straight up & thirty… six

36. That’s what it’s taken. 36 is the age where I’ve officially begun to speak about aging. I can’t say that this is fully true, but it feels true. Like, I’m sure you could comb the Greek Tragedy archives and find a furrowed brow on the subject, but this is the year where I feel my age. And it has nothing to do with my body or my health. It’s just the number. Now, more than ever, I feel my age. Because thirty-six is the first time I’ve ever felt like things were supposed to be aiming down.

Eggs. Let’s just put it out there. Thirty-six, and that’s top of mind. “Not as fresh,” “Not as healthy,” “Downhill after thirty-five.” That’s right. If “over the hill” is considered age 60, downhill is age 36. Sad, so sad, but true. 

Do you know that my eyes are going? So much so that today, when I went to pluck a stray eyebrow hair, I actually bit a wrinkle with the tweezers? Yes, you read that right. Not only can’t I see straight, but now my facial hair is confused with wrinkles.

Grace. It’s the next word people throw at you. Right after quoting Gloria Steinem. And throwing in the word, “Natural.” Some joke about Botox and boobs so saggy you can trip on one.

I don’t know about any of that. But what I do know is that if I were younger…

I’ll stop me right there.

I know that years from now, I’ll read this and laugh. Not aloud, but I will. I already know this! I’ll laugh and say, “Sister, you don’t know the half of it.” At least, that’s if I’m lucky. Because we all don’t get to live into our nineties, like my grandparents have. Life gives up on us sometimes. Our bodies give up—not us, but our bodies. And 36 feels like a softening, the end of a struggle, an acceptance of the reality we’ve been told all along. That we will die. That we will wrinkle (which is actually preferred to the smooth plastic, “she’s overdone” look. Then, again, someone chokes out a “gracefully,” stuffed with as much judgment as you can shove into a word. 

Thirty-six feels like your life decisions matter more. Because, it’s true, there’s less new to live and more to live for. But, really, it only feels that way. When you do the math, it’s not exactly true. 36 x 2 = 72. So, you have more time to live—hopefully—and you can live it fuller because—again, hopefully— you’re not in diapers during this half. Life feels heavier when you realize you don’t have it forever. And for me, thirty-six is the year where I’m actually thinking about that. Sure, it’s always looming, but this birthday is the first, the very first, that feels…

I don’t know how to finish the sentence because “old” isn’t the right word. “Soft” is all that comes to mind, but I’m not sure if it translates. Skin feels softer. My attitude feels softer. I care so much less about so many things. I’ve become softer. But I’ve also become more questioning… I think. It’s hard to know.

What I do know: when I’m older, I will look back at this and say something with the derogatory, “Honey, please.” Because 36 is still a baby. 36 isn’t even menopause. It isn’t outliving friends, or family. It isn’t dying hair or lifts or jobs or treatments even. It’s the end, though, of not caring about upkeep.

It’s the first year where life feels heavier, even if the rest of me feels softer. I can’t say it’s the most uplifting of years, but I’m also not afraid of aging. I actually—I know this is strange—look forward to who I’ll be when I’m older and even more outrageous. I look forward to the wisdom I’ll have, the things I’ll have learned. I already envy the things I’ll know then that I can’t even see now. How people can promise you anything, but in the end, you were right to trust your instincts, they were just words. Promises and words without the follow through. When we’re young we want so much to believe, to tell people who they are and what they really want. But in the end, what it comes down to, any of it, is show.

On New Year’s Eve, I sometimes draft a letter to myself. Seal it in an envelope and read it the following year. This year my birthday falls on the Jewish New Year. So it feels like an envelope licking day, a day where I write to my future self with warnings… of not falling for perfect and promises, not getting swept up in imaginary if’s. Because there’s what you already know, and there’s what’s in front of, what already is. Make your decisions based on that. Not illusions. Because everything that’s happened up until this point was meant to happen. And the things that never worked out weren’t supposed to.

I was wrong when I once said, “‘Meant to be’ is lazy. It’s an excuse.” I now believe that everything that is, is okay. It’s there to teach you things, and no matter what, you’re going to be okay. It’s already okay. Because at the end of the day, and year, you still have you. And there’s nothing—okay, except maybe your children—as precious as that. And that’ll be true no matter what year you’re celebrating.



