8/23/2012

"you couldn't pay me to be 24 again." "well, no one's paying me."

So spoketh a legs-akimbo'd Lena Dunham during season 1 of Girls*, and fuck! I'm 27, but this echoes my sentiments exactly. You could not pay me enough to be transplanted back into my early twenties!  

Threw it on the ground because I'M AN ADULT.

It makes sense! Our culture elevates youth to astronomical levels of FUN, impossible levels really. Your body is in its prime! Score many points for fitting into society's definition of attractiveness by virtue of having an elastic metabolism. You can drink and dance and fuck all night and not feel hungover in the morning! You don't have to work a Real Job yet so your life is one big party, right? RIGHT?!

Well, no. What they don't tell you is that there are so many things about being in your early twenties that aren't pleasant. Things like cocaine-addicted roommates who flake out on paying rent. And being so desperately broke that living with uninvited mice in a studio apartment is a totally reasonable thing to do. And eating cardboard food because that's all you can afford, sometimes drinking a bottle of $3 wine for dinner, sometimes not eating all.

When I was 21, I remember feeling no different emotionally than when I was 16, but with the added pressure of feeding and housing myself. And while my journey into adulthood began earlier and more abruptly than most, that feeling of being woefully unprepared for the real world is completely universal. There is no Adult Switch that kicks on when you turn 18. In fact, that Adult Switch is more like an irritating long Adult Flight Next To A Coffee-Breathed Mouthbreather, except the the flight doesn't even start to descend until you are at least 25.

My memories are a blur of random nights in salacious bars, of battered emotions and empty motions, of car trunks and railroad tracks and purple carpets and violet vomit. Drunken madness and sober madness that felt every bit as a horrifying and as visceral as any drug I'd ever done, maybe more so, because sobriety was the most potent form of consciousness that I allowed myself to feel. Every day that I wasn't high was a sharply twisting knife of reality cutting deep into my drained emotional bank. It meant that I was forced to feel my emotions with the intensity of a teenager, while dealing with very adult things.

Being so immature, I believed that "oh, THIS is what real life is like! Being abused and too poor to eat is totally normal and okay and I deserve it all!"And when you are trapped in that kind of thought process, you (un)consciously take steps to perpetuate it. It takes an enormous amount of emotional maturity to be able to put a stop to it, assuming you have resources, which you might not. And a lot of this maturity only comes with spending more time living on this planet.

Our fascination with youth is especially dangerous because it is built on a lie. This lie that your early twenties are the best years of your life, because they aren't! Your early twenties are nothing more than violent brackish waters between childhood and adulthood. Suddenly your personality is hardening and shifting into several different people at once, all simultaneously reacting to and against your unenviable youth. Your ability to regulate your emotions isn't ripe enough and neither is that of your friends, so boyfriends and friend drama reach new heights that make high school look like the Summer of Love. You possess a brain that isn't even fully developed and are expected to use it to pay rent and date and try to find a job and FIND YOURSELF, all while treading water in increasingly unstable economic times. It's impossible to do without coming out unscathed. Maybe your wounds help you mature, but you will probably endure some things that you wish you didn't. 

At some point, a very definite moment of which I can't really pinpoint because it all seems to hazy now in retrospect, I awoke one morning and felt okay. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, it gets better. Your emotions won't feel so intense and this isn't a scary thing because it means that you've gained resilience. Things that seem SO IMPORTANT right now are suddenly the least of your concerns! Your life will calm down. You'll learn how to tend to your basic needs and maybe become stable. You might even beat depression and obtain some self-confidence along the way. And growing up couldn't be more awesome because of it.

In my darkest hours, this song by Rilo Kiley gave me comfort. I used to dream about the day when its lyrics would come true, when I'd laugh and embrace my friends and be happy, and that dream has come true. It will happen to you too.

*Is it okay to quote Girls? I can't quite remember where feminism landed on this issue.

18 comments:

Bronny said...

