This is the fifth column in a series I wrote for Red Deer LIFE, the Sunday edition of the Red Deer Advocate, beginning in February 2004. Column 5, published in LIFE on April 4, 2004, examines the trials of being a 30-something female looking for love.
Finding love in the turbulent 30s
Photo and story by Faye Bayko
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The 30s are all about the clock.
When we’re in our 30s who we are and what we are to become is a constant concern. The time crunch of a debt load accumulated in our 20s through the pursuit of an education, either in a formal institution or an experimental lifestyle, is often compounded by the sight of wrinkle or a receding hairline.
I we still don’t feel the pressure of time then the increasing number of rugrats appearing in our friends’ living rooms, calling them mommy or daddy, will kick us into what Gail Sheehy describes in her book, New Passages, as the turbulent 30s and our first adulthood.
There’s a nervous energy about this decade. Whether it’s the pressure of time or the concept of adulthood that causes it, I’m not sure. But it was almost overwhelming the night I met Lynn at The Firm (lounge). The place seems to attract 30-somethings and those who want to be around them so it was an excellent atmosphere in which to discuss her experiences.
“I’m beginning to feel like a failure at this project,” she said with a smile.
The most adventurous of the five women participating in this column and its challenges, Lynn had tried Internet dating and speed-dating prior to joining. Now she was feeling a little world-weary. While the connections made through these services were fun, they had produced only a temporary euphoria, not a lasting relationship for her.
“You’re put into a firm structure,” she explained. “They put me in a situation that wasn’t real, wasn’t me. … There you are in the dark with a glass of wine and your computer. And who wants to toast a computer?” She laughs.
The experiences did, however, assist Lynn in defining clearly what she was looking for and how she was going to get it. “I’m a face-to-face person,” she said. “I’d rather meet the person and get to know them the old-fashioned way.”
The previous expectations of finding a mate in her age group who does not already have the commitment of a family is being relaxed as she faces the reality of the market. But, she still expects him to drive a nice car. “I’m not going to get rid of all my values!”
The development of a personal set of values is a key element in dating in the third decade. During their 20s, men and women are weaning themselves of their parent’s values and expectations. When they enter their 30s, they have enough experience and confidence to begin to develop their own set of values, even if they’re in conflict with their parents.
“What’s different is that you have stronger expectations about what you’re getting out of a relationship,” said Lynn. “In your 40s its, ‘Been there. Done that.’ And in your 20s, you’re just dating, having fun.”
The 30s is the decade during which we build the foundations in career, family and personal areas on which the following decades will stand.
When Lynn finished university she returned to Red Deer from Nova Scotia because she was looking for a community she could become involved with. “I wanted a place to put down roots.”
Red Deer is providing her with the career opportunities and contacts she needs to succeed in this arena. On a personal level she has changed direction. Rather than participating in structured dating services she has decided to make herself more approachable within the job and volunteer environments of her life. Then the dating will come, she hopes, from a shared interest rather than a descriptive paragraph shining out from a computer screen.
In her book Sheehy explains that those in their 30s are searching for and trying to be something more. During this decade it’s natural, she states, to formulate a false self, or an image you want to project to the world in order to display your skills and talent in the hope of gaining the brass ring. Success to the 30-something is measured externally: the right job, the right office, the accomplishments of their children, the right clothes and being seen in the right places.
There is a dramatic shift in psychological maturity with the transition into the third decade. A confidence in the ownership of past experimentation sheds the prolonged adolescence of the 20s and the future becomes tangible enough to taste. Whether it’s cheesecake or sour milk melting on our tongue, we are suddenly aware that we put it there and the only way the sensation will change is if we take action to change it.