By Kristin van Ogtrop
Updated January 26, 2015
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The other week I had dinner with a dear friend and her daughter, who is 13. My friend’s daughter is interesting and sweet and charmingly quirky, and I’ve known her since she was born. As we were eating, I asked her how she felt about entering high school in September, which led to a conversation on age. “Eight and nine were great,” she said, as were 10, 11 and 12. However, she definitely does not like being 13, and imagines 14 will be similarly awful. “Well,” I blurted, “wait till you get to your 20s. The 20s are the worst! I hated my 20s.”

Her mother was flabbergasted. “I completely disagree with you. I loved my 20s!” Now, a topic for another time is how, once you become the mother of only boys, with no girls to soften you up, you begin to lose your emotional sensitivity chip, and so on occasion make broad (depressing) declarations like “Your 20s will really suck!” My friend may have been trying to make her daughter feel that her future/early adulthood was in fact something to look forward to, not the grim business I apparently experienced.

Or maybe my friend really did love her 20s. It’s hard for me to imagine, since mine were filled with complete uncertainty—well, except for the one certainty that everyone else in my peer group was on some sort of clear path, while I was lost in a dense fog with nothing to eat and no GPS. Luckily, my 30s were better; my 40s are better still.

And so my question for all of you: Absent major misfortune, which do you think is the hardest decade in a woman’s life? And why?