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Nearing [yikes] 35 myself and having recently witnessed several weddings, births, and even a couple of impending divorces among my age-peers while I recognize this tendency to measure myself against others' apparent progress--even when that progress, symbolized by matching dishware or something equally banal, is often something it wouldn't have occurred to me to want. But the pressure doesn't originate with these friends. When my friend A. got married this summer, she was talked into registering at Crate and Barrel. She told me how insidiously they encouraged materialism with snappy comments like, "the old college mishmash has got to go!" A. was like, "But I LIKE my old college mishmash!" Yet suddenly it looked old and worn and, well, not MARRIED enough--as if adulthood could only be arrived at by purchasing embroidered linens and a new espresso machine. We're swimming in this consumerist society; it isn't a matter of individual friends showing their junior league colors as all of us being at risk of drowning in junk.


"there's a slippery knot in here that feels like it matters" Hmmm. Could that be Neighbor's new status as married? And all the decorous details might symbolize that to you and make you feel "behind" or not-yet-there or some other less-than feeling? I don't know, but seems it might be something more than simply matching sets of things.


I understand how you feel. I turn 36 tomorrow, I've been married for almost 3 years and I've lived in my house for close to 4 years. Our windows still have the ugly curtains left by the previous owners and we haven't painted a single wall. We aren't particularly interested in having children either and therefore we feel VERY out of sync with our peers who are happy young marrieds with their Pottery Barn houses and adorable children. Husband and I are both far more interested in travel and exercise and adventure on the weekends and don't care to do home improvement in our precious spare time. We're happy, yet embarassed by our lack of interest and we feel a need to explain (defend?) our lack of interest in the things that seem to make all the other adults happy.


What ML said above occurred to me, too. But consider -- I have friends who are inching toward the purchase of a sailboat, and they view this as a sign that they've "made it." You've owned a share in a boat for quite a while, so perhaps you've already "made it."


As the "junyah-leagah" in a small midwestern town of women who wear practical shoes, those comments you mentioned HURT. Because they come from people I really respect and admire. And they seem to be saying that the things I enjoy, the things that make up my LIFE, the things that help me feel cared for and special and that aren't hurting anyone else, are somehow the things that are less valuable. Like I'm frivolous or less important because I match. And you know what, it's hard to match things. It's as complicated as an lsat puzzle, a lot of the time. But no one gives you credit for it. And getting scorn, from someone I care about, for something I'm really good at, and enjoy. Hurts.

This doesn't make much sense, and I'm probably not being very articulate, but there's a slippery knot in here somewhere that feels like it matters, and it's what I'm thinking about these days.
If you're inarticulate, I'm in biiiiig trouble (more inarticulate than you, and I have to persuade judges for a living as you used to!). :-) Once again, you've answered the question - why do I read this blog of a person I've never met nor conversed with? Your thoughts are timely, relevant and oh so familiar.

As for the reader who made the comment,
We aren't particularly interested in having children either and therefore we feel VERY out of sync with our peers who are happy young marrieds with their Pottery Barn houses and adorable children. Husband and I are both far more interested in travel and exercise and adventure on the weekends and don't care to do home improvement in our precious spare time. We're happy, yet embarassed by our lack of interest and we feel a need to explain (defend?) our lack of interest in the things that seem to make all the other adults happy.

We *have* kids, and we still feel this way to a large degree. We don't own a car and have no plans to buy one, we've never painted a wall in any house/apartment we've lived in, our furnishings are a hopefully pleasing combination of post-university items and family handmedowns, we love to travel -- we take 1-2 international trips a year and shorter more frequent trips to see family (with the kids - putting us in a minority with most people!), and we just don't have the consumer lifestyle that our neighbours or friends do (the latter judging by the garbage/recycling left on the street...and what we know about our friends' lives). Sometimes it seems 'odd' to be so out of sync, but other times we find that lots of our issues are a result of 'city living' and a love for travel, and we do know people who enjoy one or both of those things.

I'm not sure where I was going with that, except to say neither the blog author nor her reader/commenter are alone. Beyond the lifestyle things above, I've recently gone from a "I knew from the age of 6 what I wanted to do when I grew up" stage to a "WTF am I supposed to do now??" stage. Very unsettling indeed.


