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Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

Alternate timeline

30th birthday shifts as milestone of adulthood

Katie Pruitt had hoped to get her doctorate’s degree and buy a house by the time she was 30. When she turned 26, she realized she was on the path to neither, so she continued to celebrate her 26th birthday.

For her 27th birthday, her husband bought her a purple cake lined in bright red frosting. Written on it in yellow and black icing were the words “The 2nd Annual Katies 26th Birthday Extravaganza.”

“There was a bunch of stuff I wanted to do before I was 30 … that I hadn’t done, so I really needed to slow down the movement of time so I could have more time to get that stuff done,” says Pruitt, of Fort Wayne.

People seem to bemoan the dreaded 3-0 as the no-looking-back, you-old-hag threshold. It’s when the crow’s-feet will start (if they haven’t already), and when it becomes even harder to ditch that pooch around the midsection, and when those gray hairs you’ve been tweezing are supposed to triple in number.

The age – or some seemingly arbitrary age near there – reminds men and women of all the things they didn’t accomplish by the timelines they may have created in their teens or early 20s.

Turning 30 signifies a transition in life, says Donovan Martin, a therapist with and the owner of Dunn Associates, P.C., which offers counseling and psychological services in Fort Wayne.

“People have to contemplate where they’ve been in the past, where they are in the present, where they have to go,” he says. “I think there’s a disconnect between the timeline we have for ourselves and then the reality of how that plays out. The idea that we should graduate college, get the job, get married, have kids – that process is one that we grow up understanding, but the way the world works right now, it’s not that simple. … So if we haven’t met those goals, that can really lead to feelings of depression or failure.”

Or, as Pruitt puts it, feeling grumpy around the time of her birthday. Logically, she recognizes why some of her goals haven’t been met yet at 31 (or her sixth annual 26th birthday). She’s applied to doctorate programs, she says, but hasn’t been accepted. She’s currently an adjunct professor at IPFW in women’s studies, and she enjoys her job. She and her husband rent a home in West Central. Buying a house in the neighborhood, however, is expensive, so she’s OK with renting a home in a neighborhood she loves.

Part of the nose-wrinkling that occurs around her birthday has to do with what she calls a “standard of behavior for people in their 30s.”

“If I have cereal for dinner, now that I’m over 30, I feel especially ridiculous about it,” she says. “Whereas when I was in my 20s, I had cereal for dinner all the time, and it was like, ‘So what? I’m in my 20s. I rent.’ ”

Plus, many of her friends have kids, which are not part of Pruitt’s plan, leaving her to feel like she has to “look elsewhere for the signs that I’ve become a grown-up.”

Martin says this phenomenon isn’t any more common today than it was in the past, but it is changing. Today, for example, more people are going to college, meaning they’re more likely to have that timeline of where they should be at certain periods of their lives. And if someone gets a degree in a subject he is passionate about, who creates and follows a road map for his life, he isn’t likely to view his 30th birthday as an evil thing that must be avoided.

Meanwhile, someone who graduates with that same degree – not because he is passionate about the subject but because he wants a degree – might have a harder time as his birthday nears.

“One thing about turning 30, especially if (they’ve) already gone to college, (is they) don’t feel like they can redo it. ‘Well, I’ve already got this business degree, so I have to do something in business, but I found out that I hate business,’ ” he says.

Whereas somebody who went into school and picked the major that fit him well can find his 30th birthday as an affirming thing.

“Sometimes you can look back and go, ‘I’ve really achieved what I set out to achieve,’ ” Martin says.

jyouhana@jg.net

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