Advice for women turning 30
This is Caitlin McCabe. She’s turning 30 this week. I met Caitlin through my Brazen Careerist co-founder, Ryan Paugh. They are getting married, and every day I thank goodness that Ryan found her, because I don’t have a lot of friends in Madison, and I can’t have one fall to the wayside for marrying someone I don’t like.
Caitlin wrote a thoughtful post about turning 30, which reminded me that I have a lot to say about turning 30. So this post is my birthday present to Caitlin. If you can call unsolicited advice a gift.
1. Don't look to men for turning-30 camaraderie.
Turning 30 is different for men and women. Take a look at OKCupid, which is a dating site, yes, but it is also one of the most intoxicating data centers online. Their official blogger, Christian Rudder, does an incredible job of parsing the data from millions of people who use the site to figure out surprising answers to intriguing questions.
Rudder parses OKCupid data to find that, women are most desirable to men when women are in their 20s, and men are least desirable to women when they are in their 20s. Makes sense—men select for looks and women select for money. This is not some sexist social artifact—this is just how the world works and you cannot change it by forcing a generation of girls to play soccer.
What is also true is that women in their 20s earn more than men. So women feel relatively confident at work. But this switches in their 30s, when men start earning more. Sure, this is a result of a string of career-limiting decisions women make (like, they don't want to be at the Consumer Electronics Show delivering a baby), but the bottom line is that the security women had in their earning power will go down and the men's security will go up.
What this means for the turning-30 crowd is that men feel great and women feel trepidation.
2. Approach your biological clock head on.
First, for most women, the biological clock starts ticking like an earthquake when you turn 30 and have no kids. I know it is not scientifically proven, but most women will tell you that even if you thought you didn't want kids, if you are ever going to change your mind, it'll be when you turn 30. Something weird happens. And don't tell me it's society, because the Baby Boomer moms of Gen Xers were vehement that there is no rush to have kids, and thirty year old daughters should focus on careers, and still, Gen Xers felt the crush of the clock at age 30.
It is logical that you would panic about your clock because your clock is about to explode. Have you looked at data for mothers who are over 35? Here’s a chart from Classhelp.com, and while this is just Down’s Syndrome, most pregnancy risk-factor slopes look like this one:
But it's not like you can't control your dating life. It's all you. If you want to find a husband, you'll find one. Just make it a priority. First, you get rid of all the things you know are bringing you down. Junky eating. Junky friends. No exercise. No passion about work or anything outside of work. Fix all that. There are 1000 self-help books to tell you how, but really, you just need one thing—a will to change.
You will attract who you deserve. If you don't like who you are getting, change yourself. If you can't change yourself, get a reality check.
Then just choose the guy. Here are two things to consider: 1. There is no good time to have a baby. It’ll always mess up your career, so just do it if want one. 2. There is no best way to choose a mate. Men will change careers, eventually have health problems, make parenting promises they won't keep—it's astounding how much marriage turns out to be a bait-and-switch. You can control so little, so don't waste a lot of time trying to control for stuff you can't—ultimately—control.
3. Relish the upcoming decade: it will probably be your best.
You know why? Because for women, their 30s decade is the best one of their sexual life. OK Cupid has outstanding data about women and sex. Women overwhelmingly report that they had no idea how bad they were in bed during their 20s, but they got much better in their 30s. By the time women are in their 40s, their sex drive is at its highest and their competence in bed is at its highest. When asked why, women report that their self-confidence and self-knowledge is at an all-time high.
The problem is that while women in their 40s are great in bed, they are increasingly unhappy in life. Women in their 40s report the most anxiety, sleeplessness, and pressure than any other demographic, and women, after 40, grow more and more unhappy as time goes on.
I, of course, have scoured research to find ways to overcome this statistical nightmare. But, in the meantime, women turning thirty can console yourselves: You are gaining self-confidence in leaps and bounds during your 30s, and your bedroom skills have the same slope as the graph above—but in a good way.
So really, Caitlin, and all you other women entering your 30s, you're entering the decade that is best for women. Honestly, I'm hoping I'm in my best decade too. But I'll tell you something: My 30s were hard to beat. And I'm saying that even though I turned 30 with no job, no boyfriend and no money. So I know you’ll have a great time as well.