Just wait till Neighbor and 517 have their first child. Then their house will look like it got hit by an atomic bomb. The walls will be covered with crayon, there will be legos underfoot everywhere, and they will probably be eating on the floor-- and likely off either paper towels or mis-matched plastic plates bearing Elmo and Sponge-Bob likenesses. And doesn't your place sound grown-up and civilized in comparison?

There is a certain unease, I think, that comes from being out-of-sync with your 'peers', but I'm not certain it's rooted in any underlying desires, motivations, or lack thereof.

I think, rather, it's simply a symptom of an underlying piece of human nature: your brain likes being around people who are similar in sensibilities to you. The more you feel 'normal' in the context of your clusters of friends, the more comfortable you are. This underlying bit of lizard-brain psychology informs many higher reasoning processes, which attempts to back-fit it into more logical rationales, like, "Am I jealous because of someone else's stuff?" The problem is, it's not a rational source at all that's giving you these feelings, so attempting to figure out 'why' is ultimately futile. As your life plan diverges from those near you, it will make you feel a bit unsettled, even though it is (in most cases) the best one for you. This is not because of anything that's wrong with your life plan!

One of the good things about growing older (in my mid-30s)is that I find that I'm surer and more confident in my decision-making and able to assess situations and people in ways I simply couldn't have imagined earlier. It feels like a gift and if that's the tradeoff then perhaps I won't mind making it. When you're very young, you can't imagine not being at the center of all attention, but I imagine that in time you come to realize the separate and particular appeal of distance of all kinds.


EXCELLENT post. It wasn't inarticulate; it articulated very well the nagging feelings I've had as I've felt closer to my med school friends than some friends from high school and college. (I'm 25, btw.) And it really is because med school imposes a common mindset and (im)maturity, etc, and forces us students to have similar lives for a little while, so we bond more with each other than with outsiders. That's scary, what 3:04pm said, though. Are old friendships doomed, then, if their lives diverge too much? I'd still like to keep as warm and close a friendship as possible with my old friends who are on different paths from me. I think I've succeeded so far, but it's been a little tougher than I would've guessed.


I think it's all good. Matching dishes are great. Non matching dishes are great. I don't think there's a right way or right time table and lots of great wonderful very interesting people never have matching dish type lives, but at the same time, matching dish type lives are never never a sign of something less. There isn't really a correlation between "getting it together" in that way (so to speak) or not "getting it together" (whether on purpose or not), and living well. The best thing to do is to do what thrills you in this department - I don't think it means anything else deeper one way or another.


While all these points are very good - I think that the one point that is missed is what do you truely value in life and staying true to that on a daily basis. Blah, blah right? WRONG. Our beloved blogger here finds solice on the water and in boats, but finds housing project challenging (not enjoyable either) -the energy is much different. My point is that maybe her true love and value is more heavily weighted on the water (perhaps the water represents freedom, power and spirituality for example) than on a house (no freedom there) yet we measure our "success" by the neighbor next door and the stuff in it. There is a disconnect there.

We can measure our sucesses on the race course by looking at our competitor but when it comes to life, that isn't a good measurement at all. You need to look inward.


i, too, walked away from a lucrative big firm career. i have long been out of sync with what many of my friends care most about--namely, all that stuff that they believe marks their success. it only marks, to some extent, financial success, and that has never meant that much to me because it's all just stuff you can't take with you when you're gone. i've always been guided by a need to feel like i am right with myself. fortunately, i married a guy who values the same thing.

when we are with our friends we try to walk the common ground and enjoy. one of my good friends once said as she pointed around her mcmansion, "i wish i could live like you and not care about having all this stuff. but i just can't do it. i don't see how you do it."

there is a freedom in not caring about all that stuff, and there is a freedom in not being bugged or overwhelmed by people who do care about it. maybe what bugs you is that you realize that you don't value the same things as much as you might have thought you did. but that's okay too. you need to learn to set yourself free.


Wow. You know what this blog reminds me of sometimes? The value of retaining a childlike view of the world and what people do as an opportunity to learn: a beautiful puzzle. I lose sight of that often, and you seem to waver in it sometimes (mostly when you feel pressure to be a grown up). But you seem to succeed at it so much more than I.

