New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Comment
31 December 2022

What a year of my thirties has taught me about growing up

For the most part, being an adult is boring. I spend a lot of time around people looking and sounding like children wearing their parents’ clothes.

By Marie Le Conte

Do you know how anticlimactic it is to turn 31? Because I can tell you. I am so underwhelmed by now being 31 that I am writing this on my birthday. I didn’t have it in me to take the day off. It would have felt self-indulgent, like not going to work because you have a bit of a headache.

Speaking of which – I have a bit of a headache. That is what happens now: I can have a hearty dinner and down all the water in the world but, if I drink more than two glasses of alcohol on a given night, I will feel it the next day. “The day after” used to be quite a Manichean affair in my twenties: I was hungover or I was not.

There is now a whole world between those two, and it feels like being haunted by the concept of nausea. A friend in his forties christened it “the fizz fuzz”. I now know what this means.

It usually comes with a shame that burrows inside my bones. It isn’t attached to anything – I don’t need to have behaved badly or said things I shouldn’t have in order to feel it. It’s just there, weighing me down ever so slightly. I couldn’t tell you when it began happening. It’s just one of those things. Life just isn’t as light any more.

I also feel jealousy now – that’s another new feeling. It isn’t quite insidious or mean but it is here nonetheless. I can look at people who’ve had more luck or made better choices than me and feel a pinch in my heart. It isn’t all bad; as I’m finding out, there is nothing quite like jealousy to make you zero in on what you’re pining for.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

It feels like walking past a woman in the street and looking at the great knee-high boots she is wearing. You’d not really thought about getting some knee-high boots for yourself this winter but then you saw some and you realised you wanted a pair as well. You can’t walk up to her and steal her boots and it may take you a while to find the boots that are right for you but, at least, you are now on a path that may lead to greater satisfaction.

That’s another lesson: there is only so much you can figure out on your own. I am quite ashamed of the way this epiphany came to me but, well, you can’t always help your circumstances. It was the end of October and I was just coming home from Barcelona, where I’d spent a few days by myself.

I’d eaten pork and drunk cava and swum in the sea but, by the end, I didn’t feel entirely relaxed. I’d had a holiday but no time off from my own brain. I compared this to – again, this is a mortifying admission – my return from the Labour and Tory party conferences a few weeks earlier, and realised that I’d felt more at peace with myself then.

Sometimes there is nothing like going away and being surrounded with people for three straight days, even if those people are not only friends but mostly acquaintances, foes, colleagues, or all three at once. High- and middle-brow culture often likes to put quiet introspection on a pedestal but they’re wrong; few people truly learn and grow in a vacuum.

Still, there are advantages to willingly embracing your inner Peter Pan. I once assumed, back when the idea of being in my thirties felt as distant and remote as a fairy tale, that growing up would be a gradual and harmonious process. Of course, I was wrong.

I am now a member of the Tate museums but in the past year I’ve got three new tattoos, most of them done on a whim. I take vitamin C every morning but I still loathe stilted dinner parties with every fibre of my being. No, really: if given the choice between a gauchely extravagant three-course meal sat next to someone’s tedious partner and taking heroin, I’d get the spoon out in a heartbeat.

That’s probably the most important thing I learned in the first year of no longer being in my twenties. For the most part, being an adult is boring and it sucks. You end up spending a lot of time around people playing grown-up, looking and sounding like children wearing their parents’ clothes, and it’s never even clear that they enjoy it.

The secret to having a good time, I think, is to see the whole thing as a series of trade-offs. Life no longer features the vertiginous highs and lows of youth but you can start settling into yourself, like a couch getting more comfortable once you’ve repeatedly sat in it.

There is more joy to be found in the quiet comforts of life, but the sack of meat that carries you around now has the occasional demand. Melancholy comes easier but there is no longer a sheet of angst covering everything. Oh, and finally: not everything has to matter any more. 

I’ve turned 31 and I just don’t really care. It’s a day like any other. I can sit on my couch and write my column and later I’ll go for a drink and a dance. Life is good.

[See also: Working from home is killing our social lives]

Content from our partners
The power of place in tackling climate change
Tackling the UK's biggest health challenges
"Heat or eat": how to help millions in fuel poverty – with British Gas Energy Trust