This is 30: Matt Ortile responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"I suppose there’s the very silly grief of having missed out on things like '30 under 30' lists."
From the time I was 10, I’ve been obsessed with what it means to grow older. I’m curious about what it means to others, of all ages, and so I’ve started “The Oldster Questionnaire.”
Here, “The Groom Will Keep His Name” author—and one of my editors at Catapult—Matt Ortile responds. - Sari Botton
How old are you?
I am very newly 30.
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
I guess I’m finally there. Since my friends and I turned 26, we’ve been saying, “oh my god we’re 30.” If not necessarily in actual birth years, but in spirit. For example, I was once extolling the virtues of a Bosch dishwasher over a Miele, and my friend Alanna looked me in the eye and said, “You’re 30.” Among my set, 30 seems to represent a focus on domestic life; on quality over quantity. We’re making fewer new friends, or at least being more selective about with whom we spend our energy. Or maybe it’s about the arbitrary markers of “adulthood.” I ran into an old coworker yesterday and she said, “Yeah, I saw your china cabinet on Instagram. You’re 30.”
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
How I feel about my age varies from day to day, and it depends on the context. I was recently doing a Q&A with MFA students; I was the guest speaker, but I think I was the youngest person there. It made me especially aware of my age and the position of being the one to give advice. But then I saw that the Filipino American influencer Bretman Rock recently made history on the cover of Playboy, and he’s only 23. So, you know, perspective.
What do you like about being your age?
To be determined. But it’s interesting to be on the “early” side of the decade again, like being a first-year in undergrad. There’s maybe a clean slate.
Among my set, 30 seems to represent a focus on domestic life; on quality over quantity.
What is difficult about being your age?
I suppose there’s the very silly grief of having missed out on things like “30 under 30” lists. Though there’s a freedom in that too. Peers in their thirties have told me that the decade comes with fewer expectations, which seems to be a double-edged thing. People maybe don’t put as much pressure on one’s thirties as a decade, at least compared to one’s twenties. At the same time, there’s this feeling of: Oh, is this it? It’s just life from here on out? Again, perspective.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
So far, nothing surprising. My body is turning against me, as promised.
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Aging has given me experience, I think. Doing things more often and for longer, the less scary those things become. Whether it’s exploring new writing opportunities or social situations. I remember in my twenties the preoccupation of how someone might perceive me at, say, a party with a new crowd. These days, I think I have a better sense of who I am, what I’m about, what’s important to me. So having that internal compass helps me navigate unfamiliar waters. Small talk is a particular talent. I’m a little bit better at holding my tongue.
As for something it’s taken away, aging has taken away my ability to wear my 29-inch-waist trousers. I can button them fine, but I think it’s my thighs that’ve gotten bigger?
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
The first thing that comes to mind: It feels less strange when a guy I occasionally hook up with calls me “daddy.” He’s 25 or thereabouts, so it makes some sense? I don’t know that being 30 makes me “daddy,” but it’s also easier to call him “a good boy” with some conviction.
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
I’ve no plans to have kids; I now see marriage as a possibility, no longer as an expectation. There aren’t really any milestones I intend to hit, at least not ones foisted upon me by American culture. Sometimes I feel smug about it; “Hah, I can live my life however I want to!” But then there’s also the existential dread; “Shit, I’m alone.” I’m lucky to have a solid support system, individuals I call my chosen family who help me see my life as something I can shape on my own, regardless of what others might expect of someone like me.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
The calendar year that covered both 26 and 27 was my favorite. It’s less about the age itself but more about how that year went: My mom was still alive and healthy; I’d just sold my first book; I’d started a new job; I traveled internationally about four times that year. It felt like everything was clicking into place. I’d go back to visit that year, but I wouldn’t want to experience the sobering crashes that came after in 2019 and 2020.
I remember in my twenties the preoccupation of how someone might perceive me at, say, a party with a new crowd. These days, I think I have a better sense of who I am, what I’m about, what’s important to me.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
Tony Leung. He looks so good.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
The most apparent changes have been with my skincare and grooming routine. I now put on sunblock every day, and apply hyaluronic acid every morning and evening. I also take finasteride, the generic for Propecia (my birth father was completely bald by my age). I take biotin gummies, too. Alanna’s been trying to get our group chat on the Shani Darden train for a while now; she preaches the gospel of their retinol serum. I might jump on the train soon, once I have the cash to spare.
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
Haven’t refused anything yet, but never say never.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
I’ve celebrated most of my adult birthdays alone. I had a particularly upsetting 24th birthday night out, and I spent my twenty-fifth entirely alone in New York (see the essay “To Live Alone” in my book The Groom Will Keep his Name). It was all about getting comfortable being on my own, especially on days that feel significant like birthdays. Maybe now, in my thirties, I’ll make more of an effort to celebrate. I’m here—a reason good enough.
Matt Ortile is the author of the essay collection The Groom Will Keep His Name. He is also the managing editor of Catapult magazine, and a contributing writer at Condé Nast Traveler. Previously, he was the founding editor of BuzzFeed Philippines. He is a MacDowell Fellow and has written for Vogue, Self, Out, Into, and BuzzFeed News, among others. He is a graduate of Vassar College, which means he now lives in Brooklyn.