Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m About to Turn 30 And I’m Freaking Out”

I’ve been reading your column and site since about 2010 — so basically all my 20s — and now I need some advice. I just turned 29 and I am having a bit of an existential crisis about turning 30 next year. Logically, I know 30 is just another year but I don’t feel it. I think some of my anxiety stems from how all of my life I’ve compared myself to others. For example, I can’t help but think about how my sister met her husband at 27 and got married at 31, and my mom met my dad at about 29 and got married at 31. (Even you met Drew just before you turned 30.). My mom has always encouraged us to go at our own pace and has never pressured us to be in a relationship or get married or have kids (almost the opposite), but I can’t help thinking that people tend to marry whomever they’re dating in their late 20s,and, since my boyfriend and I aren’t there yet, it freaks me out.

We’ve been dating for a year and I cherish him. He treats me amazingly. He supports me. He makes me laugh. He’s not perfect, but he’s special. I’m starting to feel though that he’s not my forever person although I can’t come up with a precise reason. I wish I could. The more time I spend with him the more I love him, but I don’t know if my feelings will catch up to his.

I’m not staying with him because I’m afraid of being single or because of timelines or because he’s good “on paper” since I’ve read enough of your site to know that that would be a bad idea. We have a lot of fun together and we still learn about each other every day. But I don’t want to prevent him from meeting someone who is just crazy about him, which I can’t say I am (but I don’t know if I ever have been).

I guess I’m just nervous about turning 30. Heck, I’d almost rather skip to 32. Otherwise, I have great friend and family support systems and work is fine.

Any advice would be appreciated. I’m ready to make 29 an awesome year. Thanks. — Scared of Turning 30

Good news: there’s an astrological name (or an explanation, anyway) for the existential crisis you’re feeling: it’s called a Saturn Return, and it happens roughly every 29.5 years in our lives (and can begin every 27 years and last two to three years). Think of it as a cosmic rite of passage: “you will come face to face with your own blocks and be forced to push through them.” Even if you don’t believe in astrology, read up on Saturn Return anyway, and I guarantee you will nod your head and think, “Oh yeah, that’s how I’ve been feeling!” I know this because this is the response I’ve gotten from many people before you who read up on Saturn Return at my urging after they, too, have expressed concern about the states of their lives in the year or two leading to their 30th birthdays.

Do you know when I first heard about Saturn Return? Right around my 29th birthday. I’d been emailing with a friend about this existential crisis I was suddenly feeling — how it was different than the quarter-life crisis I felt five years earlier which felt more like an overall identity crisis following college when I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with myself… or even who I was. At 29, I had a much clearer idea of who I was and what I wanted — I just wasn’t anywhere close to achieving what I wanted and I didn’t know how to go about it. My friend sent a four-page attachment in an email all about the Saturn Return, and so much of what I read in that article rang true for me.

I decided to embrace the challenge. What choice did I have anyway? I would remain open to opportunities that presented themselves to me and would continue reflecting on my goals, fostering meaningful relationships in my life, and practicing positive visualization. The key here was reflecting on MY desires and MY goals — not what I thought other people wanted for me or what I thought society was telling me I should want.

It happened that what I really wanted more than anything was someone to build a life with. There were other things I wanted, too — a career that utilized some of my talents and aligned with my values (like the value of helping others, building community, and female empowerment); a home where I could put down roots; children, eventually; and financial comfort. But I truly felt that a partnership — someone to share my life with — was a top priority and that everything else would fall into place around that, and so that’s where I focused my intentions and visualization.

What you want most may be different from what I wanted at 29 and that’s ok! It’s super important to not only know what you want but also to honor your own goals and desires and to accept — and even embrace — the idea that other people’s trajectories are going to look different from yours in part because their goals and desires are different. (Of course, people’s trajectories will also look different because of: luck; timing; hard work; the presence or absence of certain privileges; and individual talents and gifts, to name a few variables). It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, but given how different our goals are, the respective opportunities we’re given and roadblocks we face, and what a limited view and skewed perspective we have seeing filtered lives presented on social media, we do ourselves a great disservice when we fixate on these mostly unfair comparisons.

I met Drew four months before my 30th birthday, and we were married three years later. During those three years, I had to navigate a long distance relationship, uprooting my life and moving away from my friends, adjusting to sharing a home with Drew, seeking a job in a new city at the height of the recession when I had next to zero connections and very little work experience in my desired field, and building a new network of friends and support. It’s not like meeting the guy I would eventually marry and build a life with — the thing I desired above all else — suddenly solved my existential crisis and made life easy. It made things more complicated. I was immediately faced with difficult, high-stake decisions that I felt — and probably rightfully so — would affect the rest of my life in major ways. But I remained open, I pushed through the fear, I continued focusing on my goals, and I took the steps I thought were most necessary in helping me meet my goals in the most timely manner.

