I'm writing this from under a glowing palm tree at my go-to cafe in Maui, an indoor/outdoor gem with great coffee and a new happy hour complete with affordable craft cocktails: Paia Bay Coffee. The raindrops are falling lightly upon the tin roof. Rusted. At the same time, the sun is shimmering through the swoosh swoosh swooshing leaves, casting a bouncing light on my lychee martini. I've come to Maui on my annual post-season Hawaiian thaw. It was a long season, and I've been spending more time in the office this spring than I have in previous years...a little much for a post-Olympic year. So, in a way, this vacation is a reprieve from the chaos surrounding the sport of alpine ski racing these days. It's hard to unplug, but I'll get there, hopefully sooner rather than later. It just may take some time. In any case, it feels good to spend time reflecting on the last year, under the sun and in the healing ocean waters. Ready? Here we go...
noun. A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
I've been thinking a lot about stigma lately. Like how we wear it as a badge of shame and let it define us - let society define us. How we allow the perception of others to affect us, shape who we are and define us. And often, how it starts within ourselves. We believe something about ourselves based on social stigma...and therefore we frame the way others perceive us. How does this apply to me?
Well, I'm turning 35 today. I've thought a lot about this and what it means to me. Swirling through my head are thoughts like,
"35 is basically 40. Jesus."
"I don't feel or look 35. I feel and look 23."
"Will my metabolism slow at some point and I won't be able to eat copious amounts of double cheeseburgers?" (because that would be tragic)
"Will I ever slow down and stay in one place long enough to create a home?"
"Do I even want a home?"
"Am I too old to wear these really short shorts, or this swimsuit that gets lost up my bum?"
"How much longer should I have this crazy job that keeps me on the road and pays me less than I'm worth?"
"Does 35 mean I have to 'grow up'?!"
"Will I ever have children?" and - perhaps more importantly - "Will I even be able to have children when I do want them?"
"Am I too crazy for a 35-year-old? Like, do 35-year-olds where onesies, unicorn masks, do the worm, and flirt like crazy with everyone they adore in their lives?"
And finally...the zinger...
"AM I A COUGAR?!"
Want to know what thought I almost always arrive at after these crazy thoughts circulate through my mind?! FUCK IT. FUCK THEM. Because, you know what?! It doesn't matter. None of it matters. We live our lives and create our values, beliefs, perceptions, etc, based on personal experiences and the environments from which we emerge. So, I can't get angry at or judge someone who looks at me and hears my story, and thinks I'm a 35-year-old divorcée cougar. Because, in the end, they've likely lived their life in a very different way, and - more importantly - it doesn't really matter. Because they don't know me like I know me, they haven't walked in my shoes, and vice-versa.
To be honest, I guess I never thought I'd be 35. I don't think I look 35. I certainly don't act 35. And, moreover, I don't feel 35. Or, maybe I just don't look, act, and feel what society thinks 35 to be, and, my peers are living healthy and full lives that redefine what age is or means?! So, there's the age thing. And then, there's the boy thing. Last summer after my heartbreak, I did A LOT of introspection. I opened myself up to dating again at some point last winter, and I spent time with some younger guys. That was fun. And different. And, it changed my own perception that I had created based on social stigma. Mostly, I thought to myself, "HOLY SHIT! 26-year-olds can be more mature than guys my age?! Well this opens up an entire group of guys I had never considered before." More boys?! Y-E-S please! *During this moment, the sparkle in my eyes reached a record high.*
I explored a little. And that, along with a lot of other self-love-type things, was the medicine I needed to get me through a tough time of transition in what would be an extremely busy winter. I started laughing again. And glowing (thank God it wasn't because I was pregnant). And, somehow, I started attracting more attention from 20-year-olds. What is it about 20-something boys digging 30-something gals? Is it appealing because we're experienced, successful, a tad wiser and drama-free (most of us, at least)? Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that I stopped thinking about the age thing. It's not like I was with a bunch of dudes...but I was open to flirting with a bunch of dudes.
And that, my friends, is when I had an epiphany!
THAT'S WHEN I CREATED MY NO-GO ZONE.
It shall be deemed, “Peter Pan-Land.”
noun. A forbidden age range, between the years of 28 and 35 years, for dating or engaging in serious monogamous relationships. Almost always applies to professional sports, and - more specifically - the snow sports industry. Always applies to coaches within these industries. There can be exceptions to this rule, but the general premise is if you meet them before 28 they can be grandfathered in and therefore are safe...but if you meet them between 28 and 35 they likely are at a point in their lives where they just want to play. And run away from responsibility or anything that may "tie them down." Note: can also apply to females (true in my case!).
see also: "Saturn Return"
So, yeah. I just did some critical thinking about age and remembered a phenomena known as the "Saturn Return." I know what you're thinking, "WTF, Megan, with your hippie-dippy notions again?!" Bear with me here. It's a thing, I promise.
