Whenever we’re traveling, it’s a good idea to have a few landmarks on our maps to know that we are heading in the right direction. People point out the cemetery on the right to let us know that in two miles we need to turn left to reach our destination.
In our lifespan, those landmarks are milestone birthdays. They’re not quite as reliable as that cemetery (we all know what happens when people move cemeteries), because each of us arrives at them in different ways. However, when it comes to special birthday celebrations, our own experience is irrelevant. I’m not here to tell you where you should be by the time you’re 16 or 40 or 75; ultimately, if you want to follow or break from a tradition, it’s nowt to do with me. What I can do, though, is let you know what others’ expectations will be to help buffer the shock just a tad.
YOUR FIRST BIRTHDAY
The first milestone is obviously one’s first birthday. It’s clearly all about other people, since one-year-olds are legitimately too stupid to know anything about life whatsoever. Luckily, other people’s expectations for this one are pretty low: as long as they get to take a picture of you with cake on your face, they’ll be happy.
YOUR TENTH BIRTHDAY
Moving into double digits means that others will start expecting a little more. You might be expected to do chores; you may start dealing with money. You will also be asked to “perform” for people at family gatherings, and unlike when you were 6, it’ll no longer be cute when you sing off tune or forget the words of the Gettysburg Address (I’m afraid I had to learn this the hard way). How you deal with this pressure will be up to you, but the main thing you should be prepared for is that, while it will feel like the worst thing in the world to you, no one will really give a shit.
Adolescence is a complicated time because of the physical and emotional changes you will be going through. To add further complications, there are a number of different milestones during these years. For example, in the Jewish tradition, one’s thirteenth birthday is important—this is when you become responsible for your actions. That’s pretty heavy stuff for someone who is technically still developmentally an idiot.
For girls of any religious persuasion, the first menstrual period will be a momentous time for now you are technically eligible for the position of motherhood. What the hell’s that all about, nature? Depending on your family’s background, this will be greeted with either with pride or shame. Try not to let it affect you too much—luckily the hassle, pain and need for notes excusing you from PE classes should keep you pretty much distracted.
A driver’s license also signals a major turning point. This will heap more responsibility onto your shoulders. Undoubtedly you will think this unfair, because that’s just the kind of thing teenagers do. But remember, you can now get behind the wheel of a potentially lethal weapon, so there’s got to be some kind of balance between your needs and others’.
YOUR EIGHTEENTH BIRTHDAY
In many countries, your eighteenth birthday means you can officially do grown-up things like run for election, drink, marry, join the military and be a consenting adult. Keep in mind that you just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.
YOUR TWENTY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY
This is often the first time that you will start looking back on your life, realizing that some of it has already gone. Others will note this as well; essentially what people are really doing is reminding you that you’re on the path towards death. This is a drag, especially if they do it as you’re blowing out your candles, but it is, of course, true.
This can also be a difficult time for men especially as it marks the end of what’s commonly referred to as your “sexual peak.” Don’t let this talk worry you; you have plenty years of masturbatory pleasure left.
YOUR THIRTIETH BIRTHDAY
This is often an important one because you are likely to remember your parents in their thirties. This is a recipe for comparison: how come your mother was married with kids on her thirtieth and you’re still single and letting your ex’s new girlfriend raise your twins? How come your father had worked his way up to a managerial position by his thirtieth and you’re still waiting for your band to hit the big time? You may be doing these comparisons in your head, but, trust me, others definitely will be and may start treating you like you’re a failure. (They’ve probably been feeling this for years, but it may be the first time they act on it.)
For women, your thirties will also mark a milestone in terms of your bodies: they will start changing but more importantly, you’ll start hearing (or at least hearing others talking about) your “biological clock.” The truth is, if you are planning to throw your life away on motherhood, now is a good time to it. But don’t let your parents, your friends or your spinster aunt’s regrets pressure you into doing something you’re not ready to do.
YOUR FORTIETH BIRTHDAY
This is seen by many as the Big One. Because unless you’ve already passed it, forty is seen as past it (particularly for the female of the species). You don’t have to embrace this interpretation, but be aware that many others do. This includes the twenty-year-olds you work with (their flirting is actually mockery) and your doctor (who will now expect you to regularly schedule tests so he can tell you which parts of your body are starting to fail).
YOUR FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY
People will note that you are a half a century old; given that only freaks live a hundred years, I think we all know what they’re really pointing out: most of your life is gone. Not even crumblies think of a 50-year-old when they think of a young person, so be prepared that even if you feel young, using the word to describe yourself will cause others will see you as delusional and/or embarrassing. Even the phrase “young at heart” is a bit troublesome at this point as you think about your echocardiogram results and your dodgy arteries. I’m definitely not saying you are old, but you are older than a whole generation of other adults. They are well aware of this.
YOUR SIXTIETH BIRTHDAY
You might get a bus pass or discounts on your early bird dinner special, but the truth is this milestone isn’t as important as it once was. Starting off your sixth decade used to signal your eventual retirement from employment, but nowadays you’ll end up working until the day you drop dead, so thank god for that, eh?
YOUR SEVENTY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY
You are old now. Everyone thinks that and will expect you to act old. They will assume you don’t remember yesterday, comprehend technology, or experience sexual desire. Even if their assumptions are wrong, you may want to consider working their mistakes to your benefit. Being in your seventies allows you to lie like a rug and people’s reactions will usually just be, “Ahhhh, bless.”
YOUR ONE-HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY
What others expect from you on this milestone is absolutely irrelevant.
Obviously, your body as it ages will present you with opportunities and limitations, but ultimately age is just a number and like most things related to numbers, obsessing about it is boring. Others will respond to you in different ways as you evolve, but it’s important to be true to yourself. It’s your journey, regardless of the route you take. But if you are headed through my neighbourhood on your way, can you stop and pick up a pint of milk for me?