This week, I’m turning 31 and, in some ways, it seems bigger than entering the decade as I did last year. It’s like I’ve properly arrived now; before, I was still in the hallway, waving goodbye to what came before, nervously looking around at my new home. Now, I’m in, I’ve unpacked, I've figured out how to turn the heating on.
And, since I’ve arrived, I can’t stop thinking about being 41. I’m not sure why. I know we should never wish our lives away, but I keep wondering how much can a woman’s life change in 10 years. Marriage? Divorce? Children? Redundancy? Illness? Maybe it’s because the next 10 years are the time that all that stuff is “meant” to happen. But being a woman in her thirties in 2016 feels like dangling on a harness over a building edge. We’re stuck in “suspended adulthood” (a catchy phrase from Young Women’s Trust) – trapped in high rents, with zero security and paralysed with pressure, but below is an overcrowded metropolis alive with flickering lights from buzzing screens, always running two steps ahead. So much could happen, but will it ever actually?
And what do I want to happen? As my mother has always advised in moments of feeling overwhelmed, I've made a list:
1. At the top of my list is of things to do in the next 10 years is to live abroad. A cliché, I know. And increasingly uncertain as Brexit sets in and we drift apart from the European Union. And, of course, a luxury, too. There are women like me who mean to profit from globalisation and dream of offices in New York. Then there are women arriving in Europe, by foot, by almost-capsized boat, by any means possible.
2. In the next 10 years, I want to be secure. I want a house and a pension, but we all know that’s not going to happen. So, maybe in 10 years we’ll have a rental market that is continental, ie fair and protected. Maybe the government will have built new homes that we desperately need. But, then, maybe I’ll be happily renting in a non-EU country and it won’t matter – to me at least; just to the tens of thousands of women on council-house waiting lists.
I’m hope I’m free from the constant nag of a million anxieties that ring in my ears like the buzz of a mosquito
3. I hope to be bolder, to be able to write things that I’m not brave enough to say out loud yet. And I want to be reading angry 31-year-olds and encouraging them to say what they think they are too scared to. I hope, when I’m 41, women will be more welcome than ever in the workplace, with or without babies. I hope, when I’m 41, I speak out more, but I also hope more women are in places of power to speak out on my behalf.
4. At 41, I pray Solange is still making music.
5. Over the next 10 years, I hope I am less scared of men – when I walk home at night, when I hear noises in the flat, when I first meet them and cover them in suspicion. I hope that maybe just one woman is dying a week at the hands of violent men instead of two, maybe even none.
6. In 10 years, I want to have chosen to get married – or not. I want to have chosen to have a baby – or not. When I’m 41 and I’m thinking about being 51, I hope I reflect that my life choices were just that – my choices.
7. When I’m 41, I hope I can say I haven’t been a shit friend who's lost touch with people because I’ve lulled myself into a lazy routine or got caught up in the dregs of overdrafts and city-living. I hope my Facebook feed is empty of pictures, but my life is full of dazzling people.
8. When I’m 41, I hope I find some peace and move on from the daily worry of deadlines and fat thighs and not achieving hard or fast enough. I’m hope I’m free from the constant nag of a million anxieties that ring in my ears like the buzz of a mosquito.
9. I hope I’ve got better at being kinder to myself. I hope, in 10 years, we are all kinder to ourselves, so then maybe our daughters and sons will be, too. And maybe then I’ll stop worrying what the next 10 years will look like.
10. I hope, when I’m 41, I can afford & Other Stories when it isn’t in the sale, that I don’t have a daily stand-off with a mountain of washing that is still stubbornly refusing to wash itself. I hope I have more in my fridge than off white wine.
11. I hope I don’t lose my taste for clashing prints and Nike and a hippy hem line. I hope I don’t feel the need to start wearing make-up everyday (unless I want to). I hope I don’t spend all my money on a fancy gym (unless I want to). I hope I don’t replace one set of pressures with another.
12. Finally, and most importantly, I hope I’m still this angry and impatient. I hope I don’t give up on myself or those around me, or stop believing that there are so many things to be so bloody angry about. And that, over the next 10 years, our collective anger won’t buy me a house or stop the fertility-fear-mongering or the bullshit over how big or small my thigh gap should be, but it will power me through to rented rooms in far-flung corners and towards conversations that mobilise change. I hope I don’t get to 41 and think, "What did I do?" I hope I get to 41 and I think, "I can’t believe I did that."