The 34-year itch – what to do when you’re at a different life stage to your friends

What I want is adventure, but where are all the kindred spirits who are footloose and fancy-free?

Helen Coffey
Saturday 19 February 2022 12:41 GMT
‘When a friend says they want a Big Night Out, they mean something different to me’
‘When a friend says they want a Big Night Out, they mean something different to me’ (Getty Images)

I never expected to be here. Staring down the barrel of 35 – undeniably mid-thirties and therefore my official “scary” age – single, child-free and living in a damp-infused basement flat with a chaotic gay couple I met on the internet.

I thought I’d at least have a divorce under my belt by now. Maybe a couple of proposals. But no: at the point at which 99 per cent of my social circle has bedded down with roots that run deep, curling tendril-like beneath life’s soil and extending out far beyond my line of sight, here I am. Tetherless; itchy-footed; free.

The strangest thing is that, in most ways, this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’d imagined that ending up here would be devastating – that I would feel “deprived”, empty and hollowed out from being robbed of the life I had been promised to expect. I grew up believing there was one single way to live and, to a greater or lesser extent, be happy. An incredibly heteronormative way, granted: marriage, house, babies. A decent job, if possible – but culture taught me that the husband and kids part was the priority.

My peers slowly peeled off to live their own version of this life, and I barely noticed. At first, because there were plenty of fellow comrades who were still footloose and fancy-free, and latterly because it seemed that I, too, was on course to join the Smug Married set. I met my ex at the “right” age – 28 – with an ideal amount of time to fall in love/move in together/get engaged/marry/build the perfect family. Some of my friends were further along this well-trodden path, some further behind, but by our early thirties we were nearly all walking it. We strode fearlessly onward, knowing exactly where it led and confident we would all reach our destination in a timely fashion.

But five years in, the small matter of a global pandemic reared its head, and the cracks that had always been in my relationship widened to chasm-like gulfs. Thus I found myself on my 34th birthday, sad but – after a year of near-constant crying and months of excruciating couples’ therapy sessions conducted from our living room via Zoom – ultimately relieved to be packing up the flat we’d shared together and moving my worldly goods into a student-y room on the Caledonian Road.

In those months post-breakup, I did a lot of early morning walks where I tried to figure out what the hell kind of a shape life would take now. I went for lots of coffees with lots of friends. I prayed. I cried some more. And once the dust had settled and the tears had dried I took stock and found that I was happy in my new-found freedom – but that what I most wanted, deep in my bones, was adventure.

I wanted fun, and excitement, and the unexpected. I wanted wild nights where anything could happen; where one drink led to another, led to an underground bar, led to a club, to someone’s living room for the afterparty, to all-night dancing on a stranger’s kitchen table till the sun came up. I wanted stumbling home at dawn accompanied by birdsong. I wanted kisses that took you by surprise and made you catch your breath because you’d forgotten just how good kissing could be. I wanted incredulous debriefs over brunch: “Can you believe last night?!” I wanted the rush of adrenaline that comes from not being settled and contented, from knowing possibilities lie enticingly spread before you like the world’s biggest breakfast buffet. I wanted to live life like a 20-something with the disposable income of a thirty-something, basically.

There’s just one problem. At soon-to-be 35 years old, I look around at my beautiful, enriching, deeply rewarding friendships, trying to identify those kindred spirits whose desire for new experiences mirrors my own, and see … no one looking back at me. Our priorities are worlds apart right now – which I would never begrudge them, not in a million years. But we’re out of step. I’m off that well-worn track we were walking along together for so long, on another road entirely.

Now, when a friend says they want a Big Night Out, they mean something different to me. They want a cocktail or two and a dance, to flirt and let off a little steam – but back home by midnight, ready to curl up next to their longstanding other half. No turning into a pumpkin here, no ma’am; for the new day will bring dogs that need walking and children that need entertaining, mothers-in-law that need feeding Sunday roasts and chores that need ticking off the to-do list. The glorious stuff of grown-up life: a life that I don’t yet have, nor am even sure I want anymore.

They don’t have what I have right now – an aching hunger for the “new”. The visceral itch of yearning for the unpredictable. It feels like ants crawling under the skin; I want to scratch and scratch and scratch by heading off to who knows where, with who knows who, for who knows how long.

But what to do when everyone around you seems to have outgrown the kind of life you want? When the wingwomen of yesteryear need to be booked three months in advance and operate under a strict 11pm curfew? I wish there were a dating app to find single women who want to go out and dance, to seize the night and squeeze every last drop from it till it’s bled of ebony; who want to lean into the chaos of romance and share their insane dating stories, and commiserate with you when you’ve thrown yourself into your latest love story too hard, too fast, and it’s all gone catastrophically wrong.

What would it be called, that app? Stumble? Binge? Regardless, please can someone invent it soon and invite me to beta test it.

For the ants are getting impatient now; the itch demands to be scratched. The night is calling, and I must answer.

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