31 Years in this Life

As of today, I’ve walked this life for 31 years. The funny part is that I didn’t realize that it was my birthday till Monday. On a Monday afternoon at the office, I was frantically trying to process some paperwork to meet a deadline. I felt engulfed by all the piles of paper, stacks of charts, orders, and what nots. On top of that, there were frequent interruptions of phone calls. I browse the calendar for something else, then I realize, “Hey! It’s October 30th this week. It’s my 31st birthday.”

Damn, I’m 31!

I celebrated Thursday night of my birthday with a bubble bath and a home spa. I put on a face mask and did my nails. Then, I went online shopping and got myself a pair of cute Sorel boots and winter clothes for the cold months of snow. I also treated myself by getting Clinique skincare products. I spend the evening watching TV. I was tired. The next day, my coworkers surprised me with flowers. My boyfriend took me out to dinner downtown. It’s been 31 wonderful years and I’m blessed by all the birthday wishes.

If you have to ask how I feel, let me say that I had several people comment that I don’t look like I’m in my 30s. Most people tell me that I look 25 or mid-twenties. I don’t mind it at all. I have a baby face and I know it. People always told me that I look younger. I knew there would be a time when I don’t mind being mistaken for a younger person. I’ve reached that age. As long as I’m still viewed as an adult instead of a 21 year old college kid, I’m fine. I’m quintessentially an adult, but I’m still mischievious. As a child, I’ve always been told that I always had a mischievious look on my face. It’s the expression as if I’m about to do something. Like any other kid, I have done silly, funny, dumb, or downright stupid things. I still have that streak of mischief. Why take life so seriously?

I know I’m getting older when…

  • I’m relieved or notice when the bartender cards me. I remember when servers gradually stopped carding me at bars.
  • 19 or 21 year olds consider me an “older woman.” That made me laugh hysterically. It dawned on me. A guy who is 10 years younger than me would be 21 and old enough to enter a bar. So someone 10 years younger than me is legally an adult of the drinking age. That is weird. But I wouldn’t want to be with someone else’s little brother or a younger guy.
  • I like chest hair on men. It’s attractive as long as it isn’t abnormally hairy. I started finding the rugged, macho men with muscles, chest hair attractive. I think in Kingman, we had a converasation about it with the girls at church: is chest hair attractive or not? Tara noticed that the girls who found it attractive were about 25 and over while the younger girls found chest hair and big muscles gross.
  • Wild parties or clubbing are boring to me. I remember when I just turned 21 and going out to a club sounded cool. Not it seems stupid to me. It’s a waste of my time and it’s BORING. If those teenyboppers think I’m boring because I don’t get drunk or club, I think they are boring because they need alcohol to have fun. I still love to go out. My “going out” is salsa dancing, a lounge for good music, stand-up comedy, theatre or arts event, concerts, playing sports, and good conversations over a social drink (usually a beer, wine, or soda). I order ginger ale or soda at the bar. What’s interesting? You tell me. I gave up liquor. Because of a medical condition, I cannot drink hard liquor or a lot. An occasional beer or wine for special occasions is fine. I can only drink one glass of wine or beer.
  • I traveled around the world and thrived on change. Growing up, I was the typical third-culture kid and my family moved a lot. I was used to constant change and enjoyed it. Now that I had my kicks and travelled, I’m gravitating towards settling down. I want to live in one place for a long time and travel during holidays. I’m enjoying Boston. I found a job, a church, meeting new people, and a boyfriend.
  • I’m actually interested in dating and getting married. Marriage used to scare me because I saw too much dysfunction. And I’ve been in bad relationships. What helped me was getting to know people in healthy marriages, both older couples and young, married couples. These people had the healthy marriages that I wanted. It wasn’t perfect. I saw the difference when they had a disagreement versus my parents’ fights. There was mutual respect, boundaries, communication, and both people took responsibility. I decided to spend time with them so that I can see what they are doing. I read books on relationships but careful about what I read. There is a lot of BS relationship advice. I now know that marriage or any relationship is about how I manage my life. That is why I didn’t pursue a serious relationship when I was younger. I wanted to do some soul searching and know what I want. As I knew what I wanted, the quality of my relationships improved. I met someone in Boston and it has been 5 wonderful months.
  • I don’t give a damn what people think anymore. As I’m getting older, I’m developing a “fuck you” attitude. People’s unsolicited fickle opinions go over me. I may consider them if it may be valuable but ultimately life is how I decide to live. I know how to draw boundaries and ask for things in a respectful but assertive manner. Too many young 20-something women attempt the impossible task of pleasing everybody. Not only that but they resent me when I appropriately advocate for myself or draw healthy boundaries. For example, at my old workplace, one coworker resented me because I negotiated with the boss for an extension of a deadline. It went well and in my favor. She thought I was being rude because I had the communication skills and ability to ask for something. She often got on my nerves because she was a snotty, know-it-all, naive and plain dumb at times. She was that self-righteous person who butted into everyone else’s business. I told her tactfully but professionally to mind her own business. Here’s the truth I want to tell young women: stop trying to please everyone. It’s an impossible task and you will only burn out. There is a clear difference between rudeness versus assertiveness. If you want to be successful and have a peace of mind, learn how to advocate for yourself. I discovered that if I behave like a doormat, people don’t respect me as much. While I advocate for myself, I’m also there to support others and help others. When I can draw boundaries and be an assertive, confident woman, I am more respected. Sure, some people may resent me but fuck them. I’m not going to be a doormat or stoop myself down to their inability to manage their own lives. Some people cannot stand me. That’s fine with me. I’m happy with those wonderful people in my life and would rather focus on that than that one fool.
  • Speaking of which, I learned that it is perfectly OK to burn some bridges. First, I try to resolve, then distance if resolving doesn’t work, but if that person doesn’t have any mutual respect of any sense of boundaries, I feel no qualms of stepping back and letting the relationship naturally dissolve. Examples are: toxic family members, manipulative pastor, toxic religious people, drama queen friends, or people interested in gossip, those who judge me when I suffer or go through life’s trials, malayalee pentecostal crowd, and those still disappointed with me for leaving CBC. Guess what? To this day, I’m thrilled that I left CBC and the charismatic religious bubble. My life has been much better afterwards. I finally have a sense of freedom and peace.