It’s like Marilyn Monroe said in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”
any advice for women turning 40?
Thank you so much for this wonderful post Penelope!! I am a huge fan of unsolicited advice (particularly yours) and thank god I can look forward to great sex in the years to come! I also like that you mention the really scary stuff, like being 30 with no baby plan and how that affects your career. Not many people want to even touch that. Thanks P!!
@Penelope: I would add that turning 30 gives you instant credibility. When I turned 30 (and my 30s were much better than my 20s), I stopped being perceived as “a kid in her 20s.”
@Asma: Don’t worry about it. People approach turning 40 like it’s a death knell. Either they’re openly depressed about it, or they have some frenzied celebration to hide that they’re depressed. But it’s not that big a deal. It’s not even that big a milestone. It’s just 40.
I am loving my 30s. I have always been happy with my life at any stage but really it just keeps getting better and confidence is a huge part of it.
Maybe I’ll blog about turning 60 this year.
As a 29 year old fearfully approaching my 30th Birthday I can’t thank you enough for this honest advice. Although I am fearful about not having a plan for my career or babies, I am optimistic about the future.
Waning happiness at 40+? Since Generation X is only now beginning to turn 40, I think we better study this again in five years. I’m going to go out on an instinctual limb and say that GenX women are not/will not be experiencing decreases in happiness in their forties, because we are more comfortable with the aging process and hold a different set of ideas about success and happiness than the baby boomers.
Yeah, I’m sleepless because I have a 10-month-old, not because of anxiety. And while 40 itself sucked, that had to do with events, not the age. 41 was awesome, and I suspect that I’ll continue to enjoy my 40s. Although it would be nice to get some sleep.
I will be 40 in July and I agree that my generation is not feeling the same about life as women who are now 50+. And I even have two children under the age of five.
Penelope, I truly and fully enjoy reading (most) of your postings and I always learn something new and amazing wen presented with your perspective of the world.
Couldn’t agree more that we should embrace our (sex)life and make the most of it, no matter how much or little that might be. Life in the 40’s isn’t that bad either ;)
@ Asma: I was dreading hitting 40, but at 37 I read that Alan Greenspan used to be a sax player in his 20’s, hanging out with Ayn Rand & Co, and just came to get his PhD in Economics when he was 51 yrs old.
I don’t know why, but that little triva helped me change my perception of age. I decided to go back to school and studied something unpractical (but that I loved); changed careers; and even joined the board of couple of non-profits I feel passionate about.
Really, at 40, you are paid for; there is no reason to be afraid.
Now I can’t wait to be 45, 50, or even 60. Bring them on!
I can’t wait to be 45 or even 50
“The problem is that while women in their 40s are great in bed, they are increasingly unhappy in life. Women in their 40s report the most anxiety, sleeplessness, and pressure than any other demographic, and women, after 40, grow more and more unhappy as time goes on.”
Wow. Now that’s the kind of garbage you get when people make huge, sweeping conclusions without knowing the slightest thing about their data. Which, in this case – given the ages involved – would have to apply to Boomer women and their Yes, I have no doubt that, in recent history, turning 40 was a difficult time for women. Given that the generation before me (I turned 43 today – and boy did I love reading that little ‘graph) had little opportunity to determine their goals and live on their own terms, it is not surprising. But to think that applies since then is nonsense. Sure, some women have a horrible time, but then some women make a mess out of their lives.
In the future, how about, instead of a newbie 30-year-old spouting nonsense based on her own fears and ignorance, you actually meet a few women in this age range before writing your post? I suggest you try your local pole dance studio – you’ll find plenty of women over 40 there and I guarantee you a happier, livelier bunch of women you won’t find anywhere.
Really? Your going to be that rude about what she wrote about 40’s? Your very rude and sounds like you can’t except some “ideas” that come with 40’s! I believe this blog was geared towards women turning 30 and or in their 30’s. Take a fricken chill pill!
Wow, try turning 50. That is something to write about!
