed when I was 15 going on 16 – I guess I was looking forward to being called Sweet Sixteen. I was thrilled when I was 17 going on 18 – I was finally old enough to be called an adult and I remember feeling very important and adult-like on the day. Turning 21 was another joyful moment. Can’t remember why anymore except that it meant I had crossed the twenty year mark.
Anyway, at 21, I told myself I’d get married at 24, never mind that I had just broken up with my university boyfriend and didn’t have any guys on the horizon. But 24 was when my mother got married and so I was going to do the same. When 24 was staring me in the face, and I was just coming out of a failed relationship and entering into another one, I moved the goal post – I would get married at 26. It’s not a bad age to be married at. Granted it’s 2 years older than my mum was when she got married, but it’s still an acceptable age. At least, that’s what I told myself.
At 26, I was still in that relationship, fighting to be accepted by his family and so I moved the goal post once again. I figured it shouldn’t take more than two years for us to work through the difficulties, so come my 28th birthday, I’d either be married or close to it (talk about amateurish prophesying). I admit it was at this time that getting older started to really scare me. Deep down, I was afraid of moving the goal post again.
By age 27, I was painfully aware that people had started to look at me with questioning eyes – “when are you getting married?” their looks would ask. Sometimes, I would smile in answer “None of your business” and other times I’d just shrug my shoulders meaning “I don’t know”. Then I started to count down to age 28. And Lord, was it nerve wracking. The situation with my boyfriend and his family hadn’t gotten any better and it didn’t look like there would be any improvement soon. Then 28 came. And went. And I still wasn’t getting married. So I gave up on goal posts. There weren’t any goals to score anyway. At least, not the marriage kind.
And so, as the years have gone by, I have watched with trepidation, constantly thinking about the fact that in another few months, I would complete another year, and start a new one. The days before my birthday are often gloomy, as I sit and take stock of what I’ve done with my life in the year just past. I spend hours brooding and thinking all kinds of dark thoughts. Sometimes, I end up crying even, when I think of time wasted especially on relationships that didn’t go anywhere. I get cranky when I compare myself with my peers – bear in mind all my friends are married and have children now. I’m the last woman standing, literally.
When I turned 30, I decided to celebrate. I decided I wasn’t going to sit down and brood and feel bad about myself and get depressed. I was 30 and thriving. I even toyed with the idea of making myself a t-shirt for the day. Changed my mind about it though. Anyway, I had a good time. I invited my work colleagues and a few friends to dinner then we went dancing for the rest of the night. And I danced away my troubles. Or so I thought. Right after I slept the hangover away, the usual birthday blues caught up with me again. I was 30 and unmarried. 30 with no boyfriend and no suitors to talk about. 30 and watching much younger people get engaged and married all around me. All the partying hadn’t wiped away my feelings of inadequacy, of loneliness.
And so I turned a year older again earlier this week. This year wasn’t any different from the others. From the beginning of the year, the thought had never strayed far from my mind just how old I was going to be. A month to my birthday, I could think of nothing else but the fact that I was getting older yet again. A week before, I started to get cranky as I thought about all the things I had hoped to have accomplished in my life at this time which I haven’t. Three days before my birthday, I broke down. I was depressed, beating on myself for all the wrong decisions I’ve made and the unattained hopes and aspirations that still exist in my head, though fading with each year that passes without them being fulfilled. I cried for the woman that I was, for the one that I am now and for the one I wanted to be.
But then, something happened that made everything different. I read one of those BBM display pictures with an inspirational quote – said something like “I may not be where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be” – I forget the actual words. And it hit me that I had been measuring the progress of my life with the wrong things. I had been assessing progress on the basis of the things I did not have and I had completely forgotten the things that I did (do) have. I had been so fixated on getting married and having kids and living up to what I think people’s expectations of me are, that I had forgotten to be thankful for my job, for my life, for the fact that I have all that I need and can provide for myself. I had forgotten to be thankful for my independence, for being able to have enough that I can give from it, for health, for my family and for my close friends. I had forgotten that I have a roof over my head and I do not worry about where my rent will come from or where my next meal will come from.
I forgot that every day that I wake up and live is a blessing and the fact that I get back home safe and in one piece every day is simply a miracle. I had forgotten that I can get up and go wherever I want at the drop of a hat. I had forgotten that in my singleness, I am free and without burden. I had ignored the fact that every day, I have a reason to laugh and that I even have the ability to laugh. And in thinking about all these things, I realized how easy it is for us to take for granted those seemingly little things that make a world of difference. I didn’t even realize how unhappy I had been making myself by focusing on the things that I didn’t have. And I’m not going to pretend and tell you that I’ve suddenly stopped thinking about those things. But I certainly have started thinking more about the things that I have that make me happy.
And so, this year, I made a conscious effort to stop moping around and dwelling on the fact that I wasn’t going to get any gifts, or any grand deliveries of flowers or chocolates or a cake. I decided not to think about the fact that I would most likely not get a card or a hug and kiss from a significant other. I figured that my being happy on my birthday was really up to me. So I bought me a cake! And had it delivered to my work place. I put on a nice shirt with my name on it (yes, I made one this time) and wore one of my biggest smiles. And I soaked up all the love I got from family, friends and colleagues. And there was a lot! I was overwhelmed. And I was happy. And it lasted the whole day. And I’m still feeling very happy. And what’s more, I have a good feeling about this new year.
I may not be where I want to be, but I certainly am not where I used to be. I’m a work in progress…