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My 30th birthday is tomorrow, and in many ways, I do not feel much different than I did at 25. Stronger, maybe; more capable, and also more fragile. I know the simple comfort of tucking myself into bed at night, in my own little house. I know the flush of blood pounding in my ears as I strain, after a time when I could not strain. I know the depths and heights of solitary late-night creation when the floorboards creak and the furnace spurts on in the freezing cold. I know how easily life shatters; how joy and hope can grind to a halt and how sorrow floods everything like a choked-up engine, when all you can do is sit and wait for it to dissipate. I know what it is to experience what you once thought impossible. I know what it is to be repulsed by good intentions. I know more, and less, than I ever did. I am more, and less, than I ever was.

As a child, I thought several things would have happened by the time I turned 30. Naturally, I would have my own children. 30 was ancient and I would have been married for at least a few years, would have a home that was warm and inviting and probably littered with brain-building toys and stacks of books in every direction.

But of all things, this seems the most difficult to attain. To build the home I envisioned for myself at this age, you need the kind of love — the kind of partnered souls — that makes the stars seem brighter. And in real life, even in the best of circumstances, romance comes and goes; it is the most fickle and ornery of all loves in the world. I am happy to be single. I am sad to be single. C’est la vie. To grasp the hope of this too tightly is to become desperate, needy, prone to being with someone merely to avoid loneliness. Everything you cannot do if you want this truly, and not some shadow of it.

I’m not sure why, exactly, I thought marriage earlier than 30 was necessary, since my mom get married at 30, and my paternal grandmother got married older than that. Both had many children; my mom had five, my grandmother had four. In my grandmother’s case, I heard delightful stories from her single years: Her college days, working in fashion in New York, traveling to Europe, working in Paris. Perhaps this was part of why for most of my 20s I wanted to see the way things worked before I settled down and had a family; that, and the fact that I’d helped raise four younger siblings and knew I wanted a break from infants for awhile. If I was going to raise intelligent children I adored and could provide well for, all the more reason to wait.

In a more amusing vein, according to my younger self, I would gradually have gotten better-looking throughout my 20s, and I would hit my peak at 30. I’m pretty sure this was based on photos I saw of my mother, who seemed to follow this pattern. Funny or not, I suspect I’m better-looking now than in earlier years. I’m not the epitome of physical perfection, but heck, overall, I feel pretty good. Some days, for sure, I still feel like an acne-prone, flat-haired weirdo, but in a society obsessed with youth it does seem amusing that age has allowed (relative) beauty rather than stealing it away, and that this was not accomplished through surgery or expensive facial products or anorexia or even triathlons. It came naturally, on its own, emerging in part from comfort with myself, combined with my genuine likes and dislikes. Climbing and dancing and movement I enjoy; sunscreen will save me from pain; caffeine and too much sugar bother me. Stress must depart and friendship must remain.

Because fortunately, I have friendship. And to see into the soul of another human being, and to see kindness and honesty — that has an eternalness to it that few other things do. I think even romance falls short of this sometimes. Overall, thanks largely to the friends I had, to the family I had, 29 was a good year. So I say thank you, to all of you.

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