"Oh my god, I could never date someone who's 30! That's, like, a different DECADE!" my 25-year-old co-worker loudly squealed the other day after an early morning brainstorm session.
"Layla*, aren't you 25?" I asked, incredulous at the idea that my 25-year-old partner in work and crime could find a person MY AGE (or the age I will be, come May 1st) so cripplingly old and undateable that it's squeal-worthy.
I've never been obsessed with age. I've always felt that once you're legal, age is irrelevant. And I've always had a colorful smattering of friends spanning all across the age spectrum; some are a grown-up 20, and others are a reckless 66. Truth to be told, I don't really see much of a difference.
If you're cool and connected and enthusiastic and wildly eccentric -- I love you.
My mother had me at 38 -- not so unusual these days, but pretty damn unusual for the repressive '80s. However, my mum is one of the original London trailblazers, so she didn't really give a f*ck what people thought about her having children "later in life."
"Don't you dare even DREAM of getting married before 30, Zara. That's bloody insane. If you do that, I'm disowning you, and you're no longer my daughter. I didn't raise you to muck up your life getting married young, darling," my mother would purr in her velvety, sing-songy English accent.
Like a lot of creative people with ADHD and big dreams, I'm kind of a late bloomer anyway. I didn't do the "normal" life trajectory of high school, college, then job. I didn't even go to college. I moved west to Los Angeles at 17, alone, to be an actress (Shoot me. I'm A CLICHE.) and spent my 20s throwing sh*t against the wall trying to find something that stuck.
I really went for it with my acting career. I got endlessly rejected, occasionally got the part, cried, lost heaps of weight, gained heaps of weight, lived off pennies in a terrifying neighborhood in Hollywood. I traveled the country in a van working as a "beauty ambassador" for an organic cosmetics company with seven outspoken makeup artists for an entire year.
I was the salacious shot girl at a dimly lit downtown disco wearing a provocative dress who fed gross men shots of sex on the beach out of a plastic, oversized SYRINGE. (Eventually, my loud mouth and low tolerance for f*ckboys got me fired).
I battled an eating disorder, sexual trauma, manic depression, panic disorder, got diagnosed with OCD, went to therapy, left therapy, went back to therapy. I cried, broke down, embarrassed myself, embarrassed my parents, self-medicated, had my heartbroken (three times) and came out of the closet. All in less than 10 years.
I never worried about turning 30. I mean, what's the difference between being 25, 29 and 31? Isn't it all sort of lumped together?
Was I supposed to prepare for 30? I guess I didn't get the memo because I'm turning 30 in three months, and until recently, I haven't thought about it at all, except if I should have my birthday party in the Hamptons or the city.
I never thought "Oh sh*t, I better start worrying about finding a long-term partner and my lackluster eggs." I never worried that I might be getting "too old" to dance my heart out with beautiful drag queens and skinny gay boy twinks on Christopher Street.
Nothing crossed my mind until other people began to really react to the fact that I'm turning 30. As if a giant life shift will happen on my 30th birthday, and I will wake up in bed six months pregnant with zero desire to party.
"Oh, wow, 30, Zara! OMG, if I'm not married by 30, I'm going to FREAK!" my 22-year-old friend blurted to me after her second martini.
"I'm so worried about turning 26 -- that's, like, SO OLD!" I overhead a 25-year-old girl in the office shriek, her voice so loud and cutting that it penetrated through my Bose soundproof headphones.
"The big 3-0," my married 29-year-old "friend" smugly said to me one afternoon. She gazed at her glittery (basic) diamond ring and gave me a judgmental once-over. I began to feel very aware that my dress was perhaps a little sheer for daytime, as she whispered to me that she was wasn't drinking because she was "Shhhh pregnant."
Her perfectly calculated timing and snide look said it all: "Aren't you worried? You can't wear fishnets and day drink on a Sunday forever," her cold, soul-less eyes taunted.
I had a flashback to the seventh grade, when Max Steinberg* would quietly say "Slut. Slut. Slut." when I walked down the halls.
I had an inexplicable urge to cry. And as the girl who NEVER believed 30 was OLD, like EVER, all of a sudden, I was hit with this pressing, all-consuming fear that the party was over, that I didn't properly map out my 20s like a lady should, and I'm on the fast-track to loser town.
Am I where I should be at 29? I'm nowhere near married. My career is just NOW starting to take off. I mean, I finally found out what I LOVE to do (write and connect with my kittens)!
Yes, I want a gorgeous family of my very own, but I'm not ready to bear children, nor will I be for at LEAST five more years. I do hope to get married one day, but it's not remotely a priority. I still want to work crazy hours and drink with my fellow fabulous gays on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel until the break of dawn!
My fears only deepened when, a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an excerpt from BJ Novak's book "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories":
Being young was her thing, and she was the best at it. But every year, more and more girls came out of nowhere and tried to steal her thing. 'One of these days, I'm going to have to get a new thing,' she thought to herself -- but as quietly as she could, because she knew that if anyone caught her thinking this thought, her thing would be right over right then.
"That's me," I thought to myself, able to feel fear wrapping its unwanted arm around my waist like a pervy male producer who doesn't understand what consent is.
I am brilliant at being young. My entire identity is about being YOUNG.
I'm a natural born wild child. I thrive at 2 am. I hate Ann Taylor. My soul dies when I try to dress like a boring adult. I'm allergic to sweaters and ballet flats.
I have a visceral reaction, I swear to the higher power up above, that I will break out in full-blast body hives if I hear you say "adulting."
NO. To all of it. I want to gaze at my pink glitter iPhone case. I want to kiss beautiful women in bars. I want to wear shirts that say lewd sh*t like "le tits."
Who am I without my youthful style, my "immature" impulse to reveal personal things about my sex life to strangers, my relentless desire to travel and my delusional dreams of having amazing sex and love at the same time with the same person forever?
Is it time for me to retire all of those things, seek out my wife and start worrying about my fertility? Is it time to calm the f*ck down and lock someone in before the elasticity in my skin breaks the f*ck down?
I've felt so insecure and shaky in my identity during the past six months. It's like adolescence, but with bills.
It was after finally breaking down and lamenting how I was feeling "sooo lost" to my badass therapist that I realized how ridiculous this identity crisis actually is.
"Zara, all of that's total bullsh*t, and I don't even buy that you really feel that way," my fierce, icy blond therapist snipped back to me after listening to me bitch for a solid 14 minutes.
She's right, I thought to myself, stubbornly looking out the window, pouting my lips, refusing to let her know she was right (because I have youthful pride, bitches).
When did I become the girl who succumbed to societal pressures and agism? I've seen far too much in 29 years, both beautiful and grotesque, to let the opinions of sheltered fear-based people dictate my anxieties.
Maybe some girls are worried about getting "married" and "buying a home," but if I dig deep within myself, I'm not worried about those things. It's 2016. I'm turning 30, and honestly, I'm looking forward to it.
Doesn't 30 sound young and fresh and alive? And maybe the crazy experiences of my 20s will carry me into this brand spankin' new decade with a deeper wisdom and more fully realized sense of self than the girls who spent their 20s worrying about about their 30s. Maybe not. Who f*cking cares?
Because I'm so happy that in my 20s, I lived, baby. Oh boy, did I live. And I will continue to live.
*Name has been changed