When my father turned 30, or so the story goes, he moped around the house the whole day. He was not happy about turning 30; in his mind, he hadn’t accomplished enough to be happy about this milestone. In the meantime, my mother was desperately trying to get him out of the house. She had planned a surprise party for him at another location, and his moping was preventing him from unknowingly attending his own birthday party. In the end, they went out. My dad was surprised, and everyone had a great time. “It was a waste of my day,” my dad later said of his moping. I’d always said that 30 would be a difficult birthday for me, but when I heard this story years ago, I determined that I would greet 30 with open arms and a huge smile.
When I finally turned 30 last month, it was surprisingly effortless to be happy. To be honest, I was ready to move into a new decade of my life. My 20’s were characterized by all that stereotypical, young angst—about who I was and who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and which direction to go in. After a decade of wrestling with those doubts, I was more than happy to leave my 20’s in the past.
But my 30th year on this planet is off to a great start for a whole host of other reasons as well. Five days before my birthday, V. proposed to me! It was a hectic day in the middle of another feverish work week as I prepared for my first big user conference with my new team. When I came home, I expected nothing other than a relaxed crockpot dinner and an evening of TV. Instead, I found a trail of peppermint patties leading to a beautiful ring and an even more beautiful proposal. I was completely surprised and breathlessly, joyously said yes.
The days leading up to my birthday were spent breaking the news to dear friends and family and family-to-be. Messages of love and congratulations poured in from every direction. Then, two days after our engagement, V’s parents arrived from India, and thus began the whirlwind of merging families and lives. Given that we had only spoken over the phone a handful of times (and even then, never for longer than a few minutes), I was nervous to meet V’s parents. But less than 4 hours after meeting me, his mom cupped my face in both of her hands and asked me to come visit them every day. Spending three weeks with them was nothing but a pleasure. They instantly loved and accepted me in a way that I never expected, and I cherished getting to know them every day over the next three weeks.
Days after his parents arrived, V. surprised me again, this time with a small birthday party. After yet another long work day, I came home to find my closest friends huddled in the dark with V. and his family, all happily yelling their birthday wishes when I walked into the room. V’s mom made us a giant, delicious Indian meal, and afterwards we dug into a box of cupcakes from my favorite bakery.
In the weeks following, friends and family came in from all parts of the country to catch up with V’s parents and squeeze us in warm, congratulatory hugs. Everyone was overjoyed that we were overjoyed. We ate, talked, and laughed, and I watched with deep contentment as V shined, completely in his element with his close friends and family.
Then came the big event: the parental meeting. Three weeks after our engagement, my parents came from Southern Illinois and our two families spent the weekend getting to know each other and, of course, discussing wedding plans. In between talks of multiple weddings, bridal parties and guest lists, astrologers and holy wedding dates (Hindu wedding customs), we also discussed our family values, histories, and beliefs. Our moms told stories of our childhoods, and our dads discussed family and religious traditions. I saw cultures and lives merging over our love for one another and felt a deep and encompassing gratitude.
For the entire month of October (and still now, really) I floated on the clouds of the newly engaged, dreaming of all good things to come. I knew that being engaged would be wonderful. What I didn’t know is that it brings forth an effusive love from those nearest and dearest to you, the type of love that envelopes you in pure happiness and, for a brief moment in time, completely removes you from the troubles of the world. It’s the type of love that suddenly makes you aware of the gentle, constant love that your friends and family feel for you daily, the same one they use to prop you up in your tough times and multiply your happiness in the good.
Planning my life with V. has broken me out of the deep, residual funk resulting from a tough job and a relentlessly hard year. Getting engaged stopped my world for a minute, giving me the opportunity to reflect on the state of my life and all the loved ones who’ve gotten me here. All the opportunities and crazy coincidences and lucky breaks that have led me to this moment. I’ve always known how lucky I am, but my eyes have been completely opened to just how fortunate I am to have two loving families and a multitude of wonderful friends near and far.
The most fantastic part is that if you had asked me at 20 what my life would look like now, I could never have predicted this for myself. I could never have told you that I would spend two years broadening my mind in graduate school, or that I would live in Ecuador for two years. That I would learn to speak Spanish and learn to work, live, and make friends in a culture entirely different from my own. I could never have told you that I would eventually move to the big city, something I once thought I’d be way too scared to do. And, most of all, I could never have told you that I’d be marrying an Indian man, planning two weddings, including a Hindu ceremony, and preparing for a trip to India with my family later this year. If there’s anything I feel more than an immense and powerful love, it is a deep and profound gratitude. All I can think lately is that I’m so grateful for parents who raised me to challenge my fears, to be open minded and kind, to respect other cultures, and to have a sense of self confidence. I’m grateful for V’s parents, who raised my kind, gentle, thoughtful, funny, selfless, smart, and downright fun other half. I’m grateful for my Peace Corps service, which taught me how to fully appreciate other cultures and step out of my comfort zone. And I’m grateful for myself, for waiting for someone who is worthy of the love I have to give.
Life doesn’t always go as planned, but I’m very thankful that mine has gone this way. As I always tell V., life is too short. And if there’s anything I know now, it’s that life is too short to be anything but grateful, happy, and taking on my next adventure with the one that I love. To the next 30 years!