“The swerve” describes a period of crisis that many people face in their mid-30s, when life seems to swirl with huge, uncertain decisions. This is how it became a thing – and what it really feels like
When New York writer Rachel Syme shared a moment of crisis she was facing on Twitter last month, she could not have anticipated the storm of reaction that it unleashed. Syme struck a chord amid a global generation of 30-somethings, as she described “the lurches and swerves” that many people confront at this pivotal moment in life.
“I feel like 33-38 is a really tough age for a lot of women I know,” Syme wrote, in a stream of consciousness that captured how she felt as she woke up on her 36th birthday. “Feels like so many big decisions and future plans have to be squeezed into this lil window; just me?
“It’s not just a baby decision which, yes, is huge in those years and looms over everything,” Syme continued. “It just feels like all my friends this year are doing this huge reevaluation of everything. It’s a time of lurches and swerves.
“Like I don’t know who needs to hear this but this morning even though everything in my life is really good, I woke up and realised it was my birthday and started to cry. I mean, could be hormones or heat! Or the world. But! It’s a weird time.
“Anyways, if anyone is either floating in this strange miasma, or has emerged from it and wants to share your advice from the other side, I would love to hear it. A birthday gift to me!!”
In the next few hours, thousands of people liked and re-tweeted Syme’s messages, along with sharing their own stories of this turbulent period. Clearly, “The Swerve” is a thing. But what it’s all about?
“The Swerve” is an unspoken time of change in your 30s
Symes tells the BBC that soon after she shared her experience, people who reached out to her were “describing how they were ‘going through the swerve’ so that’s what I’m now calling it”.
She says the swerve signifies this “scary” window of transition in your mid-30s: scary not just because of the big decisions many people face – whether or not to have kids, when to change careers, moving to a different country – but also the fact that no-one really talks about these choices, or how to prepare yourself for them.
It feels like suddenly, there’s an urgent timeline to achieve certain things, or somehow fulfil pre-set life goals, but you’re given no emotional guidelines on how to tackle this onset of expectations. “I feel like nobody talks to you about what it’s like to be this age,” Syme says. “We have the youth; spunk, energy, beauty, and there’s so many things people feel like they must do – but where are the conversations about all of the big decisions we need to make?”
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It’s also confusing because this is a period where many people technically are doing well: you’re earning more, you’ve got career stability, perhaps you’ve made it onto the property ladder. Things are seemingly more stable than in your 20s, yet still, you face this bubbling undercurrent of uncertainty and upheaval.
“I felt like somewhere in my youth, I decided that 36 was my ‘scary age’ but now it feels like I’m here and while things are coalescing both in good ways professionally and personally, it’s also in a scary way,” Syme adds.
Although Syme originally addressed her tweet to women, it appears that men, too, are affected by this tidal wave of change. “I’m a 33 year old guy and I completely relate,” wrote one man in response to Syme’s posts, in a direct message shared with his permission. “My girlfriend turns 34 this year and it’s almost like the next six years of our lives have to be mapped out because it’s a race against time. 34… get engaged? 35… get married? 36-38… have the one and only kid we joke about? Should we consider 40 our biological cut off? Shit. What about money. We need to advance our careers and make enough money for all of these milestones. I’m tired.”
“The Swerve” involves big, difficult decisions
Breaking up with someone, resettling to the other side of the world, starting a family: the swerve is a choppy time because it seems to involve these huge, life-changing decisions for which no-one has a clear answer:
I have dozens and dozens of messages from women who’ve changed jobs, changed partners, frozen eggs, had kids, didn’t have kids, adopted, moved cities, cared for sick parents, completely started over.
Here’s the big takeaway: you’re not alone
— rachel syme (@rachsyme) July 18, 2019
The situation is further complicated by the fact that many of the decisions that hit home around this time in life appear to be irreversible:
I think for me, one of the main things is that this is a time where you’re feeling like you have to make a lot of pretty permanent choices. And as a person who hates to make choices, it’s hell???? My drug is open-ended decisions
— rachel syme (@rachsyme) July 17, 2019
And added to this is the fact that it’s sometimes hard to decipher what are actually your own choices (marriage, family, getting a home) versus what society expects you to do. “A thing I have noticed, as I approach 38, is increasing clarity that (for me, at least) those things that I imagined for myself 20 years ago, that I found pressing down on me… they weren’t *my* things,” observes one person. “That the clock that seemed to be ticking was someone else’s clock.”
Unsurprisingly, many people have seized on the swerve as an opportunity to take risks and try something a bit different. “While the past three years have been exceedingly challenging, it’s also been great,” another 30-something woman shares on the thread. “I took risks. I moved and lived in Barcelona. I’m more open and honest and vulnerable. Who says you can’t make friends over 30. My friends in Barcelona taught me unconditional love over a short period of time.”
And it’s good to know that, while 40 isn’t a cut-off point for the swerve, with the passing of time comes a little relief from this all-consuming pressure.”The past few years have been a mixed bag: so very good and so full of loss and a weird grief,” writes someone else. “I am no where near where I thought I would be in life (and some of that’s great), but I found I had to mourn who I didn’t become.
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“My very best friend wrote me a sweet note on my 40th, claiming that “your 40s are when it really gets good”. When pressed on what that meant, she said “you can finally just be comfortable in who you are – go after what you want without being so worried about it. There’s a relief in leaving some of the pressure of youth behind.
“It’s a time to be OK with who you are and how you do things, especially when you do things differently than other people. Things firm up and become a little more real and can finally click.”
Maybe after all, that is what the swerve is really about. Bridging the gap between who you thought you might be, and who you actually are. But, as Syme’s brilliant Twitter thread shows, even if this is a turbulent time, you’re not alone in feeling it.