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Life doesn’t end at 30 for women, contrary to popular belief. Societal expectations and impositions typically reach their peak as women approach 30. Document women spoke with four women about how these arbitrary expectations affect their lives and how life is different than they expected it to be now that they’ve clocked 30.
‘Rolling with the punches’
32 years old Mwila Kasonde from Zambia said she completed high school at 16 and had hoped to have everything together by 30; a house, a car, a proper job, decent savings and, if possible, a business.
“However, none of these went my way. I wound up spending more time in university than anticipated. I only got into employment at 27. By the time I was turning 30, I didn’t have any property to my name. The only thing I had going for me was my savings and even that is a long term investment. But after turning 30, I drew inspiration from older women who started their dream lives even as “late” as 40. Just continue with your plans. Some will work out. Some won’t. Just because I took a different route doesn’t mean I won’t get to where I’m supposed to be. Right now, I am doing pretty well. Things are starting to look up. Black tax may have also caused my delay but I’m glad I did it either way.”
The mother of one said, “friends and families have been trying to decide what to do next to her.”
“I have a husband and one child. Some people are rooting for me to have more children. Others want me to leave my family and pursue a masters program abroad. It’s hectic. Others want me to join a family business.”
“I think in my case because I had a lot of achievements, my age did not really matter to my family. They were achievements alright, but maybe it was because the bar was low. My siblings and cousins didn’t make it as far as I did and so I am sort of the golden standard in some way. This caused me unnecessary pressure. Because in their eyes, I’m perfect; yet in my eyes, I’m not really achieving much. The traditionalists in my family wanted me to be a traditional woman. The educated people wanted me to achieve academic excellence. There were just so many expectations. It made me a little lost because my own goals were sidelined in an attempt to please everybody. And the worst part is no one really gave me a deadline to say by 25 or 30 you should be this. I just sort of had the deadline in my head.”
Now, I’m just rolling with the punches. I have short term goals. I don’t even know what I’ll be doing in the next two years. All I know is what I’m doing next year. We’ll strategize as we proceed. Although I have to admit being married has somehow affected my plans because now it’s not only me. It’s us. But also, my husband has helped me achieve a few things that I had failed at on my own. So, it’s just rolling with the punches for now. I set out a plan for one year, I’ll see how it pans out. Also, I’m less expectant. I noticed failure was draining me. If it works out, well and good. If not, we move.
According to the 32 years old Mis-Chief from Nigeria, “As I got closer to 30, I could hear the clock ticking. There was the constant reminder that I was unmarried and somehow, that did not seem to compare to any professional achievement I had attained by 29. I don’t mean to be proud but I had a successful career as a lawyer. I had worked at three top law firms in 8 eight years and I had done a master’s programme that was partly funded. I had a thriving photography business that I had won a funded award for. Regardless, I still felt unfulfilled. It didn’t help that family members kept echoing my spinsterhood at every opportunity. I had been set up a few times, and the frequency increased as I approached 30. I dated A LOT! It was exhausting.”
“I had it in my head that I would be married by 25. That was the golden age. Reinforced in movies, reinforced by family, a few misguided friends, it just seemed perfect. I also had to have all my kids before 30 so my body would snap back quickly. My mom got married very early. In fairness to her and my dad, they never made it sound like a big deal but the subtle hints were not so “subtle” if that makes sense. When my sister got married, everybody decided it was time to focus on me because I was “next”.”
“ The weird thing was that I knew I was not ready to get married. Heck, I could barely take care of myself so adding another person to the equation was not in the cards.”
“The day I turned 30, I was sad. I knew I was going to be sad so I booked a trip to Dubai so I wouldn’t have to evaluate my life and my lack of a husband. Dubai was great but I couldn’t escape my thoughts. Funny thing was that same day, I was able to appreciate all the things I had been able to do because I wasn’t married. I was able to pursue my career goals and achieve them, hang out with my friends without worrying about getting home or cooking for anybody but me. I had the absolute best friends who cared for me and my family whose heart was in the right place. I had the freedom I needed to just be my authentic self. I spoke to my mum honestly about how I was feeling and her reaction shocked me. She didn’t realise how much pressure I was feeling and she promised to drop the hookups (she did).”
She said 30 isn’t a magic number and nothing will change once you get there “ (Well except your eligibility for 30 under 30 lol). Your life experiences at 30 are not invalidated by your marital status or society’s expectations of where you should be. Understanding that was the key to my happiness.”
For 33 years old Omnia from Sudan, every decade is a chapter on its own.
She said her early twenties were beautiful and rosy but by the middle, ‘many bubbles burst.’
“After many experiences in different corners of the world, I got to know the extent of how awful and wonderful people can be, and how hardship can hit you from all sides at the same time. Towards the end, I was desperate for a new start and a rebirth. When I entered my 30s, a lot of things came into sharp focus as priorities and many others disappeared. There were a lot of intentional, no-nonsense, no-regrets decisions and this rebirth was realised multiple times over (I’m near my mid-30s). “
“I think this decade is the most grounding, most confident, most ambitious, most deliberate decade and it’s a tragedy that many women feel nervous about it or at a loss when they’re in it. I hope many more flip the script around in this modern-day and age.”
“Like many in my community, there are certain expectations around the level of education, the career trajectory and milestones, and of course marriage and childbearing. Before 30, there is a belief that naivety will carry you through these three big expectations. After 30, communities know it takes a lot more confidence, self-reliance, strong beliefs and notions to enable someone, especially a woman, to make radically different choices, or at least, not play by the societal playbook.”
“Education and career-wise, the expectations were around independence and ability to have a good standing and earning by the age of 30, because that’s when you have to “take care” of things with the family, that is, contribute. For marriage, it’s “prime childbearing years” that are used as a front, but I now truly believe society knows how marriage can be a logically unfavourable choice for many women (due to the many expectations that are automatically passed on, especially in a society that lets men get out scot-free if they choose to, but chains women to unbelievable burdens). Society’s deadline is around its own needs from the individual, it’s so selfish!”
She said her happiness knows no bounds as many women are making better life choices for themselves.
“I’m more balanced in my mind-body-soul connections now. I face challenges with a lot more grace and kindness towards myself, I set boundaries that make me comfortable, I draw my plan and I execute it how and when I want to. Most importantly, I see through all social norms and pretences and I’m so grateful that I believe in the death and rebirth of mindsets. This enables me to be unapologetically true to myself. “
31 years old Faye from Nigeria said “I started to look and feel sexier only when I turned 30 and, I’m able to make sound decisions now compared to my 20s. Maybe financially too, my 20s were the ghetto. So life is just beginning for me.
She said extended family members and friends made it their mission to remind her that she needs to get married and have at least one child before 30, ‘ My parents don’t care about such expectations.’
“Now that I’ve clocked 30, I have so much freedom. I thought my life would have been loaded with responsibilities and endless chores as a result of marriage (I thought so especially in my early 20s and I never saw myself as an independent woman without a husband until I hit 25).
My reality is different now. I don’t answer to anyone and I can travel anywhere I want to as long as I can afford it. My lifestyle has changed a lot and life is easier for me. “
“Financially I’m in a much better place, I’m investing more and I’m no longer a big spender like I was in my 20s. Before 30, I had to consult with my parents sometimes. Now I don’t remember. I also totally live life on my terms.
When I hit 30, it felt like a veil fell off my eyes and I started to see the world even more differently. I look back at my 20s like “who was that girl?”