“The problem is that while women in their 40s are great in bed, they are increasingly unhappy in life. Women in their 40s report the most anxiety, sleeplessness, and pressure than any other demographic, and women, after 40, grow more and more unhappy as time goes on.”
REALLY???? You need to do more research! I am 55…I sleep GREAT since I got through the hormonal stage of menopause! My life is the BEST it’s ever been, I started my own business 6 months ago! allot of my students are in their 40’s and they are HAPPY!! I love that last post!
Quote: In the future, how about, instead of a newbie 30-year-old spouting nonsense based on her own fears and ignorance, you actually meet a few women in this age range before writing your post? I suggest you try your local pole dance studio – you’ll find plenty of women over 40 there and I guarantee you a happier, livelier bunch of women you won’t find anywhere. You really do need to do better research! *Peace*
You need to realize that what you said is anecdotal evidence and doesn’t speak for an average of all people in that age range. you and your friends may experience something different because you aren’t a random sample. research is based on a random sample that is an average based on a population. You need to do some more research on how research is done before spouting off on someone that they are stupid.
40 is FABULOUS. I don’t know where these statistics or information came from, but its wrong wrong wrong!
Great post! I’m turning 30 this year and recently did a do-over with my career, as in, I don’t really have one right now since I left my full-time position. This and I just asked my 70-year-old mother what she did when she turned 30 to which she replied, “Got drunk and cried.” I needed the positivity from this post. Thanks!
This is a great post–a good combination of solid research and personal advice.
I am about to turn 50 and I have to say, my 40’s have been my favorite decade so far and most women I know feel the same way. In your 40’s you’re more confident and secure than in your 30’s, and you can try more things without fear. The 40’s have also brought most women I know increased financial security, which definitely helps (exception to this is some of the divorced). So get those 30’s out of the way so you can join a fabulous decade!!
I’ve been tough on your posts the last couple of days, Penelope, so I’m going to give you a break & commend this one. And for the female readers approaching 30 who love a nice english accent, I may be willing to offer some coaching on navigating life transitions!
I am 42 and put 20 somethings to shame! When will women stop believing garbage like this (biological clock, unhappy in your 40’s) and start taking charge of their lives? YOU are in control of your own happiness. I am in better shape, have a better career, a better husband, better friends and better life (lets not even get started on the sex thing). I agree with Pam above…why don’t you actually meet some women in this age range instead of freaking out over turning 30!
Thanks so much for the links to OK Cupid. That is some fascinating data and analysis! I’m going to pass this on to all my single friends.
Every decade gets better for me. 40s are awesome so far.
I would have to say that women that fear turning 40 are running with the wrong crowd. At 40, we have the confidence and strength to make wise and well considered decisions. We don’t wait for anyone’s approval but our own, and our lives are lived on our own terms, based on the experience that waiting for someone else to praise us for our obedience is quite boring. So about this turning 30 crap: milestones in age are simply numerical indicators by which to measure your own mediocrity, inability to measure up, or failure to achieve something. Throw that in the trash and measure yourself by the quality of the decisions you make and the interest and fascination through which you pursue the things that are important to you. It doesn’t matter how old you are anymore- it simply matters that you don’t waste your life worrying about the stupid stuff. (Which, in turn, makes you boring and look old) :-)
P – I have been reading you for years, and this is the first time I’ve wanted to post. You are spot on! By the way, I am about your age, 44, and my thirties were my best years…except for the sex. I can’t even believe I thought I knew what good sex was until now. At 44, I am a confident sexual machine. Good luck to Caitlin and other 30-somethings. I can tell you that life only gets better. If only we could have the 40-something smarts when we had a 20-year old body….
OKCupid may have all sorts of data, but that cupid is stupid. I get hit on by guys in their early twenties all the time (I’m 32). They are always surprised at my age…and then get over it and proceed to hit on me again. I’ve heard this from numerous women in their 30’s. Age to men doesn’t really seem to matter. We make it something. We make it matter. Your 30’s are great. You finally have figured out how to pluck your eyebrows and dress in ways that accentuate what you’ve got. You’ve maybe even got a growing career and some more responsibilities. We need to stop thinking it is horrible and start realizing this is our time.
