This is a story of agency in action…
I turned 50 in September.
It was a process.
And one that I want to share.
As we all saw in the past year and a half, going on two… milestones and their rituals changed. Births, graduations, deaths, funerals, dating, weddings, divorces, etc. continue to be altered by the changing world around us.
For my friend group, 2021 was our year to turn 50. As the months progressed and more and more people turned 50, I noticed that those who were partnered or married had a celebration. One thrown by their person (with the support of others!) regardless of the themed colors, the menus, or the location… they happened in great part because of partnership. For those who didn’t have a spouse or partner, there was rarely a celebration and if so, it just wasn’t the same. Not a new phenomenon but certainly more pronounced now, this disparity between the non- partnered 50ers and the partnered 50ers became so clear to me.
People often ask you something like “how do you feel about turning 50?” on milestone birthdays with a heavy dose of expectation that your answer will be filled with dread or nonchalance. For me, I really didn’t have much of a reaction to the number and if anything, I was actually kind of excited. I leaned into the privilege that has come with being alive 50 years. I’ve known too many that didn’t make it to half a century.
I didn’t dread turning 50 but that doesn’t mean I was without dread completely. What did I dread? The actual celebration and ritual… and in my case, the lack thereof. I was afraid of throwing something for myself and it coming off as self-serving or self-indulgent. I dreaded the loneliness and sadness I would feel not having a celebration at all. I found it difficult to navigate the nuanced feelings that came up not having “someone” to throw me a party. This was not about 50 it was about something bigger and more layered and I didn’t like it.
First and foremost there are much more impactful things happening in the world. So much pain, REAL pain, far weightier and more important than worrying about a celebration and a celebration of me, for me. The embarrassment of the privilege to even mull this over was not lost on me. Yet there I was mulling it over. I spend a lot of my days telling clients that their pain and sadness is real and matters despite there being more severe matters at play in the world. I mean it with every cell of my body when I tell them but when mirroring that back at me it feels drastically different and foreign.
I felt poised for 50 in many ways. I’m settled into my life post-divorce and I love so many parts of it. I have two beautiful kids whom I’m so very proud of and endlessly adore. I love my career, my team, my clients, my work, and find deep satisfaction with the good I do in the world. I have a wonderful family who support and love me and circle of friends whom I have carefully cultivated and trust so much. My blessings are abundant. And above all I have my health and a heap of privilege in my daily life. All that to say, I do not have a partner. I do not have a designated celebration committee at the ready. I do not have a ‘designated’ someone who lovingly asks “What do you want to do for your birthday?” Most days that feels totally okay but this milestone really made that absence feel massive.
And as I guide my clients to do, I faced my feelings: sadness, grief, anger, resignation, jealousy, frustration, and more. As the months flew by and my big day was nearer to the horizon, I froze. And I cried. Here I am, acting in full agency (a huge part of my life’s work) in most areas of my life, yet broaching this subject, asking for what I needed and wanted in this instance felt nearly impossible. After my celebration committee of one threw a bit of a pity party for me, myself, and I, I knew that I had some important questions to ask myself.
What did I really want?
What felt RIGHT?
Should I not do anything?
To throw something myself?
To have a big gathering, a small one?
To see if anyone else near my birthday wanted to throw a dual party?
After sitting with these answers in my agency, I grabbed my phone and typed in the names of two dear, dear friends whom I trust deeply… and I asked for help. It was not an easy text to write as it felt embarrassing, desperate and really self-serving. Audacious even to ask people to help celebrate you.
“Would you help me plan something for my birthday?”
9 simple words strung together that felt like a novel. Laced with so much emotional labor over months and months. I wrote it many times and erased it many times. I sat on it, wrote it again, let it linger. Finally, I wrote it, pressed send and took a breath.
… and immediately regretted it.
I sat in shame and embarrassment and well, fear — all a part of living in agency. The dings of the text receipt came in and with them poured friendly outrage and heaps of support. The exact response you want from really good women and really good friends.
Basically the message I received back was this: What do you want to do? Whatever it is, we got this. And… why did you try to do this alone for so long?
What followed was a loving lecture on why I waited so long to bring up something that was bothering me. I felt cared for, protected, and was a strong example of true friendship. It felt good, this felt right. A wave of “Wow. I DO matter” hit me.
Then the calls began to start lists, and action items. It was shocking to have someone asking me what I want with the context that she/they will do what they can to make it happen. Even miles and miles away. Even in Covid. Even with limited resources and time to plan it. It wasn’t a maybe it was a ‘it’s happening, get ready.’