You have to do the same.

Your trajectory won’t look exactly like mine. Or your mother’s or your sister’s or any of your friends’ trajectories. There will be some commonalities, but your life — the combination of your goals, your desires, your strengths and weaknesses, your limitations and your privileges, the foundation you’ve built and that was built for you by the people who guided you through your childhood and adolescence — is uniquely yours, and no one else’s can compare. Think about what it is you really want in the next few years. What is a top priority for you? Focus on that. Visualize a best-case scenario. Let go of what is standing in your way of reaching your goals. Is there a way your network of friends and family can support you on this path? Let them know how. Ask how you can do the same (because I promise, if you have friends the same age, they are likely experiencing their own Saturn Return-like existential crisis).

I know it’s tempting to want to “skip ahead” to 32; however, not only is that impossible, but also you would miss out on what I’m sure will be some enriching experiences that will potentially shape your life for years to come. That’s not to say it will be easy, but if you embrace the challenges and opportunities and decisions that lie ahead, and push through the fear you might feel, you will be rewarded.

Related: An Ode to My 30s On the Eve of My 40th Birthday and 30 Things That Will (Probably) Happen in Your 30s.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

20 comments… add one
  • avatar

    JD August 31, 2018, 9:33 am

    I felt this exact way at your age and I had been with my boyfriend for almost 10 years. I also felt like maybe I wasn’t crazy about him. Now at 35 I am married to a person who I am crazy about and who is crazy about me. It’s totally common to feel this way but there is no right age to find the right person and marrying too young often leads to failed relationships because you change so much in those years. It sounds like maybe you should leave the relationship so you can find that right person, especially if you want kids, just because there is some timeline to that. I know to some extent I do wish I had left sooner so I wouldn’t be dealing with more of a rushed timeline now to get pregnant.

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  • avatar

    JD August 31, 2018, 9:56 am

    Oh and since I am today now 36, if anyone asks I’m 29.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse August 31, 2018, 10:24 am

      Happy Birthday, JD.

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      • avatar

        JD August 31, 2018, 10:25 am

        Thanks! Mimosa in hand!

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  • avatar

    anonymousse August 31, 2018, 10:23 am

    If you are starting to feel like he’s not your person, than I think you should consider breaking up. Meditate on it a bit.

    The comparison thing is normal, common even, but I think still can lead to unhealthy behavior, especially with all of the instagram/influencer propaganda out there. Be mindful of that. The only person you need to please in your life (right now) is yourself. If asked, I would hope your loved ones and family would say they just want you to be happy. Whatever that looks like.

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  • avatar

    CCL August 31, 2018, 10:26 am

    29 was a struggle for me too. I was also comparing myself to others who seemed to have it all figured out and I knew what I wanted, but how to get there I had no idea. I think also society puts pressure on you – I wasn’t married, didn’t have children or even own a home – I felt like I was behind so many others. Fast forward to now – I am 43, own my own home (by myself), am not married (never been), am child-free (never felt that instinct to want children of my own), have a great boyfriend who has a 9yr old (he’s the best!), plus 3 cats. haha! Honestly, I don’t care anymore, but all that bothered me at 29. When I rolled into 30 those questions dissolved and I took the pressure off and it’s a lot more freeing. You’ll feel that too, won’t be overnight but you will. 🙂

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  • Copa

    Copa August 31, 2018, 10:35 am

    Hm. I dunno. From what you wrote, the feeling you have that your boyfriend isn’t the right person for you to marry and settle down with seems to be your gut talking to you. I say trust it. Just because there’s nothing inherently wrong with him doesn’t mean he’s the right forever fit. And that’s okay if he’s not. I personally know quite a few people who ended relationships in their late 20s for that exact reason. (It may be worth mentioning that my friends are all quite educated and live in major cities, and both of those factors tend to lend themselves to waiting until your 30s to settle down.)

    I’m only a couple years older than you, LW. I had an LTR end at 28. It was very difficult (there was cheating involved) but wish I’d spent less time worrying about timelines. It’s been a few years since that happened and my life is pretty great. I moved to a great new city not long after that break-up, and once I finally stopped wallowing and worrying, I started putting effort into making my life what I want it to be. After some job-hopping, I have a great job with a great company and finally feel professionally successful. I got a dog. I’ve made new friends. I volunteer for causes I care about. I joined a gym where I learned that I am very strong for such a small person. I’ve dated some guys who were great but not the right fit for me long-term, and have dated guys who felt that way about ME. And all of this ultimately led me to the realization that yeah, I’d rather take my time and find the right person. (This is 100x more true now that I have a bunch of friends divorcing because they married that guy who was a great fit for them in their 20s, but not for forever.)