Thank you so MUCH for this post! I’ve just turned 30 and I must add that I passed the last 4 months being 29 really scared. And being so I vented to a lot to my girlfriends, only to find out they had similar feelings and hid them.
I agree with KateNonymous that turning 30 gives you instant credibility, but that’s what I feared most: I dodn’t really fell ready to be treated as someone mature and adult. That means (to me at least) that I had a plan about what to do with my life in terms of career choices and wheater to have kids or not. And I turned 30 two weeks ago and I still don’t have a clue about any of that stuff.
With so much thinking about turning 30 I felt like I’ve had this on my subconscious for a long time and now I can see clearly that’s why I decided to go to grad school (where i’m still at trying to leave with a PhD): to avoid moving to an adult life, and now I feel that time has catched up with me saying: stop fooling around and make decisions!
This post looks like an infomercial for OkCupid.
This is the future of advertising!
OKCupid’s blog is data-fantastic! Another blog I love (thehairpin.com– so, so good) linked to it a few weeks ago and I literally lost hours in there! Here’s the thing though. No one wants a black girl.
P- Did you happen to note the data related to black women? They’re the most friendly but least desirable group– across the board. OK Cupid is obvs not a representative, longitudinal, randomized, controlled study, BUT! Among the white population, I imagine it attracts people from the most inclusive groups (younger, more liberal, etc). Even among these hippie liberals, black is (apparently) not beautiful.
Does this [combined with the growing class disparity between black men and black women] color (haha) your advice about women, marriage & babies, and timing? Put simply: In your opinion, what’s a modern (non white) girl to do?
Gosh. I wish I had an answer. But I don’t. However, people are always asking me if they can guest post. I almost always turn down their topics. But a guest post I’d love is something like 5 tips for being black in corporate America. I would love to read something like that, but I can’t write it myself.
Wow! From this post that she is writing to amp women up about their 30’s you get something racial out of it?!!!! Lol unbelievable!!!!
Happy Birthday, Caitlin! And welcome to the 30 Club.
I find the comments regarding you being a whining, fearful 30-something are humorous!
Thanks for this post, P. You certainly have a knack for posting the right thing at the right time.
I like the graphs. It’s the first time I can remember seeing them on this blog. Adding more charts and graphs for the purpose of providing additional impact to your words (where appropriate) would be a plus to your posts IMO. They also help to break up the text in smaller chunks to make the length of the post seem smaller. An elegant way to format the post. So I’m off to OK Cupid to check out the rest of their charts and graphs.
I’m having trouble finding a boyfriend because not a lot of men will consider a disabled partner. “Change yourself or get a reality check”. Oh what very helpful advice. No wait, that’s not what I meant. What insensitive garbage. That’s what I was going for.
OK in all honesty I’m loving my 30’s, but there are some challenges of course too: the biggest one for me has been keeping up relationships with old friends who I now have less in common with because I have chosen a different path in life so far (33, single, and turned into a bit of an independent wanderer). It takes work and a lot of non-judgemental conversations. I want to get married and have kids, just need a few more years of singlehood because it’s pretty great in your 30’s, it’s a little bit of a “hall pass” from adulthood.
I’ve tried to hedge my mentality by thinking seriously about freezing my eggs. I did a lot of research and didn’t like the doctor and also heard it’s grueling on your body which I’m not up for right now.
So for now, I continue to operate with my head in the sand and I’m milking my 30’s for all it’s worth!
I am turning 50 next month! Speaking as a pole dance instructor who comes
in contact with plenty of women in their forties, I can tell you that
unhappy is not a term I would use when describing them. While hormone
shifts may play a part in sleeplessness, there are plenty of ways to combat
it. Exercise, good nutrition, and of course a good sex life help.
Every age has it’s great points and it’s not so great points, but staying
positive and in the moment will help you be an amazingly fabulous
woman at ANY age!!
I´m in my 30s and my biological clock still hasn´t kicked in. In fact at 32 I decided to quit my job and split for Latin America and I met hoardes of other women who did the same, go figure!
One other bit of advice; don’t think you have to act like a man to be successful or happy.
