Not too long ago someone told me that I’m “not getting any younger.” If I want a family, I should start now. I’m 28. And as I look at that number on my computer screen, in the back of my brain I know I still have time. But somehow, that comment has been eating away at me for weeks. Recently, I have found myself anxiously examining lines on my forehead that weren’t there five years ago, pulling at the thinning skin on my neck and worrying what will happen to my appearance in the next five years. And it’s not just my appearance, it’s the infamous ticking clock counting down the viable moments in which I, as a woman, have left to be successful, choose a life partner and start a family.
Anxiety over my appearance and the rush to have everything figured out by the time I’m 30 isn’t something only I struggle with. 42% of women aged 25-34 admit to worrying regularly about aging.
When we were teenagers, my cousin and I set goals to meet the men of our dreams and have their babies by the time we were 27—we thought that was the magic number where we would still be “young” while we raised our kids. We made our decision after seeing various hip, young moms on TV or out in public. It seemed “cool” to us—two teenage girls who couldn’t even go grocery shopping on their own. From that very early age, we unconsciously put the pressure on ourselves to track down a husband, be financially stable and become responsible for another life all by the time we were 27. And thus, the race against time began.
So, here I am, 28 years old—unmarried, without children, looking for a life change—and feeling bad about it. At 25, the world felt like it was mine for the taking, I felt comfortable in my appearance and carried an air of confidence, knowing I still had time to change any little details that didn’t quite fit my fancy. But something went on inside my head in the last few years that coaxed me to make decisions that would lead towards that goal I set as a teenager, despite feeling in my heart they may be the wrong choices for me.
The fear of aging and the feeling that somehow my worth would steadily decline every year past my 30th birthday has trumped many other important life decisions, like pursuing more education or moving to another country. This fear is shoved in our faces daily through articles in magazines about the best cosmetic surgery procedures, or in advertisements about wrinkle reducing serums.
People age, that’s one sure fact about life. And smile lines aside, there is so much more that comes with age—something more powerful than how society could ever make us feel through its idolization of youth and beauty. In my search for the truth, and what Ia—what we all—can look forward to as we get older, I spoke with five beautifully diverse women to gain some insight on the matter. Their answers are not only comforting but refreshing and exhilarating to my spirit.
Joy, 61, feels that she is now living her most authentic life ever. She says this has come from knowing her “self-worth and gaining the confidence” to eliminate what hasn’t made her happy in life. Looking back, she feels “peace in what [she] has achieved and where life has brought” her. The advice she has for her younger self? “Wait for love. I spent my youth desperately seeking love. It made me settle for any man that paid me more than a fraction of the attention that I deserved.” Joy has a radiant peace about her, a quiet confidence that is a product of her past experiences and her strong faith.
Valerie, 64, possesses a similar sense of self-certainty. “I love that I’m more sure of myself,” she says. “I know what I like and I’m now taking the time to do it without guilt or excuses.” Wisdom truly does come with age. Wisdom about the world, relationships an especially about ourselves—our likes and dislikes. Valerie treasures the privilege of being a mother. To have been able to watch her “children grow up to be absolutely wonderful people” is something I, too hope for my own future. Having worked for an airline, Valerie had the ability to travel often, but didn’t as much as she would have liked. She advises her younger self, “Do not be in too much of a hurry to grow up! See as much of the world as you can before you have babies.” A sentiment echoed in many parents, but an undeniable piece of advice that certainly hits home for me. And though I’m now past the age I thought I’d have everything sorted out by, I feel a certainty that it’s still possible I can do both—travel and have a family.
The mindset that “we should not let age dictate how we choose to live our lives” is something Ruth, 52, professes with passion. It is “one of the reasons I decided to go back to university,” she says. Ruth has a truly youthful spirit; her positive energy and smile are contagious. The fact that she is a grandmother is often forgotten by her younger friends. Ruth attributes her youthful “energy, looks and mindset” to her “faith in God, a vegan diet of more than 25 years and an active lifestyle.” She tells her younger self to “always be true to the values you hold dear… your values shape your decisions and your decisions shape your life…be the master of your own destiny.”
Holding true to yourself and the process of life is also something that Catherine, 48, would tell her younger self. “Patience is a virtue,” she says. “Don’t rush life, kids, family or friends.” Life happens as it does, and one of the best things about getting older for her is the ability to take “life in, the good and the bad.” As life goes along, we get the chance to look back on the things we do and gain knowledge from them, “learning” from experiences has been Catherine’s favorite part of it.
Along with learning, gaining insight and wishing things had gone differently is something many women struggle with as life carries on. Caroline, 46, says, “I’m still working on being kinder to myself and trying to forgive myself for the choices I made in the past.” She goes on to say, “What I love most about myself at the age I am now are the relationships that I have created and nurtured and held onto.” This is something that is often only taken into consideration later in life when realizing how important it is to have healthy relationships—and most times when we have been through our share of toxic ones. “Healthy relationships give my life meaning and joy,” Caroline happily declares. And speaking of joy, cultivating a healthy relationship in which she feels loved, valued and accepted has led to an amplification of “desire and passion” with her partner. Caroline is very much a vivacious burst of love and light, and alongside the other four women I had the pleasure of interviewing, everything they’ve said has me looking forward to the years ahead.
What has become strikingly apparent is that in our 20s, women have a constructed conception that as we age, we will lose what we consider to be our “youthful” features and that by choosing to settle down before that happens will enable us to feel secure and accomplished with life. It is true that certain aspects of our appearance will change as we get older, but the things that make us who we are—an energetic smile, a twinkle in our eyes or an abounding spirit—does not. It is never too late to change your life, nor is it wrong to choose a path unprescribed by society’s standards.
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Photo: Septian Simon via Unsplash; Mael Balland