When I was in my twenties, I talked a lot about how I didn’t regret any of my past mistakes. Believing that it made me neat and unique to own up to my quirky foibles, I often waxed poetic about how, if given the chance to go back and do things over, I simply would not.
I would interject this sentiment in almost any scenario.
Friend 1: Do you know if the Red Line runs express when it’s not rush hour?
Friend 2: I’m not sure, let’s check the CTA website to see.
Me: One time I told an ex-boyfriend that I liked his best friend better than him. I don’t regret it.
Yep, I was YOLOing back when that God-forsaken acronym was just a glimmer in a Forever 21 exec’s eye.
The thing about being in your twenties is that you don’t really have much to regret because you’re still a vessel of optimism. You believe that you’re impervious to your own mistakes and character flaws. The only thing differentiating a twentysomething from a baby intent on sticking a fork in a wall outlet is that the baby hasn’t yet purchased non-plastic, electricity-conducting cutlery. (Actually, when I think about it, the 22-year-old probably hasn’t either. So I guess there is no difference at all.) It’s easy to say that you don’t regret blowing $5,000 on handbags because, in your twenties, you have not yet amassed enough life experience to know that that money is likely best saved for the replacement sewer line you’re going to have to put in when you’re 33, standing in your kitchen ankle-deep in raw sewage.
In your twenties, you’re still under the illusion that you’re plastic enough to bounce back from any truly awful thing you do or say. You can shake it off, for tomorrow affords another opportunity for you to re-assume your awesomeness. That wrecked car? Pffft. Deep down inside, you’re a good driver despite your proclivity to text on the interstate. That accidentally drunk Tuesday night? Your ever-youthful liver will flush that right out of your system.
Then come the Dirty Thirties.
That’s when you realize that all those crappy things you did all those times were totally you. That was not naive you or drunk you or insecure preteen you. Thirty is the decade when you realize that you’re kind of stuck with what you got. You were awkward when you were a teen and you’re still awkward now. Your identity is essentially a 1994 Nissan Sentra: you figured that you would’ve upgraded to something better by now, but your bank account is telling you otherwise. You still run and function fine, but that stain on the passenger’s side seat isn’t going anywhere.
Your thirties are that special time when you embrace the highly-flawed hand you were dealt.
I realized this when I was out with my husband and a friend of ours the other night. We were having after-dinner drinks and our friend was speaking from the heart about his conversion to Judaism. It was one of those moments of truth when I wanted to respond with something that was reverential, kind, thoughtful, and inquisitive all at the same time. Being a 33-year-old woman, I would surely be able to swing it, since hopefully I have grown out of my awkwardly-talks-about-that-time-I-worked-at-the-Gap-whenever-I-can’t-think-of-anything-else-to-say phase of my twenties.
But no. My response to our friend’s deeply moving account of his spirituality was this:
That’s cool. Our daughter likes to go swimming at the Jewish community center.
Yep, that’s what I got. And I kind of hated myself for my vapid response. Am I as boring and awkward now as I was ten years ago? Maybe. But the cool thing about my thirties is that now I can actually own it and move on with the knowledge that even if the people around me are judging me, at least I like myself more than I did when I was 22.