I find women between 27-32 years old to be the most datable. Better sex, better sense of humor, experienced but not jaded. 35 and over gets very tricky. I live in New York City which is particularly tough on women. Many who are 35+ have realized at some level that they can’t ‘have it all’ and the realization doesn’t sit well. The sex is fine of course but there’s always some emotional/psychological tick that makes a relationship difficult. And if you want to have children you have to take that group out of the running for reasons mentioned above. It’s my guess that the 40+ are indeed relatively unhappy but will say otherwise ( a great signal all around is if a woman uses the term ‘goddess power’ or the like. you know they’re no longer viable.). 21-25 are best naked and silent.
the problem is that most women do not know the kind of power they possess – at any age.
The 40+ are too wrapped up in the fact that they don’t look like something from a Covergirl commercial, when even those “models” don’t actually look like that:)
I take exception though that your said, “21-25 are best naked and silent.” That is rather demeaning and suggest intellectual snobbery and a tendency to see others as things as opposed to unique, human works of art in development.
You can learn something from everyone, even if it is a perspective, but then most of my fellow men are too intimidated by strong intelligent women to realize/admit this.
Thank you, Dale. As a woman I am rather offended by Kit’s comment “21-25 are best naked and silent”. I just turned 26 so I guess I’m allowed to speak now but unfortunately, I’m not as hot naked as I was last year. Your response is thoughtful and spot-on in my opinion. I agree that we can learn something from everyone and that most women do not know the power they possess. That is something I am working on myself.
I love being 40. I agree with all the previous posters about 40 being fabulous, for all the reasons they listed. I think it’s about finally knowing who you are and owning it.
The phrase I got stuck on in this post was this: “it's astounding how much marriage turns out to be a bait-and-switch.” I find that to be so true, particularly when kids are in the picture. That’s because life changes, and as you grow older so do the things you value in life. I’d recommend to anyone turning 30 (or 28 or 42 or 65) to stay flexible and be open to change. I think it’s the people who fear change that have the hardest time with growing older.
I really want a link to share this on facebook. Am I just not seeing it?
Kelly – use the “Like” button on the top of the page or right above the comments.
ENOUGH WITH THE MARRIAGE AND BABY ADVICE.
Some want it, some don’t, everyone is different.
Congrats to Caitlin!! :)
That said, going through your thirties without finding your match is hell on men, too. I don’t want to be all old and wrinkly before having kids, and, quite frankly, the number of dateable women (as in “I want to marry her”) in their 30ies or 20ies is *small*.
Thank you so much for this post. I am NOT in my 30's; in fact I’m going to turn 25 in May. I can’t wait to turn 30! I’ve seen many women in my life take each new decade with confidence and grace and become vital to their communities, their sexual partner, their children, etc.
The post was very entertaining and even though I don’t agree that women in their 40’s are unhappy (my mother is 47 and loves her career, man, music, drinks and herself) I took great pleasure in reading it and the comments that ensued.
Thanks for reaffirming my thought that it is only going to get better from here :)
I loved turning 40 so much I started my blog about it! And I would NEVER trade my 40s for my 30s. I feel like I’m finally getting to use everything I learned in my 30s now. Much happier. And sex is terrific.
Also, don’t forget that there are a lot of ways to have a family if you for some reason miss out on the biological part.
I’m turning 30 in May, but I didn’t find this advice helpful. The marriage and children advice has been said so many times before, and I really don’t think that’s specific to turning 30. The rest of the advice seems to tell me I’ll be better at sex and I’ll like it more, but men won’t like me as much (btw, if you’re into younger men, totally not true) and I’ll make less money than them (not if I skip the kids). Initially I read that my happiness would go down over time, though rereading I guess that starts at 40. Still, not a cheery or helpful article.
My biggest concern at age 29 has been that I didn’t do enough fun things in my 20s, like I grew up too quick. I’ve spent a lot of time doing fun things though, and now I think I can go into my 30s confident that it’ll be better than my 20s. That was pretty crappy and boring advice there, but that’s why you blog and I complain about you. :P
My weirdest problem now is that I look young enough that no one believes me that I’m almost 30. I teach sunday school for high schoolers, and at least two guest speakers have confused me for a student. One time I met a woman in her early 30s, and we started talking about age for some reason, and I mentioned I was feeling ambivalent about turning 30. She clearly thought I was college aged, got a weird look on her face like she didn’t know if I was lying or what happened, and left. Also, I’m fairly certain my dog’s vet thinks I’m 16. It would be ok if people thought I was about 25 or something, but I don’t even get taken as an adult many times. As I’ve been thinking about my age and getting closer to 30 it’s become more and more noticeable. I don’t know what to do about that.
