Getting over the 30s plateau
A close friend recently confided her unhappiness to me. There are aspects of her life that make her wonderfully happy, like her children, but her marriage is making her depressed.
She wondered whether this was all just her, whether she had no real reasons to be unhappy.
After leaving, I could not stop thinking about our conversation.
I turned 36 last summer.
It occurred to me that most of my life up until recently has been spent in anticipation of something: the next grade in school, my first job, living alone, finding the one, getting married, having children.
Growing up, life was magical. There was always something to look forward to—from summer vacation to sweet sixteens. It felt like we were always in a rush to get to the next thing, because there was always something to get excited about.
After college, I landed a job as an editorial assistant for Soap Opera Digest and moved into Manhattan. My early 20s were wonderful. I liked my job, started going to grad school to get a Masters in Education and spent weekends with my wonderful group of friends from college. We were all just starting out with our careers. We were looking for love, thinking ahead to engagements, bachelorette parties and weddings. We loved exploring everything Manhattan had to offer.
At 26, I started dating my best friend from college. We had known each other for eight years at that point, so once we committed to a relationship, it progressed quickly. We got together in November, started looking at rings in January, had booked a wedding venue by March, moved in together in April and were formally engaged in July.
The next year was a whirlwind of planning and celebrating. I had a lovely bridal shower with my family and dearest friends and a fun bachelorette party that weekend. Anticipation built towards the following June when we were married.
By the time we were married, other women in my group of friends were getting engaged themselves, or entering into serious relationships. The next few years were spent in a flurry of happy celebrations for both friends and family members. Again, there was always some wonderful even to look forward to.
When my husband and I turned 30, we decided that we were ready to expand our family. Suddenly, life took a turn. It took three years from the time we started trying to get pregnant until we finally held our daughter in our arms.
While these certainly were not happy times, there was still anticipation. We planned what life with a baby would be like. We dreamed of how our family would be once we finally had children.
There was still so much to look forward to. We were attending many weddings and friends started having babies of their own. This was difficult for us, but we were able to hope and dream of what came next.
Finally, we had our daughter. Within a few months, our apartment started to feel very small. Our next adventure lay ahead of us: house hunting! By the spring of 2015, we moved into our new house and started to make it into a home. At the end of that summer, we learned we were pregnant again and looked forward to our family being complete.
By that point, most of my closest friends were married with children and had bought their own apartments or homes.
The weddings were winding down. There were still baby showers, but as my friends had their second and third children, those celebrations became fewer and farther between.
Being in your 30s is a strange place to be. Most of us are settled into our careers. We’re married or in relationships. We have children. We own property.
So what’s next? What excitement looms ahead? Retirement is a very long way off. If we feel unhappiness or a sense of ennui, is it our own faults?
Are we so conditioned to be constantly anticipating something exciting that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when life settles into… well, life?
It’s no wonder many of us are depressed.
It turns out that all of these feelings are normal for being in your 30s. In Britain, a recent survey revealed that midlife crises are now occurring in the mid-30s. This is particularly true for women, who are suddenly learning that life is not exactly what they have always expected it to be. Since most of us are settled into the lives we are going to lead for the foreseeable future, there is a lot of time for reflection, which is not always a good thing.
So what can you do?
Seek support: Sign up for counseling with a therapist or join a support group.
Explore other options: Unhappy with your career? Perhaps going back to school or looking for another type of job would help.
Self-Care: Are you taking time for yourself or are you always focused on your children, spouse and job? Figure out what works for you: a daily workout, monthly spa day, time each day to read, church, dates with friends and make sure you indulge in these things for yourself on a regular basis. Make sure you eat and sleep enough too.
Connect: It’s easy to feel like you and your partner are ships passing in the night—so make sure you take time every day to connect with them and schedule time for yourselves as well.
Looking back, I realized that I was very depressed last year. I spent a lot of 2017 figuring out what would make me happy.
It took time and effort, but a strong fitness routine, plans with new friends and time with my family has helped me to feel like I’m in a much better place this year. I am also looking forward to returning to my work as an educator.
I reached out to my friend after writing this piece and shared some of the articles I found with her. She felt reassured after reading my research and catching up with a larger group of our friends, all of whom experienced similar feelings.
All of us seem to be in a place where life is monotonous with little pops of excitement that do not quite make up for day to day life.
It can be easy to feel trapped by life in your 30s. All of excitement of “adulting” has passed and you feel more settled that you ever have been. If you find that this is causing depression, it is time for reflection and recalibration.
Take time for yourself to figure out what different avenues lie ahead of you for exciting changes that will help you recapture that magical feeling of anticipating that filled your younger years.
Life is challenging and overwhelming, but there is still so much ahead of you in your 30s. Take it one day at a time and remember to breath. Find the positives in your life and use this period of reflection to hone in on what makes you happy.
As for my friend, I will continue to listen to her and support her through this difficult time and hopefully help her get through the other side of her unhappiness.