Slightly over a year ago, I sat at Mexican restaurant waiting for a guy I was supposed to be on a third date with. I'd gotten a blowout, chosen to freeze my ass off in my favorite off-season skirt, and worn Rag & Bone bootie heels so high that a commercial airplane could fly into my head.
He was late.
Everyone else in the restaurant gave me sad eyes as I ordered my third jalapeno margarita. As I sipped, I slowly realized that over the course of nine years of dating in New York, I'd spent thousands at Sephora and Drybar, fought back tears while pantsless at the hands of merciless waxers, skipped the "relaxing facial" in favor of "deep pore cleansing brutality," worn tights not pants in zero-degree weather. I realized that, at best, I didn't remember most of the names of the guys I did this for, because they were mostly two-date randoms. And if I did remember their names, it was because they were horrible to me.
By the time the guy rolled up, half an hour late and no valid excuse at hand, I was drunk, silently vowing to never again put so much pressure on myself that I thought a blowout would make or break someone's feelings for me. I was 27.
Is 27 the age that single women "give up?" And is tossing the foundation and embracing the sweatpants a sign of defeat, or a sign of empowerment?
Until recently, the common lady/age trope was the cougar—an older women pretending to be younger. Consider the Real Housewives franchise, or how "I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom" is so ubiquitous at this point you could probably find it on a T-shirt.
Over the last few years, though, the reverse trend has risen to prominence. As a twentysomething woman in 2015, you don't brag about how late you stayed out last night, but about how early you went to bed. Or how many cats you have, or how much pizza you ate alone last night while streaming Instant Netflix.
A New York magazine article in 2013 debuted the self-described "Senior Washed-Up Girls" of Yale (opens in new tab): "Women who don't bother dressing up for class, or even for fancy parties (though they might still attend them), don't seek out meaningful (or even just sexual) relationships, spend weekends at their shared homes drinking in the company of other self-identified SWUGs, and feel utter apathy about their personal lives—all at the age of 21."
This brand spread over time from the Ivy League to TMZ: Just look at Taylor Swift self-mythologizing on talk shows as a Law & Order: SVU-loving cat lady, or 30 Rock's glasses-wearing, Gruyere-binging Liz Lemon. And finally it hit the masses. Today, it's not uncommon for a 23-year-old girl to begin a tweet with "#YouKnowYou'reOldWhen." I, a 28-year-old, naturally roll my eyes at that—conveniently forgetting that when I reference my own old age in a similar way, a 32-year-old would roll her eyes at me, and a 45-year-old would at her, and so on. Although the age at which this trend begins is rapidly skewing younger, the number that many other female friends of mine specifically cite as the year they had zero shits left to give is far and away 27.
Laura, now 28 and engaged, ruefully recalls the last time she truly embraced the smoke and mirrors of a multi-step beauty regimen on behalf of the guy she was dating.
"I always got SO ready for dates with him. Like, it was such a production. Hair, makeup, waxing. Not eating. Staying out late on weeknights when I had work the next day. The whole thing was so tiring."
But, as so often happens, the guy wasn't worth a fraction of the effort she was putting into it. Or, to let her tell it a little more frankly: "He was a piece of shit who was trying to get back together with his wife at the same time! I broke up with him when I found that out, and I was like... 'Man, I don't want to do this shit anymore.'"
After that experience, says Laura, the most intense beauty prep she has before a date is "running a brush through her hair," and getting a full night's sleep was always more important than bar-hopping until 3 a.m. just to appease the guy.
I asked what attracted her to this man in the first place.
"He was super handsome and bought me all these gifts and was very funny and cool." She thought about it. "I think part of it was, I became more accepting of the dudes, too. I realized I don't need to be with some outwardly charming life of the party. I'd rather be with like a solid, kind, smart guy."
One year later, she was engaged to one such guy. And one year after my disastrous Mexican dinner, I was in my first serious relationship. My boyfriend is lucky if I peel off my sweatpants to go out to dinner with him, but he loves me more than anyone I've ever been with.
Maybe our abandonment of high-maintenance hotness at 27 is more than just skin-deep. We're not young enough anymore to go out and party all night without waking up ashy and nauseous, and becoming too wise to write off stable relationships as "boring," like we may have in the past. As more of our friends grow up and get married, perhaps we're more resistant to the smoke and mirrors we used to find alluring—whether they're our own or that of the people we date—and actually begin to value real substance. (Although it's entirely possible that we do just like sweatpants.)
"The older you get, and the more you've been through it, I think, the more you're like—fuck it. This is me," explains Laura.
Ultimately, it's encouraging that women are starting to realize that at an increasingly younger age. Some of the most damaging times of our lives are the phase during which we try too hard to be what we think men want. The fact that younger girls already realize this is bullshit, without the steep learning curve that slightly older women have had, is awesome.
You should also check out:
Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Job to Move to an Island and Scoop Ice Cream (opens in new tab)
7 "Flaws" That Aren't (opens in new tab)
Writer. Things I appreciate: Ghosts, white wine, men who look like they could protect me from predators, and a great homemade deviled egg. Also, I have a VERY ambivalent obsession with Sex and The City but I'm not like any of them, other than maybe Miranda's cat.
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