Turning 30 in the year the world stopped

Katie Atkin
·11-min read
Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images
Photo credit: Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

If you were born in 1990, you probably now understand very clearly just why Jenna Rink was freaking out so much in 13 going on 30. We woke in early March to discover our 20s would be more-or-less gone forever, without being able to say goodbye. My age group unknowingly had our final pub crawl, last sweaty gig and our closing Thursday work drinks for the rest of our twenties. Post vaccine world, we will come back to find that many of those we previously partied with are now engaged, pregnant or as socially anxious as their new cockapoo.

Turning 30 is often built up to be a huge landmark. The first big celebration after our ‘coming of age’ 18ths, it can be seen as a marker of how much we’ve achieved in young adulthood. For women especially, it has historically been the point at which we’re pressured to feel it 'all coming together', as that biological clock starts to tick even louder. It’s an age of ambition, promise, achievement and expectation all rolled into one.

Whether we’re putting the expectation on ourselves to tick a thousand boxes by the time we enter our thirties, or whether it’s from those around us, all that pressure can take its toll. It’s no surprise, then, that the dawning of such an 'important decade' often comes hand in hand with something of a life crisis – and that’s when the world is functioning normally, let alone in the midst of a pandemic.

In the year it felt like the world stopped turning, our peer group missed out on much of our ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ age. Statistically speaking, we are the ones most likely to have sacrificed celebrating the most weddings, promotions, engagements, and births throughout lockdowns. So how do we feel about quietly slipping into our thirties, too?

In September this year, as I unpacked my Waitrose lockdown shop with the same excitement I used to feel when trying on my bodycon dresses for the weekend, I contemplated whether I really needed the indulgent send off to my 20s that I had been planning at the start of the year. My whiplash from the turbulence of 2020 has meant the pressure of turning thirty and the expectations that would normally have come with it have somewhat evaporated; we all have bigger fish to fry. But is it COVID, or just the very act of maturing into a thirty-something that’s brought me here? I'm undecided, so I reached out to other women born in 1990 to see how they felt about hitting the big ‘3-0’ at such an odd time…

Nicola Shiplee

Owner of The Wild Blackberry Cake Company

"At the beginning of 2020, my relationship was showing some cracks. In our pre-COVID world, I was avoiding dealing with them. Nights out and constant plans with friends had dulled down the intensity of the problems I could see on the horizon. Like so many at our age, I couldn’t help but feel that societal expectation of being in a relationship, so I repeatedly tried to make things work rather than leaving the problems behind for a better life.

But when quarantine hit, a spotlight was suddenly shone on all the ways in which we wouldn’t work going forward. I knew it was time to stop burying my head in the sand, and instigate the break-up.

The split was initially hard, but the pandemic actually created a quicker healing process. With no drunken nights out and distractions, I had to really sit with my pain. At 30, I've been taught an invaluable lesson: the more focused you are on dealing with something properly, the quicker the healing is.

Photo credit:  Nicola Shiplee | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images
Photo credit: Nicola Shiplee | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

My ex-partner and I had been renting together, which made the logistics of separating reasonably clean cut. It also encouraged me to revisit my goal of owning my own place, and I began looking into my mortgage options. The process has given me an overwhelming sense of achievement and independence; four months on from the split, I managed to secure a flat - a comfortable, consistent home that’s all mine.

I couldn’t be happier now in my new flat in Forest Hill, single again. Despite the expectations, I know that at 30 I am exactly where I should be. The dating scene seems a little more open to commitment now than it was pre-COVID. Casual dating is not something that the ‘Peter Pan’ style guy can operate at the moment, and the want for companionship during lonely quarantines has encouraged some singles to look for relationships sooner than they may have planned. Coronavirus break ups have equally created a new pool of singletons like me - some that, had the pandemic not have hit, may have even fallen into even deeper commitments that weren’t right. Dating might be socially distanced now, but theres been a big shake up, and I like it.

Buying my own home wasn't the 'box' I expected to tick in my 30th year, but now I'm here, I wouldn't change it. Doing this alone feels so much more satisfying than having to compromise my choices in a relationship that doesn’t fit."

Laura Jackson

Assistant director in film

"The year has been a rollercoaster. It started going downhill in March when the entire film industry shut down. I was left with no income or financial help for five months - except for my new Deliveroo cycling skills. My girlfriend, Lottie, and I found ways we could have fun during the first lockdown, exploring the parts of London where we lived more, and making friends with neighbours. However, eventually we had no choice but to move in with her parents in Surrey to preserve our savings, as we both have careers in the arts. We’re so lucky to have the option of living rent free, but it can be conflicting turning 30 when you’re not at all where you pictured you’d be in life.

