I was at dinner the other night with two friends I went to b-school with, and I dropped the o-bomb about fifteen times to the point where one of my dinner companions, said, “You’re Asian, you’re not going to age, you’re not old. You have a problem.” I nodded my head. “I do, I do have a problem. I need to stop,” and I stared out the windows at the Europeans standing on the sidewalk smoking, and thought longingly of the Marlboros in my bag — the descent into spinsterhood with prune-y skin didn’t seem that far away.
The truth though is that I am old — I am old in the way that I never fucking thought I could get old. I’ve reached that threshold where the perception of an age and the reality of it have collided. And all the things you thought and laughed at and assumed would happen have not. And it’s okay, but it’s also scary because you realize what you thought about this age and what you’re actually living are so wide apart.
It started with Sex and the City. I’d gone home over the past weekend to visit my parents and for the 30th anniversary celebration of my former dance teacher’s school. Reruns were on Saturday night, and I was sitting on a bar stool in the kitchen watching: Carrie was having an affair with Big; Samantha was getting tested for HIV; Charlotte was looking for the perfect wedding dress; Miranda was flirting with some guy in a sandwich costume. They were beautifully dressed train wrecks. But then right at the end of the episode, when Charlotte gets cold feet about her marriage, and the omniscient Carrie Bradshaw voice over kicks in I heard this line, “Charlotte was a 34-year-old bride in Manhattan…” and it stopped me cold.
There are two types of women who loved Sex and the City. The first are the ones who do the tours, giggling, drunk and trying to snatch a bit of that gossamer illusion of glamour to take back with them to Lincoln, Nebraska. The other type are the ones that see the story and roll their eyes at these sex-crazed, luxury wearing lunatics. We would never end up like them; we were too smart, too pretty, too capable.
But here I was – seven months from my 34th birthday, my mouth hanging open that the women portrayed on the show were actually supposed to be as old as me. Where did the time go? And more importantly, where did all that savvy I knew I would have in my thirties when I used to watch Sex and the City at the house we rented the summer after college go?
My life is closer to the women on that show than I care to admit. At that moment I was contemplating going out with a guy who emailed out of the blue after a year, after I dropped him for standing me up on a date. Why? Because I was bored and single and nothing else was going on. My dad offering to pay for match.com I would still vaguely think about ex-boyfriends gone past, wondering if it could have worked out. And while the women on Sex and the City, at least always had their careers figured out, I had just committed a major work faux-paux and was tip-toeing around my boss like a teenager trying to sneak back into the house after their curfew.
At the event thrown by my old dance teacher, which had dozens of her students performing, a woman who had been a student with me was surprisingly there in costume ready to dance. Impressed – I asked her how she pulled it off. She talked about practices via YouTube etc., and how hard it was to move in a way that she hadn’t in ten years. It sounded 100 percent arthritic. But she danced, and then when they were honoring all the students they called them up one by one to be “shawled” (an Indian tradition showing respect) by our old teacher. The year of the last major performance of each dancer with the school was read. The years were 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006… But then, my fellow thirty-something was called, and the young MC said, “____ did her performance in 1996, woah!”
It may have well been 1896.
My mom and I looked at each other and giggled. To be 33 to those young dancers, the ones in their early twenties or in college, was as intangible a concept as it was to me in 2002 watching these women in their early thirties flit around New York in their stilettos. We belonged to a different era.
Coming home that night, sitting in my childhood home, watching women on a show I had put in a category as “never want to be” I cringed at the similarity. I do feel a pressure to meet someone and get married, maybe that’s why I find it easier to call the guy that stood me up than search through pages and pages of profiles on match.com. I don’t want to have to deal with the question of as my mother would put it, “catching him.” I blow money on clothes and shoes and have a bank account as paltry as Carrie Bradshaws. When Miranda finally saw the guy inside the sandwich costume, she walked away because he was too young. That’s every time I go out in the East Village or the Lower East Side. One of the reasons, I like dating Europeans in New York is that they’re generally single and not zygotes. And like all of them, my judgment and taste has been questionable…
Like at this dinner, where I kept glancing sideways at my classmate who was in town from London. I had barely known him at school, but he was cute and as I mentioned I was bored. Should I do this? Dinner ended. The third member of our party went home, and we continued. I took him to a nearby bar and introduced him to his first Manhattan — the bartender was so shocked that he’d never had one that he demanded to see both of our IDs … only in New York would this be considered sacrilegious. And of course gave me that weird, “Wow you’re older than I thought look after seeing the year.”
We sat across from each other at the bar, and I was smiling, the kind of wide drunk smile that goes from ear to ear. I sometimes can go for a whole day without smiling, but put me in front of a guy I’m into, and I’m the fucking Cheshire cat. My hand was drumming on the table, as I was debating, should I lean over, put my hand on his arm, do I want to do this? Do I even need to think about it that much? Well, I’m neurotic, so the answer is yes, I do need to think about it that much — whether I’m 23 or 33.
And then he dropped the gf-bomb — ever so casually. A friend in college once said, “A girlfriend is only an obstacle.” And as I’ve seen from experience, the longer a guy takes to mention her, the smaller that obstacle is. My pre-33-year-old-self would be selfish enough to not really care, depending on how I felt. But my now-33-year-old-self didn’t want to be a plot in Sex and the City.
So I grinned, and he grinned, and I swirled the ice in my glass, clinked his and drained it.
“I should go.” And I did, a little wistful about not being quite as carefree but also determined. I might be single, and have barely any savings, and not be quite sure where I want my life or work to go, but I do not intend to be a desperate 34-year-old bride, willing to marry a man even if he can’t get it up. Spoiler alert: Charlotte marries him, they can’t have sex, she has an affair with the gardner, the mother-in-law walks when they finally do have sex and then they get divorced. Happily ever after.
I’m at the point where I couldn’t imagine crossing when I was younger, was there really a life after your thirty? And now I’m there, but have been operating under that younger self’s premise this entire time. There is a life. It’s not bad. It’s just different. And I realize now it’s time to think about what comes after this?
Forty…fifty… seventy anyone?