I’d say 30s are a lot better than my 20s. One of the bosses at my work told me that when she was in her 30s, she felt more like an adult since she was a rebel during her young years. As for me, I’m not sure how I can be a rebel. My parents are liberal. I feel that the only way I can rebel is being an uptight, conservative Republican or belonging to one of those religious traditional fanatical groups. But I do not want to live like the Duggers. I detested all the “biblical womanhood” crap and legalism that I was subjected to when I first became a believer. I had an old roommate who came from a very conservative religious background that I was shocked to hear her story. She wanted to attend college but her parents were not happy about it. Their comment was, “Why do you want to attend college? Your husband will provide for you.” My initial reaction was being surprised that some Americans had this backwards mentality of the 1900s. Even my grandmother in India wanted me to attend college. She’d be shocked to hear that this kind of mentality exists in America.

When I was younger, I went through the phrase of trying to figuring out who I am and experimenting different things and identities. At one point, I realized that no one will ever entirely “find themselves.” It’s trying to define self-actualization in vague and unrealistic terms. It is not about experimenting to find yourself like finding the perfect wedding dress that embraces the figure in all the right curves. Life is about gathering different experiences—personal, second-hand, or knowing someone else. For example, I have no desire or intent to smoke illegal drugs. I never tried illegal drugs and don’t ever want to. I have never been in jail. However, I know people who have been there in the past. I listen a lot and ask questions. I wanted to know the person beyond the “ex-drug addict” or “jail bird” label. I wondered why would someone use drugs after knowing that it’d ruin their lives. When I got to know someone, I realized that one person may use illegal drugs to sedate pain. I may not have used drugs, but I sedated my pain through other means. We’re all human. We are all in a common journey. While traveling on the path, some people may encounter an enemy who attacks them. So, when you see battle scars or a less than perfect-form, have some compassion and patience. You may never know what they fought before you met them.

Instead of trying on different identities like outfits when I was a teenager, I realized that identity is about discovering what makes us all human. Regardless of race, cultural background, skills and talents, and life experience—there are things that unite all of us and something we all have in common as humans. That doesn’t mean uniqueness and diversity in all of us can be ignored. It is empowering to find out what you have in common with someone who is the complete opposite of myself. We both are humans in this life for a purpose. That is why I enjoy making friends with people who are the opposite of me. I enjoy hearing their stories and perspectives. I also enjoy reading intelligent literature from authors of different backgrounds and a variety of settings and topics. It makes me see that the human experience is universal.

I never get tired of traveling and exploring. I like adding new things to my resume of life. I’m glad that I took up the opportunities to travel and explore. That gives me more interesting tales to tell. My service trip to Mexico, study abroad in Argentina, growing up abroad in Dubai, temporary work in small town Arizona, and working internationally in Singapore served a bigger purpose. Living one’s purpose is not a straight, clean path. It is full of winding roads, messiness, mishaps. Within these winding there is joy, discovery, growth, pleasure, and excitement. I have no regrets about my past choices—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This year I’ve been focusing on recovery. A series of set backs, difficult transitions, painful disappointments, and health issues that happened to me during the last three years. I’m thankful for answered prayers, support from people, and pleasant surprises. I look forward to the future.

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