If interested in this theme, I actually have a podcast along the same lines.
Back on October 1, 2014 I wrote a post called “Can you make friends after 30?” If I’m doing some basic math correctly, I would have been 33 when I wrote that. I’m now 37. Here’s what happened in the intervening time:
- Most of my friends changed
- I got divorced
- Getting divorced teaches you a ton about who’s really there for you vs. who’s not, so my friends shifted again
- Now — and this took a hot minute — I feel more comfortable in my own skin
People that I probably would have texted or called regularly on 10/1/14? They are still in my phone, yes. I still see some of their stuff on social media. But are we friends? No, not really.
Now, this part of the story is extremely specific to me in the early-to-mid-30s period. Only about 28% of highly-educated people (which I somewhat am) get divorced, so 7 in 10 wouldn’t have this kind of story. I get that.
But there’s an universality to the 30-to-35 period that data can underscore a bit.
I’d say the two big “life-changers” of your late 20s/early 30s for most would be (a) marriage and then (b) children. You could say “mortgage,” sure, but many educated white people end up with a mortgage, and not all end up married or with kids, so I’m going to ride or die with those two life events.
The average age of first marriage for a woman right now is 27; it’s 29 for men. If you go up to “college-educated women,” that’s 28. “College-educated white women” is almost 29.
Now, age of first birth for a college-educated woman (same article link) is 30. And, in fact, according to 2016 CDC data, more women are having their first child between 30 and 34 than essentially ever before. That’s probably tied to a shift in the whole “You have to have a baby by X-Date” narrative.
So obviously these are aggregate numbers averaged out. Everyone is different. I also haven’t even touched the racial/education component here (and I’m not going to).
For most college-educated people (all races), your life is going to — on average — change between 28 and 33, give or take. And probably change in every conceivable way.
What’s going to happen when that happens?
Well, now you have more responsibilities, as in the support of another person (marriage) and the raising of one (childbirth).
Obviously this is going to make your connection back to work (the means to the end of providing for those things) stronger in some ways. I mean “stronger” in the sense of “I need a job to pay for this stuff,” but paradoxically — I don’t have kids so this is just based on conversations — you’re going to care about work less, because now you’ve got a burgeoning family back at home.
We never really acknowledge openly that work for many is a means to an end, which creates the faux-workaholic culture many of us reside in. Also not acknowledged: men can’t have babies themselves, which means they need a whole new context for relevance and self-worth, and that often becomes “work” and/or “the acquisition of capital.”
So now you rely on work more, which means they can essentially own you. Not amazing.
And in this process, what’s going to happen? Are you going to see those friends a lot? Probably not. Some do, sure — and if your kids are the same age range and you live near each other, have at it. But is it normative for most people? I’d argue no.
So wait, are you arguing against having kids?
Naw. And I myself think it would be cool someday. It’s probably a selfish deal given world overpopulation as is, but we’re all selfish to some extent, you know? Anyway, just leaving this here.
What about moving?
Oh yea. Throw this wrinkle in here too. Since I was 29, I’ve lived in New York, Minneapolis, and Fort Worth. A person in the U.S. moves about 11.4 times in their lifetime, and while some of those are local (suburbs), the moves between 24 and 32 — an average of about five, so I’m under on that — tend to be for work. Work moves are usually not going to be in the same city.
So now start putting all this together:
- At 21–22, many of us still live in communal settings with close friends we’ve spent close to a half-decade crying, studying, and partying with
- At 24, those dynamics are still relatively recent and there are reunion/meetup options — plus people clustered in one or two cities, potentially
- After about 25, though …
- … people begin coupling off …
- … marrying …
- … kids …
- … career track …
- … family track …
The divergence sets in around that period. In other words? You can’t skip the second act of life.
“You’re not the same person”
Good friend of mine got up with her husband at 18; got divorced at 42. One thing she once said to me was the equivalent of “You’re not even the same person at 18 as at 25, and definitely not at 25 as at 35.” They did have one kid (I think she was 33 when that happened). The whole argument is that relationships need to adapt and evolve with the people in them. I’d hope we all kind of know/understand that, but many do not.
Let’s bring in male loneliness for a second
Alright, first off — because I’ve gotten shit for this in the past — males don’t have it that tough societally. I’m not trying to argue that. I understand #MeToo and everything else from thousands of years of how we view and treat women. Men have it comparatively easy.
Note the tagline (“pick two”).
But, you need to consider what a male friendship looks like vs. a female friendship. They are not the same thing. The experiences are not the same thing. And, lo and behold, what is the year of life associated with “peak male loneliness?”
Why do you think it would be 35?
A male at that stage probably:
- Has a kid/doesn’t
- 13–14 years out of college
- Probably understands their career ceiling
- Is either on the “dad track” or the “bar track”
- Might not live near their “boys”
- If does live near their “boys,” those boys either can’t get out for a drink or are drinking too much
- Wondering how much he should be having sex (applies single or married)
Men don’t have it that tough, no — but male loneliness is a very, very real thing. We just don’t talk that much about it. Put your head down and slay revenue targets, boy.
But social and mobile have made us more connected, right?
Yes. This is true. Mostly it’s a good thing.
The drawback to instant connectivity is that many people aren’t comfortable with how their lives are actually going, but they have no self-awareness or desire to present the actuality. So they present a curated version. Other people, also lacking self-awareness, see said curated version and think “So-and-so is doing better than me or further along than me.” Social media is hyper-comparison on steroids for most people, and again, we often don’t admit it.
It’s easy to say you use social for updates and to see what people are up to, and probably mostly you do. But somewhere in your psyche, you’re comparing too. Most of us do it. We might not admit we do it, but we’re usually pretty blind about our own bullshit.
What’s the broader point here?
Life is hard and people drift — but life can also be awesome and beautiful. You’ll run into lots of people who are completely full of shit, but that’s just going to make you understand your own path all the more.
But is your life and the people in it most directly likely to look different at about 28 and 36? Probably.
Just keep swimming.