By Silas Nyanchwani
Every decade of your life, you will experience a devastating setback that tests your tenacity, belief in humanity and greatly shapes your outlook of life for the rest of your life.
In your 20s, it is probably a heartbreak from the most handsome man or most beautiful woman you will ever date. It comes from an inexplicable breakup or the character cheating against any conventional wisdom. I have a friend who cheated on his college beauty and we nearly lynched him. Also, someone can ghost you leaving you questioning your very existence. You feel so used like a doormat in a particularly rainy April.
Also, in your 20s, joblessness can be a big challenge. You may take longer, or forever to settle into a career even as some of your friends seem to be having it so easy, posting pictures of Hennessy from high-end nightclubs and their vacation pictures, when you don’t even have bus fare out of your crib. For man, your 20s if broke means no such indulgences like sex or a good meal. Girls sometimes get off easy, with support from home, or at least, can meet a man who takes the pub.
In all my drinking life, no man has ever offered me a drink in a pub. But I have offered several girls, strangers no less drinks, with no strings attached, or those I had interested left without a number or as much as backward glance.
Doesn’t mean that there are girls who don’t suffer.
But the setbacks of your 20s are nothing compared to the setbacks of your 30s.
Most people don’t see their 30s coming. In fact, between 25-35, you will lose some five years to bullshit. You will not know where the years went. You will spend them jobless, or in an abusive relationship by the time you get out, there is a physical marker of aging on you; grey hair, balding, tummy or something for men. For women, it is the period, your body out of nowhere transforms fully into that of middle-aged woman who identifies more with her preacher than her favourite DJ. Also, for women the five years can disappear into childbearing and dealing with a middling, mediocre career.
The 30s are a good place to be. You are old enough to be kicking ass in your career and life affords you all the best options. For a man, you can afford some of the things that you missed on in your 20s, like slicing a man’s woman in a club. You know, those juicy early 20s girls for whom a holiday in the white sandy beaches of Diani is enough to hawk their dignity and leave their ‘useless’ mid-20s boyfriend who can only afford shisha?
The 30s, if things are working well for you means you can afford an asset, upgrade to a better car from the jalopy you bought in your 20s, buy some decent furniture and that curved TV that your heart has hankered after many time. If married, your kids will be going to a better schools, probably with a British Curriculum or Montessori or something fancy. Your objectives in life will be pretty much set: that promotion, that career switch, or the demon may send you into farming and you may regret if you rely on bad advice, or Maina Kageni too much.
For career and businesswomen with great focus, the 30s can be good. Assuming their romantic relationships are in order, they can scale any mountain that matches their ambition. And boy, in Nairobi, Kenya I have seen some women with crazy ambition. They will stop at nothing and will use every means, crude, fair and unfair to get ahead. When their romantic relationships are messy, it can also have a negative toll on them. Most likely the 30s mean a woman is either married or a single mother with a complicated relationship with the baby dad, and a host of boyfriends she sees here and there.
The problem with the 30s is that when things are working, they work pretty well. And when they go wrong, they go extremely wrong.
The relationship problems of the 20s are mostly on petty things. In your 30s, it is petty things and serious things too. Hearts of both women and men are so hardened and it looks like kids born after 1980 all come with pre-installed egos the size of Pacific Ocean. Nowadays, pride really messes up any opportunity for reconciliation when things go wrong. Nobody wants to admit a mistake. Each party nowadays is a stubborn ass.
In your 30s, you are likely to experience three things that can change your life for better or worse: Your worst brokenness that can ruin your marriage and other relationships (you can lose your respect in your family if you fail to provide bread), a devastating illness in your family that is emotionally and financially ruinous, and the biggest test in your marriage(can be infidelity, financial challenges, sickness, childlessness, dislocation due to transfer or career growth).