I think that all women feel this way about some things. Because we all exist in relationship to some extent, we are always trying to measure our place. I admit, I've looked at the "feminine" things that my friends accomplish so much better than I and felt very insufficient. Course, I'm late 30s, have three small children, and a house that is decorated in early American fraternity. I refused to let my husband use cinderblocks for any element of the decor, but that is about the high point of the scheme. I, too, feel like I don't have a grown up life sometimes. My friends have grown up houses with nice furniture, nice curtains, things like that, and I have mix-matched hand-me-downs with yogurt and cheerios on them. All of my babysitters drive nicer cars than mine! The key, I hope, is not to respond to that feeling of inadequacy with something snarky when something vulnerable will be more truthful and transparent. I have actually been known to say "Christ, J, this room looks fantastic! I'm not sure I can be seen around a woman who can turn out curtains and coordinated pillows with a contrasting piping without breaking a sweat -- you make me look bad! Everybody has a grown-up house, and I've just got the grown up mortgage." Usually, J feels the same way (surprisingly) that I do, and appreciates the backhanded complement about being a domestic goddess. She and I are close enough to say stuff like that to each other, but so are you and Neighbor. I appreciate that it takes serious time and introspection to unpack why you would want to make snarky comments: but I find when the snarkmeter starts twitching for me, it has to do with fear or self-loathing. What is hard is that you and Neighbor are like sisters, and are going to insult each other and use each other for a yard stick and compete and support each other and love each other to the grave. With sisters, it is hard to not snark first and unpack later -- they hit you in places that are more visceral. The good news is, you can trust them with the vulnerability (usually) to be honest when you feel inadequate.

And Junior League can be a huge, valuable commitment. I'm not in it -- and I'm too old. But my mother worked her tail off in the JL and did some wonderful things. And had a lot of great women for company and support in the process. I am starting to think that grown-up tribes make me feel insecure because they remind me of the tribes of junior high and high school. Knowing that, I try to focus on the beauty involved in the wonderful, quirky people I've collected into my group and not worry about what other tribes they (or acquaintances) belong to. Think of it as an intercultural exchange, and learn. If you wnat to know about the JL, take that curious child inside you out for ice cream with one of these ladies and pick her brain! Just be sure to say first that you are amazed and a little threatened by the idea and the stereotypes about it, and ask her why she joined and what she likes about it.


i'm not at all qualified to speak on the issue of the mid-30s conundrum, but on the general topic of transitions and maturation, i'll offer my small contribution to the discussion.

what's your measuring stick for "adulthood" or "success"? one of the things that i'm learning, as my peers and i begin our careers, is that we do not share the same objectives. one friend wants prestige and a big law firm; i want something small and intimate, that allows me free time outside of work to be artsy and exploratory.

i sent myself into a panic when i first decided to not follow the same path as my peers. later, though, i realized that i never intended to do what they want to do -- that's just not me.

i think the most important thing is to make sure that you are judging yourself based on your own expectations, and not society's expectations, or those of your peers. (this is ever-challenging, as you and others have pointed out.) have confidence that you are right to place a greater value in things that others might not -- and vice versa.

next, once you know what you expect of yourself, do the math: do you meet up with your standards? what's your measuring stick? do you aim to have good health, time to sail, lots of money, etc.?

finally, does the bottom line equal success? have you met or surpassed your own expectations? have you become the person that you hoped to be?


But how well coordinated and put together is your junior league neighbor's boat?

Are all the halyards and control lines run fair and with a minimum of friction? How old is the running rigging? Are all the cleats placed optimally and maintained properly? (Metal or plastic bearings, and do they run freely or are they a little flat or deformed? Do the cams grip and release easily?) Does the deck have soft spots? How fair is her keel? How complete and organized is her sail inventory?

Is the cockpit organized well? How well is neighbor able to tune her boat and "shift gears" for different wind and wave conditions? How many days a year does she get out on the water? How many new sailors has she taught or taken out in the past year? How much volunteer work does she do for a yacht club or sailing team?

So, this belabors the obvious: the comparison depends upon your frame of reference.

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