Early life crisis ... 28 can be a tough year, not just for astrological reasons. Photo: Stock image
Earlier this year, I did a story for The Sunday Age's M magazine in which I visited a bunch of healers and spiritual types to find out if my scepticism was the only thing standing between me and inner peace. While I came away from the experience somewhat less sceptical and temporarily more chilled out than beforehand, I was amused when a number of the practitioners I visited pinned my frustrations on the same thing as soon as I revealed my age. "Oh, you're turning 28," they'd say, smiling knowingly. "Don't worry pet, it's just your Saturn Return!"
Nodding and suppressing an eye-roll at the time, once home I jumped straight onto Google to see what the hell they were on about. According to Wikipedia, "Saturn Return is an astrological transit when a transiting Saturn planet returns to the same point in the sky that it occupied at the moment of a person's birth." The return of Saturn apparently coincides with the amount of time it takes the planet to orbit once around the Sun, roughly 28-30 years. Astrologers say that each time Saturn returns to the point occupied at the time of our birth, we enter a new phase of life.
According to my astrological birth chart, I should currently be in the process of my first Saturn Return, the phase of leaving youth behind and entering adulthood, a description that is more or less apt, and one that gave me some comfort in the fact that I'd not acquired profound clarity and maturity some years ago along with my P-plates and/or university degree.
Reading further, it seemed that pop culture references to Saturn Return had escaped me for years. Pop-rock band No Doubt named an album, Return to Saturn, after the alleged phenomenon, made when lead singer Gwen Stefani was 29 and in the throes of her return. Flower child Drew Barrymore referenced her Saturn Return on Letterman back in 2007 (shortly after her split with The Strokes' drummer Fabrizio Moretti) and even R.E.M. released a song called Saturn Return in 2001. Hey, if Michael Stipe's a believer, maybe these astrologers are onto something after all.
It kind of makes sense – while my early twenties were relatively carefree (though they seemed less so at the time), buttressed by a uni degree, my single, globetrotting existence and minimal real-world responsibilities, I had, in a sense, been clinging to my youth without really knowing it. As I reach the point where even I have to admit that living at home is no longer a valid option, and my friends are getting married and popping out babies left, right and centre, now, more than ever before, have I felt the imperative to grow up (though not necessarily marry and have babies).
According to About.com, Saturn Return might have a part to play in the peak in divorces in the US at around the age of 30, as couples reassess their relationships in light of changing personal priorities. Stefanie Iris Weiss and Sherene Schostak, aka 'Saturn Sisters' and authors of Surviving Saturn's Return: Overcoming the Most Tumultuous Time of Your Life suggest that women look at their father issues during their Saturn Return because "Saturn symbolizes the father (personally and universally), and can set us up with very particular responses to the men in our lives, as we attempt to fix whatever was broken in our relationship with our dads or dad-like figures."
They lost me there – I'm get along fine with my father and can't see any link between our relationship and what I'm currently going through, but the following rang true, well, the first part anyway:
"If everything feels like chaos, if your relationships are breaking down and you're questioning your career, your friendships, your sanity, and your very life, it is likely that it's just the ripples of your Saturn Return descending."
I know I'm not alone in this. I've spoken to countless friends about the increasing pressures as we age, especially for women. My friends are quitting jobs, starting new courses, moving overseas, getting married, breaking up. Nothing new, you might say, but the difference is we're now effecting these changes with an increased sense of urgency. We're aware that time is running out, we're already a third of the way through life, and that's if we're lucky.
Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson referred to the ages of 28-30 as the Age 30 transition. "At about 28 the provisional character of the twenties is ending and life is becoming more serious," he wrote in The Seasons of A Man's Life. In Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy also notes the significance of the late twenties, describing his hero, Gabriel Oak, thus: "He had just reached the time of life at which "young" is ceasing to be the prefix of "man" in speaking of one... In short, he was twenty-eight." About.com Astrology Guide, Molly Hall, notes that at age 30, Vincent van Gogh chose to become an artist rather than a pastor.
Whether or not it's tied to the planets is irrelevant, but it's ultimately comforting to think this is a universal experience, and that at the end of the rather testing late twenties, a greater sense of certainty and contentment awaits if we make the right choices now and change the things that aren't working in our lives, and consolidate the things that are. We can thank our lucky stars for that.