I would embrace looking young…
I’m 38 and many times I shock people when I tell them I’m a mother of 13 year old. They think I am single and still relatively young (early 20’s). Enjoy the youthful look because as you get older, its nice to look young.
Thoughts of another who is often mistaken to be younger than she is :)
Marle you took the words right out of my mouth!
If you prefer younger men, it’s open season on the dating websites. The only reason women may have fewer hits than men is that they are looking for different things: women may be looking for partners and men are probably looking for sex. If you are a woman looking for sex, you’ll actually be more successful than men (because women are more picky men don’t get as many matches compared to how many they try).
Don’t misinterpret the data ladies. Women in their thirties are not less successful, they are just more selective. You can’t compare the data when the objectives are different. It’d be like saying a pub crawling college kid’s night was more successful compared to a whisky connoisseur who decided to visit one upmarket bar in town.
this is the correct graph for downs. i believe the one you pasted is either merely for illustration or may relate to spontaneous abortion.
I love this! Now, can you shed some light on turning 36, with a baby, a man and a new job, and still wondering if you are doing all the right things? Well, I would wonder if I had any time to do any wondering in!!!!
Ha! I would say the “bait and switch” thing is not only something that men do.
There are empty promises on both sides of the fence. The American dream of a life long happy marriage is a myth perpetuated by marketing and Disney happily forever after stories. Maybe it’s just the type of people that I have married, selfishness flows freely and there is this odd expectation that your mate is in charge of your happiness. The cute Quite Generation appeared to have had way more patience and acceptence than the Baby Boomers and beyond. Or maybe they were just perpetually unhappy and never said anything, because they were quiet?? :-)
Wow…how jaded do I sound? Sheesh!
Or you could ignore the data and focus on your life, as an individual.
I love this comment, Bob. So succinct and so true.
Agreed. Great comment, Bob!
I love your blog and am an avid reader. When I clicked on your “just make it a priority” link, however, I wanted more – what is your advice for meeting people and dating? As a single, somewhat awesome and attractive 28-year-old who wants to have a family and a great sex life, I feel like this is my number one priority, but it’s not happening. Then again, maybe a decision to return to grad school isn’t making dating a priority. I don’t know. In either case, I’d love advice on this. I think my batting average is low because I don’t want to sleep around, I’m looking for a relationship. Help! And thank you for your open heart as always… I’m surprised to see all of the defensive comments but these struggles seem to strike deep chords with people.
Congratulations, Penelope. This might be the most self-serving, misguided bunch of crap I’ve ever read. Posts like this are why most bloggers aren’t taken seriously.
Hee – agree with Jennifer. This blog has no actual career value, but it’s so fun to read. And the comments are the best!
This blog is my one of my guilty pleasures :-)
I truly and fully enjoy reading (most) of your postings and I always learn something new and amazing wen presented with your perspective of the world. I don’t know why, but that little triva helped me change my perception of age. I decided to go back to school and studied something unpractical (but that I loved); changed careers; and even joined the board of couple of non-profits I feel passionate about. Women in their 40s report the most anxiety, sleeplessness, and pressure than any other demographic, and women, after 40, grow more and more unhappy as time goes on.” I may be willing to offer some coaching on navigating life transitions! It doesn’t matter how old you are anymore- it simply matters that you don’t waste your life worrying about the stupid stuff. (Which, in turn, makes you boring and look old) :-) That means (to me at least) that I had a plan about what to do with my life in terms of career choices and wheater to have kids or not. And I turned 30 two weeks ago and I still don’t have a clue about any of that stuff.
The age 40 seems to be not so happy days for women.
Hi P – long time reader, first time commenter. My sisters and I would love to write a guest column on being a non-white woman in corporate America. Let us know if you are interested.