    Anyway, I know how hard it can be not to compare yourself to others who are on a more “ideal” timeline — I still struggle with it sometimes. All this to say, I’ve found it’s helpful to focus only on what I can control and do my best to forget the rest. I can’t control when or if I’ll meet the right guy, for example, but I can make sure I keep an open mind and put myself out there.

    Also, not to scare you, but I was cool as a cucumber rolling into my 30s. It was 31 that made me freak out a bit.

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  • avatar

    sarahbelle August 31, 2018, 10:52 am

    I had my meltdown at 31, after breaking up with the live in boyfriend who I knew wasn’t the one but I was going to make him the one because I was over 30. I thank God and him that he saw what I was doing and did not want marriage and babies at that time. I was 36 when I met my now husband and we waited 2 years to get married and then I melted down again because I really thought 38 was too old to start a family. While it hasn’t been easy, and I kick myself sometimes for being so independent in my 20’s and so vigilant with bc I wouldn’t have been able to be as good of a mom as I am now with out the experiences I gained before this. Some of my friends have kids in high school and they are planning the trips I took in my 20’s and 30’s in their 40’s, and I don’t regret that I went abroad without the fear of ISIS, sunbathed naked in France before my boobs needed the lift of my bra, had the energy to sightsee all day and still have fun at night and the stomach to drink and eat my way through it all. I could not have done that if I had got married at 22 and kids soon after. I thought I could have it all when I was 20, but now I know I can have what I can take on but there are only 24 hours in a day. I can still squat on the floor and chase my 2 year old but my knees make noises and we both want to go to bed at 9:30. I can afford to take my kid to Disney every year (something my parents voiced as a regret of having kids before they were ready), but I need a nanny to watch my kid while I work (my mom was a SAHM and I have guilt over that), I am the oldest mommy in the class (this hurts), but having a 2 year old that I run after keeps me in close to as good of shape as the 25 year olds (let me have this). Its perspective let life happen it usually works out for what is best for you it won’t be what is best for someone else. One slight regret I wish I had thought about freezing my eggs, especially if you want more than 1 kid the closer you get to 35.

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    • kmtthat

      kmtthat August 31, 2018, 11:35 am

      So, I am turning 34 this year and am considering freezing my eggs (not yet engaged but may be soon, bf would like kids starting in 3 years). Debating doing it but more and more thinking it’s worth it.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 31, 2018, 10:56 am

    I didn’t care much about 30. I care more about 32 because I feel like each year in my 30s is going very fast and I’m enjoying my life and I feel like I’m going to be 80 the next time I turn around and then die. Anyway, I think the 30 thing is unrelated except that it’s heightening your anxiety. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. Good, if it makes you think harder about something you’d ignore otherwise. Bad, if it creates anxieties that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

    No matter your age, I think a year is a good time to talk with someone about what you’re both looking for in the future. Does he want to get married? Does he see you as that person? When does he want to get married?

    Depending on how ready you are to talk about your feelings (and for the potential fallout), then you may want to start with more generic questions before getting into questions about what he sees happening with YOU.

    I think you’re also taking on too much of the decision making here. It’s not just a burden on you, but it’s also unfair. You don’t really get to decide for him if he should be with someone who currently thinks he is a forever person or not. He should be able to make that decision himself, and I think you need to work toward getting your feelings organized so that you can let him in on it.

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  • avatar

    TN August 31, 2018, 11:21 am

    So what if you aren’t married at the same time? My mom was married at 22; I was 35 when I got married (after dating and being engaged for 18 months, during which time I moved from the east coast to the Intermountain West; I wouldn’t have followed Wendy’s or anyone else’s advice about whatever random number of things everyone’s recommending I do, because I was a damn adult and knew my own mind, but perhaps it’s more relevant if you’re a lot younger or less sure of yourself).

    Existential crises seem to come about only when comparing yourself to someone else. It can, in fact, be Just That Easy to not do that.

    Then again, I have never understood any kind of crises that come about in terms of getting older or freaking out about not “being in the right place” because other people were. One day I was 29, the next 30. Ditto in turning 40.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros August 31, 2018, 12:46 pm

      I don’t think listening to advice is an age thing. Some people are just open to hearing other people opinions and suggestions.

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      • avatar

        TN August 31, 2018, 2:44 pm

        Yes, obviously; my response wasn’t meant to be a “don’t ever listen to advice” thing, more of a, anything anyone tells you may or may not help, so choose what works for you, and don’t pay too much attention to all comparisons out there mindset, because doing so often just makes you feel like you’re doing it wrong if your life doesn’t look like someone else’s.