Photo credit: Laura Jackson | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images
Photo credit: Laura Jackson | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

Despite the dips, I know it’s been the right decision for us in many ways, and things took a major turn for the better in August when Lottie proposed on a trip away. Immediately after that, it was back on the rollercoaster ride, as lockdown 2.0 was announced and I had to scramble for a new flight home due to work filming restarting again, which was costly and cut our trip short. In order to allow us to celebrate properly, I decided to propose back to Lottie in the week before my 30th birthday at Shoreditch House, where we had our first date. Our beaming grins in the photo booth [pictured right] say it all about how we felt!

We haven’t been able to celebrate the highlights of this year with our friends, like my 30th or our engagement, but although my close circle have all had some big life events we’ve missed out on marking together, the strength of our friendships has been reinforced. I've felt comforted by the way we're all looking after each other, checking in and being there. Perhaps that’s just a different kind of celebration; one of consistent friendship rather than one night of booze and singing.

It may not be how I pictured 30, but I now feel so reassured moving forward into the next decade that when things take a turn, my support network of friends and family will come together to help us through it."

Gabriela Garcia

Theatre actress

"At the beginning of this year, aged 29, I had just got to the point in my career as an actress where everything was falling into place. In March, I was rehearsing to play Maria in West Side Story at the Exchange Theatre. I couldn’t wait to take on the role, and for what might come next for me.

But then COVID hit, and the whole company was in tears when it was announced that the production would be put on hold indefinitely. Theatre, of course, has been one of the worst affected industries throughout the pandemic. When curtains do finally come up again, there’s every chance it will be a totally different cast. At 29, my casting age is changing. I look younger than my years, and theatre is always more forgiving than TV, but I may not be in the same casting bracket by the time theatre recovers. Ageing has a direct correlation on my position in my industry and changes my applicable roles constantly, which can be a hard pill to swallow when it feels like time is slipping away in lockdown...

Photo credit: Gabriela Garcia | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images
Photo credit: Gabriela Garcia | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

Like many women turning 30 this year, this was a big opportunity that I had been working towards for a long time. It seems that so many people have been told that their pay rise or new title is now "on hold," which is frustrating. I have felt exasperated at times, wondering if I will get the opportunity to play another young lead again.

However, there have also been huge positives to this landmark year. I've become a lot more resilient - an inevitability, really, when one day you are playing the lead in a West End show, and the next you go a full year without work. But the nature of my career is that it is full of 'ups and downs,' with auditions and rejections, so this newfound resilience will be an invaluable tool as I move forward.

I’ve also begun looking at my career differently, becoming far more active in writing scripts rather than just reading them. The down time I have had from COVID has given me a new perspective going into my thirties, giving me confidence to nurture other angles of my creativity and to make opportunities happen for myself. I'm excited to take these lessons with me into my next decade, and to see what awaits."

Hilary Ip

Events co-ordinator

"I had always envisaged my life working out in a certain way; I wanted to do things in a specific order. My twenties were for travel, partying, cute boys and working on my fashion line. It was during this decade that I met Max and I knew he was the one; we met through work, travelled together, and then got engaged in February 2020. With 30 looming, I was excited for all the parties ahead to celebrate our engagement and eventually our wedding. Then we could think about babies, later down the line.

But then COVID hit, and life came to a standstill. Work stopped, the wedding was postponed, and there were no wine-soaked celebrations. After some time adjusting to the new slowness of our routine, we turned to each other in a frank conversation and admitted we both felt that all bets were off in regards to the 'order' we had previously hoped to do things in. Did it really matter whether we had got married before having children? All I knew is that I wanted a family with the man I loved, and together we made the big decision to try for a baby.

Photo credit: Hilary Ip | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images
Photo credit: Hilary Ip | Jessica Lockett | Getty Images

A few weeks later… a positive test. We were both over the moon, while completely shocked it had happened so quickly.

Over the last five months of pregnancy, I have struggled at times with the loneliness that comes as a result of being so far away from my family in Hong Kong. I am also the first of my friends to become pregnant, and it's felt like I've missed out on some of the rites of passage that come with having your first baby, like sharing our exciting news face to face.

30 is going to look very different for me in a few months. Nights out every weekend are a thing of the past, and I do sometimes worry about how I'll deal with that in a post vaccine world. But quarantine has showed me that there can be joy in so many other things, too.

Had COVID not have happened, we wouldn’t have this miracle growing inside of me. In this landmark year, it has shown me that I don’t need all my major life events to happen in a certain order. I know that this was always the right way round for us, we just hadn't realised it yet."

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