Last week was my 29th birthday.
I used to love birthdays. When I was a kid, birthdays were always special. My grandparents, chefs, always made me a special cake. (For my golden birthday, the cake had gold icing!) Even though my parents got divorced when I was six, we all got together to have lunch somewhere fancy, like Olive Garden. As I got older, and my parents each remarried, the lunches just got bigger and bigger. I loved it.
Being a gay in New York, how can you NOT love a birthday? Acquaintances you barely know buy you drinks, drag queens pull you on stage to humiliate you, and if you’re single you get your pick of who to bring home for birthday sex. Hell, The West End Lounge even made their Valentine Underwear Party the Valentine/Ian-Michael’s Birthday Underwear Party one year! (I wore a floor-length feather robe. Four years later, I think the staff is still picking up red ostrich feathers.)
But things feel different this year. I have a close-knit group of friends: The idea of a big blowout party made me anxious. My boyfriend was pretty much guaranteed birthday sex, unless we got Mexican food for dinner. And if you stay at home, every night is an underwear party!
The number 29 also kind of freaks me out. Twenty-nine: I feel anxious just admitting that in this column. I’ve spent a lot of my life cashing in on youth, and now I’m in my last year of my 20s. Next year I’ll be 30, and adulthood will seem even more… real.
When I moved to New York at 22, I had this idea that I’d marry someone older than me. I don’t mean a sugar daddy: just someone older, with more life experience (and a rent-stabilized apartment). Now, I realize that age doesn’t make you more mature: I still feel like that 22 year old, falling in love and getting too drunk and ordering the same thing at McDonald’s when I’m hungover.
I was engaged when I was 19. By 30, I expected to have been married for 10 years and to have adopted children, raising them in some quaint Minnesota cabin. (Can you even IMAGINE me living in a cabin?!) At the least, I expected to have a book published by 30. Fuck, I’ll admit it: I expected to have a book published by 25.
I don’t want to live in a cabin in Minnesota, I’m definitely not ready for kids and I know I have plenty of time to write that book. Still, sometimes I worry that I’ve wasted my days drinking at bars, having reckless love affairs and binge-watching my favorite Netflix shows.
When am I supposed to feel “grown up”? When do I say “Enough is enough: time to settle down and grow up.” Am I falling behind the kids in my hometown who had kids at 18, or my college peers who are making a living at whatever they majored in?
Is age just a number, or is it a ticking time bomb?