The planet sixth in order from the sun, having an equatorial diameter of 74,600 miles (120,000 km), a mean distance from the sun of 886.7 million miles (1427 million km), a period of revolution of 29.46 years, and 21 known moons. It is the second largest planet in the solar system, encompassed by a series of thin, flat rings composed of small particles of ice.
When the planet Saturn returns to the position it was in, in the beautiful sky, when you were born.
What does this mean? It begins around the age of 27. Ever heard of the "27 Club?" Yep. That shit's real.
During this pivotal period of time, we often get married, realize that we've "grown up" and are now too old to be young and naive, yet too young to know better, the appeal of the 9-5 wears off as we realize monotony is real, long-term relationships undergo significant change, we get the travel bug and want to get the hell out of our comfortable, cozy environments and travel the world, and experience life in a bigger way.
The 28th year officially marks the start of a new phase, a zone where transitional growing pains could last until 32 or 33-years-old (affectionally known as "The Age of Jesus" by yours truly). It's a shifting point in life where we realize we're no longer children and we reevaluate our purpose in this life, taking stock of what we hold dear to our hearts, what is really worth devoting ourselves to, and where we want to spend our time and energy. It's not a time period to be feared, but rather explored wholly, and embraced. For me, it meant divorce. It meant starting a new career that took me far away. It meant starting over from scratch. We gain brevity and we make big, difficult life choices. We get rid of toxic relationships. We learn what it really means to be brave and courageous. We seek truth, speak truth, be the truth...and expect the same in others.
Then, we turn the Age of Jesus and we experience another shift. It is a period of understanding, personal growth, and enlightenment. I struggled with it. But I have LOVED my 30s. It's a brilliant decade of life full of wisdom and goal setting and truth. I'm telling you all of this because I'm attempting to convey the fact that I've finally realized that I'm not going to waste my time on people that don't want to give themselves to me. Like, their WHOLE selves...not just a surface-level, empty, bullshit version of themselves because they're living in Peter Pan-Land. And, I can't be mad at or frustrated with them for it, because it's an important place to explore. I did, after all. I'm just steering clear of it as I turn the corner to another year milestone: 35.
Here's another thing: I was married once. I've gotten to the point where even I forget that sometimes. I went through a divorce when I was 31. I don't regret getting married one bit, and getting divorced was the best decision I've ever made. But that doesn't mean my ex is a horrible person. It just means we didn't work. And that's OK. And, I have to say, other than an expensive wedding and a contract, a marriage doesn't differ from a long-term relationship. Breakups happen. It's the cycle of life.
Seasons: one ends, another begins.
The notion of impermanence (anicca or anitya) forms the bedrock for the Buddha’s teaching, having been the initial insight that impelled the Bodhisattva to leave the palace in search of a path to enlightenment. The doctrine asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is "transient, evanescent, inconstant."
Yep, I'm divorced. Yep, I'm 35 and dating a 27-year-old (almost 28!). Yep, it goes against convention and some people may not be comfortable with it, because something that turns left when it's supposed to turn right, often will make people feel uncomfortable. That's stigma, people. So, I'm sorry if it feels that way to you. But, remember, we're playing from different decks, with different experiences and different beliefs and cultural expectations, and different standards of morality.
It was important for me to have solo time this winter to find complete comfort in being alone again, to find my way back to myself, and to fall in love with myself. I went on a romantic New Year's getaway to Venice...with myself. I spent a lot of time in my car with the best road trip buddy I could imagine...me. I spent time with my family and shared in the magic that was my nephew's first Christmas in Prague and loved all of it. I poured myself into my work and the people with whom I work and love, but also found balance. And, somewhere along the way, I opened myself to something new. I didn't look for it. And then - VOILA! - there it was: a him. Tall, bearded, sensitive, strong, sweet, used his big boy words, and not afraid to love. Which, when you think about it, is kind of ironic considering in my last blog post on February 1, 2018, I wrote,
Ask, and you shall receive. I'm a lucky gal. And he always reminds me that he is the lucky one.
SO...I guess I'm saying - you do you. And I'll do me. (And I'll also do my amazing 27-year-old boyfriend. Tee hee. *Insert Speak-No-Evil Monkey emoji*)
I'm happy. I feel great. I'm healthy. I'm well-fed (maybe too well fed, but that's another story). I don't regret any experience I've had, especially my divorce, rather I am thankful for each and every one of them for making me who I am. But, I am not defined by them. I have grown into the woman I am because of them.
CHEERS to 35 and all of the wisdom and experiences it will bring.
You know how I feel about stigma? Fuck stigma.
P.S. How is a "Cougar" defined anyway? Let's look at the facts. They're the second largest cat in America, they're adaptable and inhabit various ecosystems from mountains to desert, they cannot roar but rather purr like a house cat, they're meat-eaters and prey on deer and other domestic animals, they move gracefully and with purpose, they have no natural enemies and sit atop the food chain, and they're both fierce and fiercely independent. If that's the case, yep...I'm definitely a cougar. RAWR! And, MEOW. 🐯