All these, if handled badly have dire consequences. For women for instance, when you get a transfer to another city or that job promotion that you have worked for, it maybe a moment of joy, but it can dampen the mood of the husband who may come between your promotion and transfer and this can take a toll in your relationship. Your frustration is understandable, and the man’s fear is always rational and reasonable. Because, for some women a job promotion or transfer is a license to be rude or misbehave. Yet, if the man tries to block her progress is hardly the right thing because the last thing you want is someone resentful in your household.
For men, when tragedy strikes in your 30s, it can be humbling. First, you discover you are alone in the universe. While in your 20s you can call as many friends as possible who will come through, in your 30s, it is difficult to call your friend who is a tenderpreneurs to tell him that you don’t have bus fare or money to buy your son some syrup.
You soon discover the how humiliating poverty can be. Poverty has no dignity. In your 30s, if you never acquired some sense of self-respect, humiliation can be constant. Like friends who call you to drink very far away from your place and when you ask them to drop you at home, it is not uncommon for a stupid friend to tell you, “nikubuyie pombe, nikupee dame, na hadi fare nikupee?” Kwanza, if it is a Luo, and they say it in that authoritative way of theirs, it can suck all the dignity you were born with out of you. You learn to spend nights at home, rather than be subjected to indignities of group drinking. A broke friend recently had it rough when he joined some guys who offered to buy whiskey and then some girls joined them, inflating the bill to Sh 20,000. When time to pay came, the benefactor said, “I can only pay Sh 15,000 and requested my friend to pay the rest.”
“I had to fuliza, and use all the mobile loans app available…” he told me the following day.
But away from the humiliations of group drinking, the worst tragedy in your 30s mostly comes from your relationship. If you are a man and you fuck up and your wife leaves with children, that can rearrange your life with such devastating brutality, not unlike an accident that leaves your strapped to a wheel-chair for good. Most men who cheat think they have it figured out, until one day when they are 36, the wife leaves with no option of coming back.
Besides cheating, when a marriage breaks down in the 30s, things can go wrong with astonishing speed, by the time you get through, you will feel like a hurricane carried you and dropped in the deepest part of the ocean to drown you. It fucks up both men and women, even though differently.
What I have observed with women is the myopia they have when destroying their marriage. At least men know about the long-term consequences, and always try to amend their ways or be apologetic, if only to rescue a marriage. When a woman takes the path of ruining her marriage, through infidelity or outright disrespect to the man she becomes blind to every prevailing reality only disaster can avert further tragedy or at least open her eyes. What scares me is the inevitability of these things, as they spiral out of control, they have an annoying predictability, but what vexes me is that some parties are too blinded by pride and ego to pause and think.
Away from marital shenanigans, in your 30s, is the time you are likely to lose your parent or a family member. And if it is a parent, you will realise how helpless you are without their counsel, their assurance and them being the last resort. If you are a daughter and your marriage tanks, you will always turn to your father or mother as they will always take you back and offer unconditional support. Your siblings will be dealing with their own issues, and may be too judgmental to take up your screw ups. If a man and you screw up in life, you can always turn up at your parent’s place. But when they are gone, anytime you go back home the gap can be so huge, you will cry.
Same thing happens when your parents are sick and you are moving in and out of hospitals, or you have to take them to India, knowing too well their chance of survival is limited.
But no matter what your 30s throw at you, what you need is stoicism, resilience and the ability not to take things too personally. Whether it is your property that s auctioned, whether it is your partner who suddenly changes for worse, or leaves, take it on the chin.
It is easier to resort to alcohol or drugs (or any route of escapism like philandering), too much pent-up anger, and taking a cynical attitude to life. But this is not the way to do it. If you look around you will see so many people who have risen from ashes and far worse tragedies like the post-election violence, or like the typhoon that swept the Mozambique and Zimbabwe Coasts leaving a thousand people dead in its wake and property worthy billions destroyed.
This is not in anyway some motivation bullshit. Just to remind you that shit happens, and it is how you deal with it that matters.