  1. Oh wow Stephanie, I remember reading when you were actually Straight Up & Thirty. Phil made you that wonderful book with a soundtrack.

    It seems like only yesterday. Since then you have gotten married & had two beautiful children, just like I have.You moved to Austin and made amazing friends (I remember your trepidation when first moving there…) So if you can fit all of that into 6 years I cant wait to read about what you can fit into the next 36.

  2. I turned 29 this year and this is something I have been really struggling with, thank you for verbalizing it for me.

  3. Personally, I think the 30’s rock and I’m tired of being told that just because I’m 35, I’m middle aged. I don’t feel it and I don’t look it. I’m not going to start botoxing and other absurdities just because some dumb magazine tells me I should. The 30’s have been fantastic because for the first time, I’m comfortable being me. I like me. And no societal pressures telling me I need to look like a 20 year old are going to change that. Embrace it. Don’t start fighting it and embark on a lifelong battle and end up looking stretched and immobilized like Kathy Griffin. Life’s too short for that shit.

    1. Indeed. I turned 39 and was doing the usual oh noes! routine. My husband said not to worry and stop being ridiculous. One thing that reminds me to stop being so annoyingly vain (there’s a difference b/t keeping oneself in shape and obsessing over the inevitable i think..)is remembering I lost a friend to cancer last year. She was 40. She would have LOVED to live a long life wrinkles and all. Aging is a gift not a thing to fear. :)

  4. Happy Birthday & Shannah Tova!!
    I would say more but I’m too full from last nights feast! Have a wonderful time.

  5. Happy Happy Birthday!

    I love the video…you look gorgeous!

    (I love how at the end of the video Abigail says “sorry” after she blows out the candles, so sweet!)

  6. Happy birthday and joyous Rosh Hashanah!
    Sorry, but I know plenty of women – myself included – who look waaaaaay better at 36 than they did at 26, and even 22. Confidence and a real sense of style made all the difference. No, I don’t look as young as I did at 22, but I’m a better looking version of myself now than I was back then. Anyway, food for thought. PS – Would love an update on your anniversary and how things are going with Phil…

  7. Perhaps I’m in the minority among your readers but I’m looking at you from the other side of 40 and saying OH PLEASE! You are YOUNG.

    1. Ditto. I’m turning 50 two months from today. I echo khr’s “oh please” and add one Bronx cheer. ;) The older I get, the less I think about it. Probably because I’m so busy attending my friends’ alcohol soaked 50th bday parties that thinking makes my head hurt. Happy b’day, SK.

  8. “Happy Birthday to you and many more too…” (Little Rascals)

    I am with you, sister. It was easier to ignore the stray grays that started appearing at 20. The fine lines near my 35-year-old brows are more difficult to deny. How much can I really do to get rid of of the wrinkles? I asked my 70-ish friend this. “Take care of yourself, and don’t think too much about the wrinkles,” she cheered. Then she leaned closer, raised her penciled brows and used a lower, been-there-done-that deep voice tone: “You think wrinkles are bad? Just wait ’til your vagina starts falling out.”

  9. It’s kind of depressing reading you go off about being old at 36…. I’m 44 and honestly had to stop reading it… I’ll pretend that you are going off about turning 46.. that seems more legitimate.

  10. I’m about to be 36 too and it doesn’t bother me. Your thirties are really the heart of your life.

  11. Stephanie, the most uplifting aging advice I got came from my husband (go figure!) who said: How many of the past X years would you want to live again? You can at least throw out diapers and middle school. So the next X will be even better than the prior X!
    *This works until you can’t reasonably double your age.

  12. Well, as someone getting perilously close to her 60th birthday (I had my only child, a daughter, a few months shy of 40), I am quite aware that lots of people think of 60 as being “over the hill” and in the initial stages of “elderly.” All I know is that I look back on my life, and in the mirror at my face, and feel proud of every wrinkle and every sag. Life is an adventure and I am grateful for the many adventures I’ve had. Gee, I remember when the Beatles first came to the US, when JFK and Robert Kennedy and MLK were killed; had a front row seat for Woodstock and the Vietnam war, learned early to question authority, bought the first issue of Ms. magazine…and so much more, historical, cultural, personal. I can’t say I’m in heaven that time moves so quickly, and that so many of my old friends and colleagues are starting to slip overboard, but if we’re lucky, we all get to be old people.

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