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SINGLE IN THE CITY

Feeling peace as the clock gets ever louder

September 18, 2003|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Can you hear it?

Tick-tock.

Doesn't all of L.A. hear it?

Tick-tock.

I am 35! Three-five. Treinta y cinco.

My life as I knew it is over. I can no longer check the 25-to-34 box. When I tell a young stud at a club that I'm old enough to be his mother, I actually mean it. And move over, Hillary, I can now run for president.

Thirty-five. All those early-thirtysomething years of worrying and anticipating, and now it's here. What now?

First things first. Do I look different? Not really. Do I feel different? Nah.

Well, maybe a little. I'm actually kind of relieved. For the past year I've been so anxious. Turning 34 only served to remind me that the big Three-Five was around the corner.

But now I'm here, and all that stress about being single -- my aging eggs and all of that biological hysteria -- has retreated. It's like taking a deep breath after a long lap in the ocean. Never knew acceptance could feel this good.

If it seems like a cliche, you haven't been a single thirtysomething woman. There are millions of us out there, and everywhere we go we are inundated with questions and reminders about the things missing in our lives. Read: husbands, children and white picket fences.

The pressure comes from all sides: married mothers in our age group who judge us for not being motherly enough; our own married mothers who want grandchildren and live in fear that their little girls will die alone; and the men who assume there must be something wrong with us because we haven't already been "chosen."

The one thing that's brought me solace is knowing I am not alone.

Three weeks before my birthday, I interviewed a woman who was about to turn 35. I hate asking a subject's age, but it's a journalistic must. She clearly hated answering it, so when she finally spit it out, I told her I was right behind her. She shot her eyes at my left hand and asked if I was single. When I nodded, she blurted out, "Me too. I'm 35, I have no husband and now I have no job. How did this happen?"

As I walked away, I wondered: How many times have I allowed those cultural and gender expectations to make me feel devalued?

My 35th year began on a sunny morning in front of the Grand Canyon and ended with a sunset light show and dinner before the red rocks of Sedona -- timeless moments shared with the man who has been in my life now for 10 months.

There was a poignant phone call from my mother, who wished me a happy birthday precisely at the time of my birth and then reminded me not to cry if I blew out the candles. It was a sweet insider joke: Every year for the first nine years of my life, as I stood in front of the candles, surrounded by friends and family, I bawled. Perhaps my wise mother, sensing my anticipation, thought the tears might rush back.

And they did. But only when I was looking out at the red rocks from our bed-and-breakfast and I realized that every tick of the clock is filled with blessings -- the constant love and support of the Cuban clan that is my family, my many good friends, the two nieces who own my heart, the company of the most honest and giving man I've known, and getting paid to do what I love.

Days before my birthday, I found myself on an insanely paced weekend of work in Las Vegas. At the end of one night, I stopped at the popular Ghost Bar, where I got to talking with a college student from Oklahoma who was celebrating her 21st birthday. I mentioned that my big day was coming.

"You don't look that old at all," she said sweetly. "No, really. Believe me, young people don't lie."

Maria Elena Fernandez can be contacted at maria.elena.fernandez@latimes.com.

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