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  • avatar

    Jenny August 31, 2018, 11:55 am

    when I was almost 30 I saw 13 going on 30 and had a meltdown afterwards because the movie made me realize how much much better life was at 30 than at 13

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  • avatar

    [email protected] August 31, 2018, 12:10 pm

    My mom was 18 when she got married.
    She got married a second time when she was 25.
    At 41, the third time was the charm; they’ve been together 25 years this November.

    Meanwhile, when I was 29, I was working at a crappy retail job, living with my father because I couldn’t afford to do otherwise, and my only experience with “love” was the manipulation and gaslighting of FWB who kept pretending he wanted more (knowing I did, and wanting to keep me around), but still preferred to date pretty much every other woman who wasn’t me. In short, it’s pretty safe to say I wasn’t meeting any life goals.

    Now, at 36, I have a decent (and fulfilling) job at a non-profit and happily living with my boyfriend of 4 years in a loving, stable and drama-free relationship. While we’re not married, there’s no rush to be, because timelines don’t matter. When it’s time for us, it’ll be time. No one else will dictate our schedule. Meanwhile, the 29 year old version of me would’ve never believed she could ever be as content and fulfilled as she is today.

    TL: DR- Don’t worry about timelines; you do you. You’ll be amazed at how much things can change. And you’ll know what’s right when you get there.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse August 31, 2018, 12:39 pm

    I have to say it really does feel like the FF button got pushed on my life when I hit 30.

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    • avatar

      Marie September 4, 2018, 10:56 am

      Yes! Same here. The years are flying by…

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny August 31, 2018, 3:01 pm

    I am about a month out from turning 34. And when I was around 27 or 28, I also went through an existential crisis myself! AND a friend of mine told me about Saturn Return, and I too read up on it and totally related! I was seriously not happy and frustrated with my life. I was also really really single and frustrated about that too. I will say, I met a guy at 28.5 and dated him for a year. I am SO glad I didn’t stick with him as we were really not a match for the long term. And when I was 29 I moved, got a therapist, and started trying to sort through my uneasiness about my life and made some changes that ultimately benefitted myself.

    All of this is to say, I am glad I took that time to give myself space. To grow, to do other things, to nurture myself. And yeah, I was single. I really hate how people feel all sorts of pressure to settle at 30. My mom got married at 27 in 1974 and SHE felt like she was an old maid. Don’t pressure yourself. If you don’t think this guy is the one for you, let him go, and don’t waste more of your time or energy on what isn’t right for you.

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  • Lucidity

    Lucidity August 31, 2018, 3:10 pm

    The prospect of turning 30 was difficult for me because it was the first time I felt confronted with ageing. Our society in general, and men specifically, place a lot of value on women’s youth, and I was worried about my sex appeal declining. Once I actually turned 30, though, I realized I don’t care what the kind of men who only want to date women in their twenties think of me. I love my thirties – with every passing year I feel more confident, wiser, and more like myself. I feel like I’m growing into my body, embracing it as it is, and in doing so, becoming more attractive, not less. I care less and less what people think of me, and that makes me happier and happier. I started finding grey hairs and I’m proud of every one, because they’re a reminder of the tough times I’ve been through. I think the key to getting past the anxiety about turning 30 is embracing ageing, not trying to turn back the clock.

    I found that as I grew up, my romantic relationships became less intense. The crazy, hormonally-charged dramas of my teens and twenties gave way to comfortable, longer-lasting loves. If your gut is telling you this isn’t the right man for you, then listen, but if you’re wondering if he’s not “The One” because you don’t constantly feel like a character in a romance movie, think things over carefully. There are a lot of practical, passionless things to consider about a marriage partner (such as how compatible you are financially and in terms of your life goals), and a lot of practical, passionless things happen in a marriage (like chores, losses, illnesses). You want to be married to someone who respects you, supports you and whom you enjoy spending time with – all things you say about your boyfriend. You also say your love for him grows with each passing day. That’s not nothing. If I were you, I’d think long and hard about whether you truly want someone else, or if it’s just this whole turning 30 crisis and your habit of comparing what you have/where you are unfavourable to others that’s steering your thoughts right now.

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    • avatar

      _s_ September 4, 2018, 12:51 pm

      @Lucidity has some great points. The best part of my 30s was growing into/learning about myself, learning to care less about things that aren’t worth caring about, and becoming the kind of person who can find the will and the way to make changes when needed (like leaving jobs, locations in which I was unhappy, or saying “no”/moving on from commitments that weren’t making me happy). I’m realizing that trading youth for wisdom is not so bad (don’t get me wrong, people in their 30s are still young, though I think a lot of them don’t realize it.) At 40 I’m less anxious and more in touch with myself than ever, and hoping to continue that trend as I age.

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