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The 30-Something Female Experience: What Is It Really?

02/26/2013 01:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2013
  • Eudie Pak Managing editor by day, freelance writer by night

Recently, my music producer boyfriend was on the VIP list to see Bassnectar at Terminal 5 in NYC, and although I'm not one to "pump up the jam" on a regular basis, I decided to go with him.

As we were being searched at the entrance to the pot-smoking, glowstick-happy event, I looked around and realized I was surrounded by angsty, constipated teens whose collagen I would've loved to hijack and infuse into my less buoyant face (well, sans the sticky glitter). For a split second, I feared I could be turned away for being a geriatric 33-year-old. But. That wasn't the kicker.

The security gal began digging into the pockets of my purse, and lo and behold, pulled out a crumpled bag of incriminating pills! Umm. Yeah. I realized they were my weekly mix of calcium and fish oil supplements, but for all I cared, they could've been a bottle of Boniva with a sticker seal of approval by Sally Field. I felt like an interloper of cool, but worse, just socially misplaced, which seemed to be happening more often ever since I entered this decade.

Being a female in your 30s is a bit perplexing -- you're not so young, you're not so old -- but even beyond that, it's a period of time that seems to be a quieter, less socially-discussed endeavor compared to the decades that sandwich it. When you think of women in their 20s and 40s, it seems easier to define them in intangible terms. The 20s chick is known for exploring and taking risks. The 40s chick has a rep for coming into a higher level of independence and self-empowerment and hell, she's even got More magazine. These two decades even have their own version of well-documented existential crises -- quarter-life crisis and mid-life crisis, anyone?

The 20s and 40s gals have a distinct and interesting enough internal dialogue that compels the rest of the world to want to have an external dialogue about them -- look anywhere, and you'll end up with a plethora of 20- and 40-something material at your fingertips: self-help books, blogs, TV shows, movies; they're ubiquitous.

But no one really talks about the 30s female experience in the same sense. Is it because this decade of living seems too busy existing in the mundane? After all, this is a period where we're preoccupied with accruing bloated titles at work, getting that corner office, getting married, not getting married, having kids, avoiding having kids, etc. On the outset, it sounds so terribly banal and purgatorial, but internally, what's really going on?

I decided to ask everyday women in their 30s and 40s what they thought the 30s female experience is, and I uncovered some running themes.

Merissa, 36, sees this decade as a rediscovery of yourself -- but in a blowtorch-to-your-ass kinda way:

One phrase to sum up my 30s so far? In the hot seat. You take an audit of your career, your home, your bank account. You start to take a hard look at the person in bed beside you. You start to take a hard look at your face, the little lines that won't go away... In your 30s, you find your 'fight': What are you willing to fight for and why? Maybe you speak up more. Maybe you make some changes. Maybe things start to happen that change you: children, mortgages, divorce, a parent's illness. It's the decade of reckoning, bookended by the 'explore it all' 20s and the 'fuck it all, what's done is done' 40s. It's the hot seat. The time of awakening.

Then there's 39-year-old mom-of-two Ali, who feels the 30s is about a quest for balance (i.e. not going bonkers):

The first word that comes to mind for me is torn. Every 30-something year-old woman I know (mostly married with kids) have had to live under the annoying 'having it all' shingle and are made to feel inadequate, whether working at home, part-time, not at all, or being the primary breadwinner. There is so much information, so many opinions out there floating on the Internet; it's hard to find even a little peace within.

As for my rocker chick former co-worker, Margo, 47, she looks back at the 30s as a practice in the art of refinement -- or what she proudly calls, becoming "top-shelf bitches":

The essence of a woman's 30s: understanding what you prefer in life. You're solidifying your preference wish list. It can be spiritual or material or metaphysical. In your 40s, these preferences are either attained or abandoned. Maybe climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro isn't going to happen this year, but you hiked one of the more difficult parts of the Appalachian Trail. Maybe that pear tree espalier in the garden didn't work out, but your cherry tomatoes kicked ass. Maybe you're not driving a Bugatti, but that BMW 5-series is tits. Whether it's experiencing the natural world, digging in the dirt or tearing up the asphalt, a woman can become who she's meant to be by putting a name on what it is that she wants from life. I think this begins in the 30s.

But why does this decade's experience get overlooked by society?

My longtime bud Angela, 32, thinks it's simply an awkward and hectic transitional period that frankly, just ain't sexy:

The 30s get the shaft by society because it is the middle child. The 20s are a time to experiment and experience, by your 40s you have it dialed in, but your 30s is that awkward adolescence of figuring out how to get your family and yourself out the door in the morning, kick ass at work, have a healthy dinner on the table that evening, connect with your partner but not skip story time for the kids and still find time to get in a run to recover your pre-baby body or maintain a healthy figure. It's not pretty as you're trying to figure this out.

And then there's Tracy, 40, who thinks the answer is simple: The more extreme life experiences get people excited, and the 30s just isn't that exciting:

When 40 became the new 30, 30 became invisible. It's a decade of major transition, a bridge from the broke hot mess of your 20s to the fabulousness of your 40s. Or when 'Mean Girls' graduate to 'boring bitches.' At least that's one of the perceptions that hurts the pre-middle age group. Thirty-somethings are overshadowed by the antics of the 20-something "Girls" and the 40-something "Real Housewives" because, pop-culturally speaking, the best material is born from 'having nothing' (20s), 'having it all' (40s) or 'losing it all' (40s divorcee).

But, Rebecca, 36, has an altogether different perspective, asserting that the 30-somethings are too busy directing our cultural trends and don't feel the need to be the stars of the show:

I do wonder if the 30-something female is deliberately standing behind the camera. This is the age bracket that some of us make life-changing decisions (i.e. children), and though I am loath to leave women barefoot, pregnant and at the stove, I do think that we take a step back to keep things in perspective. There's also the fact that most of us did not spend our early teens posting every sloppy detail of our lives to the world (i.e. Facebook, Twitter). It's no wonder we're cool with chilling behind the lights and calling the shots.

For me, I have my own opinion of what it means to be in your 30s. In light of the fact my 20s seemed more like a huge fog -- perhaps in every metaphorical sense of the word -- my 30s thus far feel like an awakening. I'm sloughing off the unessential in life, love and work, and discovering the joy of saying "no" rather than caving into a people-pleasing "yes." In short, I'm gaining an honest confidence.

Sure, there's a CRAP-TON of stress -- you feel like every aspect of your life has got to be balls to the wall -- but I still feel like, by and large, it's a journey of solidifying yourself, and that's always a good thing.

The 30s collective experience may not be glamorous enough to base endless books or TV shows on, but hell, I'll take it. Besides, look at it this way: At least when you're in your 30s, you're mostly done with mouth breathing at the bottom of a toilet bowel, and you still got some years before you get scorched with a hot flash.

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