Reflection: Life in Your 20s Vs. Your 30s

Twenty-somethings celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Chicago.

Twenty-somethings celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.

Note: This piece was published on the Huffington Post April 17, 2014. This is a reposting. The original ran here on March 18, 2013.

Recently, one of my friends (actually an ex-boyfriend) said, “I was just telling someone life gets so much better in your 30s.”

He was right. And wrong.

It gets better: more simple, more meaningful, more established, more fulfilling, more STABLE. You’ll have fewer fights, cry less tears, and make fewer bad decisions.

But you’ll also have less fun. Here’s the best way I can put it: Life will feel less magical. (Probably because it becomes more predictable and less spur-of-the-moment).

When I was 20, I skipped Friday classes and spent a three-day weekend on the road with one of my favorite rock bands. I cannot write that same sentence about my 30s: “When I was 36, I skipped work, got fired, and forgot to pick up my kids from daycare” sounds like the first line of a bad memoir. Your responsibilities change. Big time.

If you wait until your 30s to have children—like most people I know have—you’ll start to realize the special quality of life in your 20s, the independence and craziness.

Having kids is amazing, but you will have to give up a lot. Movies, for one. Sleep. Taking a shower (when you have a newborn). If your 20s are like mine, you’ll be a world traveler. This hasn’t completely stopped, but it’s definitely slowed down.

What will be more established, hopefully: your career, your friends, your life partner, your family, your home (mortgage).

You will have everything you dreamed of those nights coming home from a bar when no one asked for your number, crying yourself to sleep because you felt so alone. In fact, you will never feel alone—and what you once prayed for—will feel like a curse and a blessing.

Most days, you will go about the machine of life—alarm, kids, shower, kids, breakfast (maybe), coffee (definitely), kids, door, car, road rage, kids singing “Wheels on the Bus,” daycare, work, work, lunch (at your desk), work, kids, car, road rage, home, kids, dinner, bathtime, bedtime, TV, glass of wine (much-needed), sleep (interrupted by to-do-list, kid crying, partner snoring, etc.)—and you will not even notice that life is passing by so fast that somehow suddenly you’re 37 and you’re not really 30 anymore.

But other days, you’ll reflect. You’ll think back to those college days, the days before kids, the days you slept til noon and spent the afternoon at bars watching football, day-drinking and wasting time. No-agenda days. Days you could do whatever you wanted even if that meant Ryan Reynolds’ movie marathons.

Most of all, you’ll want that time back to do something productive, like write a novel. Those days will seem long-gone—and lovely. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll occasionally be gifted (by your partner who will take the kids) a few days like this in your 30s—but, after a few hours of freedom, you’ll feel alone again, you’ll think of your child’s laugh, and you’ll wonder what it was you really missed.

So which is better? Your 20s or your 30s. Discuss.

To read more on this topic, see “Life in Your 20s vs. Your 30s Redux”

Note: This post originally ran on my Tumblr, but it’s been on my mind again lately, so I thought I’d repost it here.

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16 thoughts on “Reflection: Life in Your 20s Vs. Your 30s

  1. I’m in my 20s and they are so disappointing with failed relationships and friendships that I hope my 30s are better.

    • Sandy, my 20s were filled with failed relationships too. In many ways, the 30s are better, but they are different. Life feels different to me. Thanks for reading!

  2. I enjoy posts like these. 20s are chaotic. I have spent days wishing to be 30 already and find stability. However, the chaos of 23 (almost 24) keeps things interesting. Many of my friends are close to 30, or are 30. I am excited for a type of stability 30′s may bring, but 20′s are a chapter I will read with a great open heart.

    -J.D. Maxwell

  3. Since I got married at 21 and had my daughter almost a year later, my 20′s were far different than your experience. I’m now 36 (37 in July), divorced (very amicable and still friends) for 7 years, still single, living back at home with my parents while my 14 year old daughter lives with her dad and stepmom 9 hours away, my 30′s are more like what you described in your 20′s. However, I have to say my 30′s have been better but for far different reasons. I am more healthy, confident, and secure in who I am and what I want. I have always done things in the most unconventional ways but wouldn’t change it for anything. Loved your insight!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I totally agree with you about being more secure and confident. I really don’t write about that part of it in this post but yes!! That’s the biggest difference for sure!

  4. Ryan Reynolds marathons? Really? Interesting choice. Do tell… What has he been in to warrant a marathon? Curious is all… Either way, great writing, and nice piece. I enjoyed the read. Thank you.

  5. I love the way you wrote ” hopefully career, relationship, family” etc will be better. That’s the catch word- hopefully. For many people, even that is not true. I still think there’s a long way to go before I stabilise in my career, despite being 30. Good eye opener, this blog post!

  6. This is one of the first things I have ever followed the urge to comment on.

    And I will say, neither is better, both are essential.

  7. Sorry but I totally disagree. You’re basing this on if a person has kids, not on actual age. I will never have children because I don’t want them. Nor do I want to be married. I want to spend my life traveling, doing art and anything my heart desires. My 20′s sucked. No money, no good guys (all immature and only want sex and nothing more) etc.

    It is different for everyone. No one person’s life experience is the same. I know my 30′s will not consist of changing diapers and being a soccer mom

    • I agree with your assessment of the 20s on some levels, especially the men part. I also get that this is directed mostly at people with kids and if you choose not to have kids, your 30s might be different from mine. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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