Friday, April 10, 2009

Chapter 13: Turning Thirty

I am officially the big three-oh. Honestly it doesn’t feel much different than twenty-nine. Some little things that have happened since my birthday have set me off a bit. For example, I watched the movie Baby Mama in which the main character has to hire a surrogate to carry her baby because, at thirty-seven, she is unable to conceive. A week ago I would have seen the character’s age as nearly a decade more than mine. But now at thirty, it is as if we are peers, and her plight could soon become mine. Plus I realized that I will have to check the “30-35” box when my demographic information is collected, and that just stings. But these are just little twinkles of frustration that pass quickly as I remind myself that I have decided that thirty is going to be my best year yet. It certainly can’t be worse than twenty-nine.

All-in-all I had a pretty great birthday. It started off early when I went to my favorite restaurant, Zoë on Friday. When I told the bartender I would be celebrating my birthday that weekend, he surprised me with a scoop of gelato with a candle in it. It was coconut, which I don’t usually like, but this one was delicious. It was so sweet of him, and it reminded me why that is one of my favorite places to go.

Because my actual birthday was on a Tuesday, I had my celebration on the Saturday prior. A dozen of my friends joined me for dinner at Spitzer’s Corner on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Another seven joined us for drinks after dinner at a bar called The Skinny. We had a big communal table for dinner, and a private area at the bar, so everyone was able to mingle and chat. I have several different groups of friends and I love when they can meet and interact. A couple friends came bearing gifts, which was a huge surprise and I was very thankful.

Despite being surrounded by such a large group of great friends, it was a little bittersweet. This may come off as really trite and ungrateful, but in the moments as we left the restaurant I thought to myself, “I would trade all these friends for one person who thought to tell the waitress it was my birthday so she would have sent over a little dessert.” It’s not that I wanted the sweets or for the whole restaurant to bust out a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You.” It was just a bit of a realization (one that I’ve felt often in the bustle of New York City) that amidst the crowd, I was alone.

Growing up I was never the kind of person who needed a huge circle of friends. My mom always thought it was weird when, as a child, I would have only one really close friend at a time: Sara, Devon, Erika, Lindsay, Becky, Erica. When one of us would change schools, or if we had a falling out, I would eventually find a replacement. When I got to high school and discovered boys, my one-track devotion often turned to the guys I dated. I was not part of any clique in high school. My (mostly male) friends were all very different from each other and not really friends with each other, like spokes on a bicycle, with me as the axis. Yet I was fiercely devoted to these individuals in rotating succession.

One prime example of this stands out to me to this day. In the spring of my junior year, I turned down an invitation to prom from a guy friend of mine because the girl who I considered my best friend at the time disapproved. Later that summer, she and I had a big fight. At the time, I had summer job working with the guy who’d asked me to prom and we had gotten very close. I realized that my ex-best friend’s opinion had really clouded my judgment, and immediately after the fight with my girlfriend I let the guy know I had been interested in him. We were together until I went off to college over a year later. To this day I still consider my relationship with my “high school sweetheart” to be the easiest and most successful I’ve had. But even with him, our relationship was pretty much the only one I needed.

I think it’s pretty common for couples to “drop off the face of the earth” and enter their own little world of two. I don’t really know what co-dependence is, but I’d have to think it’s something along those lines. I have tried to learn over time how to balance aspects of my romantic relationships, friendships and my Self, but it a struggle. I am a passionate person, and when that passion endears me to another, I focus in on that individual and give them my all.

For a time in college I became somewhat of a serial monogamist. I would stay in a relationship well past its expiration date, until someone new caught my eye. I would quickly end the first relationship and jump headfirst into the next. I think this stemmed from the fact that I was shy in relationships and did not want to stir up drama. So if something annoyed me, I would let it fester until I was so bothered that I was ready to move on. I knew it was not healthy and by the end of college had broken the pattern. However, now I have been told I am “brutally honest,” which I think is a good thing because I am putting my feelings out there. However, I have had my heart broken every time I’ve worn it on my sleeve.

In sharp contrast to my somewhat shy, loner childhood, I decided to join the Alpha Chi Omega sorority during my freshman year of college. I hoped that this group of girls would help me in part be able to develop better friendships with women and also have a group of friends to rely on, rather than one individual. It turns out that is exactly what happened. While the guys came and went, and as I developed friendships with various groups of people across campus, my sorority sisters were the one constant in my life. It is because of them, I think, that I gained any sense of confidence in social settings and interpersonal relationships. It is many of these women, some who live in New York and some who are scattered across the country, whom I still consider my dearest friends today. In fact, now that I think about it, the three AXOs who were at my party were the same guests who came with gifts in hand.

Given that my party was a few days before my big day, I had been really worried about how I would spend my actual birthday. I didn’t want to pester everyone who came out on Saturday to go out again on that Tuesday. Luckily, two of my best girlfriends here in the city were away on weekend trips the day of my party, so offered to take me to dinner on the seventh. It was a huge relief to me, to know I would not be wallowing alone on the sofa with my two cats on my thirtieth birthday.

The three of us went to a cute wine bar called Terroir in the East Village and sat at the bar. When we finished our meal, my one friend made a huge scene, having me pick out a dessert and telling the bartender very blatantly that it was my birthday. That totally made my day, and made me feel like an asshole for thinking what I did at my party on Saturday. Maybe everyone in the group of 13 assumed someone else would say something. Who knows. In any case, by the time I was blowing out the candles on my desserts, I had reverted back to my optimistic approach to being thirty.

In addition to my two evening get-togethers, I had many other occasions to feel blessed. On my birthday, my boss picked up a fruit torte and gathered the office together for a mid-afternoon fête. Throughout the week I received and overwhelming number of phone calls, e-mails, packages & gifts, e-cards and greeting cards from friends and family. I had about 50 messages come into my Facebook inbox or posted to my wall. For this latter surge of birthday wishes I was pleased for entirely kooky reasons. As an admitted Facebook addict, I had set (and reached) the random goal to have four hundred Facebook friends by my birthday. I also hoped that on that day, ten percent of my friends would write to me. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps it harkens back to the notion of feeling alone in a crowd. Maybe I just need to feel connected.

On my thirtieth birthday, I definitely felt connected. The love poured in from across the country in forms electronic, tangible and physical. I am blessed to know more than 400 people – old friends, new friends, friends who aren’t even on Facebook, and of course family – who care about me and support me. I may not have seen some of them in half a lifetime, but I think our shared experiences connect us by gossamer threads across time and place. And for that I am truly, and forever, grateful.

1 comment:

emmablue said...

Speaking of gratitude, did you call YO mamma to thank her for giving birth to you?!

You sound like me with the serial dating, i call it 'opportunistic' =)

I love the paradoxes of loneliness, even when we are intertwined with someone else, we are alone. Yet Love is underneath is, around us, and all that everything is.