The Saturn Return Is Real, and It Will Mess You Up

Getting ready to turn 27? 28? Watch yourselves.


I don’t put a lot of stock in Astrology. (I did, for one delightful afternoon, think I was signing up for it to fulfill my single collegiate science requirement, but it turned out to be Astronomy, which is theoretically interesting but is actually not about ancient constellations as much as it is about systems we cannot fully explain, which makes me anxious.) I do make a lot of to-do lists and then promptly lose them, which several former suitors have insisted is because I’m a cusp-y Sag-Cap. But I think that could be labeled as Easily Distracted. Well, and everyone I’ve ever truly loved has been a Taurus, those solid, firmly grounded folk. But again, that could just be that I’ve been a daydreamer with a solid pack of imaginary friends since I was tiny, and opposites attract.

There is, however, one basket into which I put all my astrological eggs. And that is Saturn Return, loosely defined as the time when Saturn loops back roughly twenty-seven or twenty-eight years later to the place where it started when you were born, making a mess of things. When it comes to Saturn, I’m a total, fervent believer. Because Saturn is real. Not real like the Velveteen Rabbit. Real real. And it will mess you up.

I was once like you, non-believers. Everything was fine, ranging from good at times and mediocre at others for most of my early to middling twenties. Some cats, a move to the big city, decent jobs, good relationship, good friends. I had that early twenties post-collegiate revelation where you realize you’re not actually going to be Woman of the Week in perpetuity, and that no one really cares if you know all the a cappella parts to “Barely Breathing,” and that in all likelihood, you are not the savior that the movement against domestic violence has been waiting for, even though you’ve attended all the rallies. Which stung a little, but again, everything was mostly running smoothly. And then, and I swear this on my cats’ lives, then I turned twenty-seven.

Not ten days later, my relationship and my job were in total upheaval. I just looked back at my journal from that time period and found these scribblings from a bathroom stall at Buddakan (more evidence: the meatpacking district? What was this early to bed lesbian doing in the meatpacking district late on a Wednesday night?): “Wasn’t everything normal two weeks ago?” Oh, my poor past self! Everything that could seemed to fall to pieces, and things were a bit of a mess for a few years until the pieces sorted themselves out in an entirely different fashion. My twenty-seven-year-old self would be pleased, I think, with where thirty-five-year-old us has landed, but she would never have been able to predict this precise set of circumstances. 

It wasn’t until midway through this rearranging process that someone finally clued me into the phenomenon of Saturn Returning. And maybe I just needed to believe in something, to believe that all this upheaval was going to be worth it at some point, but it all made so much sense. The going theory is that when Saturn comes round again, it forces you to move into a new phase of adulthood, and everything can change—relationships, jobs, housing, cities, career paths. People get married, or divorced, or confront toxic relationships, or switch careers, or drive cross-country, or, for some musicians, expire well before their time. To wit: the Saturn Return is the equivalent of throwing the snow globe of your life on the ground and staring down at the splintered glass shards of a formerly tidy life. (When discussing the Saturn Returns, one may also be as freely dramatic as one wishes.)

The highest highs, and lowest lows: that’s how it was for me. I was in either the best or worst relationships of my life. Everyone I dated was the Future Mrs. Elisabeth Snell until we generally both agreed we were terrible matches. My phone was never in my pocket and at least twice, was on the subway tracks. I was running half-marathons, and running around Williamsburg late at night. I was biding my time in day jobs while simultaneously performing off-Broadway in wool socks and Birkenstocks, carrying a first edition copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

And you know, in hindsight, it wasn’t half bad. I came out of those years with new, crisp goals. It was during my Saturn Return that I realized that I wanted to talk about the social determinants of public health more than anyone else I knew. (I’m a great party guest, if your party guest list is filled with epidemiologists.) That led to sitting in on a graduate class, just to see what it was like, and eventually pursuing a graduate degree. Although, it also led to scoring in the tenth percentile on the GREs and sobbing outside the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway stop, because Saturn is here to remind you that everyone learns differently.

I don’t remember when my Saturn Return officially ended. There wasn’t a finite moment for me, like there was when it all began. But it was rough enough that I almost ended things with K after our very first date because she mentioned she was three weeks shy of thirty, and by that point, I had made a rule that I would never again date anyone in the middle of their Saturn Return. I told her so, mostly joking, and then I got a text from her on a Tuesday night as my train rattled over the Manhattan bridge. I was coming home from a night class, and it was way past my bedtime. “I’m at a bar on Fourth Avenue, and I’m still twenty-nine,” she wrote. “You should meet me for a nightcap. Pretend you’re still in the middle of your Saturn Return.” Well: what could I do but end up marrying her?

Maybe you think the Saturn Return is utter nonsense; nothing more than coincidence. Maybe you think it’s perfectly reasonable that a late twenty-something might see thirty approaching, and decide to take stock. And maybe you’re right, and it’s all bunk. But all the same, when fifty-six comes around for me, I’m hunkering down.

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