The audacity of the ask washed over me. The depth of love in their response shook my soul. And yes, we are not talking about something of huge substance here, again I realize, but even if it had been I know their response would not have faltered, but I didn’t know how to claim that space of asking and receiving with ease.
When they insisted on hearing what my dream celebration was, I finally said out loud and with plenty of trepidation that I’d love a small gathering of my besties and a big party: outside, on a farm, BBQ, band. I added: no toasts and no singing happy birthday. I don’t want the attention; I want to be around people I love who are having fun. Around me, not at me.
My God the audacity of that ask. Humbling. Amazing. Inspiring. And perhaps a rite of passage for my 50th year. I wondered why was this so hard and if others in my position had a similar process.
They formed a true celebration committee, added on another local, darling-souled friend. Made phone calls. Went to tour venues. We had a zoom meetings. We had group texts. They called in favors. They stayed up late, got up early, took time away from their REALLY important and high powered jobs to plan a celebration for me. Little ol’ me.
It’s amazing what a group of women can do together all acting in and with agency… it’s nothing short of miraculous.
They planned an incredible weekend for me for sure, but really what they did was give me a huge dose of “I MATTER.” They gave me room to take space. They gave me time to soak in RECEIVING love with no expectation in return. Truly life-changing gifts if you ask me.
As we got closer to finalizing plans, they kept checking in with me about what I wanted and needed and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so held. And so exposed. I liked this depth of agency with my friends but it was also uncomfortable, without a doubt. I was in a community of friends who live and breathe agency in their lives and support each other in living in theirs. This is not a gift, this is a lifeline, a requirement.
The weekend finally came and the bestie night was a blast. We laughed a lot. Drank too much. Said bawdy things too loudly in public. Wore crowns and acted much younger than 50 would lend… No one said 50 was boring!
It was a night of sharing in sisterhood from several areas of my life, all sitting around a restaurant table. Friends flew in for it and made sacrifices of time and money and family and work obligations to be there. Another incredible gift.
The next day, we nursed some hangovers and leisurely got ready for the big party. An out-of-town friend stayed with me and lovingly kept the focus on how I was feeling and doing. You know those friends who will turn anything around to make the focus on them, their lives, their experiences often leaving no room for anyone or anything else? I certainly don’t have those kinds of friends in my life anymore… another wondrous gift of turning 50. We had fun. We had so much fun.
My son was in town and he was such a joy to have by my side. He is the BEST companion for a party as well as everyday life and we were both so excited for the night ahead. My parents were also in town and it was nice to have so many make the effort.
Now the venue was the exact opposite of my original intention of a BBQ farm party as it turned out to be a swanky artsy hotel with a DJ and open bar… different and also so amazing. We did what we could to be Covid conscious and I trusted that if I was living and acting in agency I had to trust others to do the same with their comfort levels. It’s worth noting that thankfully no exposures happened as a result from the party, phew! Beyond this worry, of course I had the “what if people don’t show up” middle school nerves but swallowed them as best I could. When the photographer showed up and started snapping pics of me and my besties I settled into the space and new I had done the right thing, asked the right people, trusted my heart and soul.
I grounded myself with three intentions for the night: Let everyone be responsible for their time tonight, have gratitude throughout the evening noticing all the love I was being showered with, and dance my ass off without a care.
All three of those things happened and so much more. Some drama and some weirdness too, unfortunately but overall, I accomplished what I had hoped. I was surrounded by people who love me and whom I love in return.
There are many highlights but a few were seeing my son do a Russian dance in epic fashion in between both of his grandmothers. Seeing a friend and her fiancé make out in a dark corner because they hadn’t seen each other in two days, and later being asked by young friends of mine ‘who were the old couple sucking face?’ HA! Seeing my folks dance to their favorite song and dance with my friends for hours. Dancing to the only birthday song I like “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire (the first line is about my birthday date), and watching my daughter run around happy as can be. And lastly but not least, having my friends, sit back and find joy in making sure I didn’t feel alone on a milestone sort of evening.
I am blessed beyond measure.
The after party falls under the category of what happens at Creaux, stays at Creaux. But I can assure you it was hilarious, fun, and full of too many celebratory cheers, more dances, and many a misadventure.
When I looked around that night all I saw was:
Not only was I beaming those to my guests, they were beaming it right back at me and to each other.
My biggest take aways from the above are:
- it is a skill to ask for help – hone that skill immediately and forevermore
- it is a skill to receive help that is offered – find people who help you learn it
- being alone has some hard edges regardless of age and context – don’t try to minimize this pain because it isn’t as large as other concerns. It is real and it matters no matter the context. Pain is pain and is valid.
- having a community of people who understand and practice the concept and skill of agency is life altering. A game changer. A life saver. A necessity for me. And I want it to be for you.