I feel this so hard! I am so glad to be getting older and not dealing with the ridiculous insanity that was my early 20s. Sure, at the time it was fun but looking back I just feel exhausted when I think about all the drama and going out every night and living in the worst houses/apartments. UGH. Getting older and calmer and (hopefully) smarter is where it's at.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this honest post. There is nothing so reassuring as hearing from someone so level and talented as you that the younger 20s are awful and that you will get through them. This couldn't have come at a better time for me- I spent all day panicking about my life yesterday.

Ludo said...

Wow, really intense post. I'm actually turning 20 this weekend and your post gives me a lot to think about. I'm sorry you and everyone in the comments has such a negative opinion of that time period, but everyone comes out of different circumstances and backgrounds so I think it's pretty pessimistic to try and doom our early 20's like this. There are hard experiences for every age group, but I really believe life is what you make of it and the only way to get through it is to look on the positives. I'll let you know if you were right in five or so years.

Anonymous said...

funny, i had a similar early 20's and while some parts of it were not so fun, i totally felt like that was how it was when you first become an adult. i lived on beans and rice forever and shared a studio with roaches. in logan square like 10 years ago, when it was not hip.
I am now 36 going on 37 and life is 500x better. I guess my point is every age is going to be great and it only gets better. so have fun being a late 20's adult, because it does feel so good. BUT being in your 30's is even better than that. Get ready for the best ride ever!

Anonymous said...

this is a really great post, I've had one of worst weeks ever and it has at times felt extremely hard to keep things in perspective but this has definitely helped, so thank you

ALCOHOLS said...

bless you, bless you. that thing about being young and in having fun all the time is so pissing me off. like, everyone just thinks that you are having fun all the time and alongside that manage to have a part-time job, feed yourself, get a great degree at uni and have wonderful relationships with everyone. the worst thing is, almost all young people seem to live this way and i feel quite different, like what´s wrong with me if i don´t wanna spend every friday in a bar? i feel like people are consciously living this lie because they believe that as they get older, all they will do is work + car + loan + work + family + kids. it´s as if everyone´s life was written already, as if everyone thought "ok let´s have fun now because by the age of 30 i will be boring and conservative". hmm i guess i went a bit off topic and it doesn´t relate to your post too much but anyways...though i am in my early 20s i do not think it is very funny at all and i do struggle. i wish this topic would be discussed more..or is simply everyone having a great time?

Allison said...

It's interesting, I've been seeing posts on multiple blogs I follow about being an adult and growing up. As someone who just turned 18 and is about to board the mouthbreather plane of my early twenties, and it's kind of comforting to read about other people's experiences on growing up. I like how you emphasized that there's a romanticism about being hedonistic in your early twenties, and how it's not as fun and carefree as people would have you believe. Thank you for being candid and eloquent as always.

Kathryn said...

I loved reading this.

meagan said...

thanks to everyone for your wonderfully insightful comments <3

@bronny god, going out every night is EXHAUSTING.

and to all of these anons, i REALLY wish you all weren't anonymous because you guys all seem really rad and i really hope that things look up for you. and YES everyone keeps telling me that i'll have even more fun in my 30s and i can't wait!

@ludo happy birthday! while having a PMA helps, it's not a formula for instant success. people's personalities change SO much between 18-25 that really, you won't recognize yourself once you are 25.

@alcohols AGREED, the difficult parts of being in your twenties are never discussed people you're expected to be mature and have your shit together, but really, your twenties are the time in your life when you have the LEAST amount of agency over your new freedom.

@allison the important thing is not romanticize it, and to enjoy it for what it is, and take everything in stride. and know that growing older is really cool regardless of how lame it may seem now.

Madeline said...

Our society is so ageist, its ridiculous! everyone is expected to look perfect and ageless or become anonymous (oh wait everyone? I meant women) Thank you for relieving me of the burden of being supposed to have the best time ever...as I'm now entering my early 20s better become the life of party...hmm more like better get that essay done on Heidegger ha! Apparantly people are happier when they're old anyway so maybe your early 70s are the time to live it up :)

Izumi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia said...

Ugh, I have to disagree. From 21 to 25 were the best years of my life so far (I am 31). When I was 24 and 25, I worked in the evenings, went to school during the day, and hung out with my friends at bars and dance parties every single night. My summer schedule consisted of spending an average of 4 afternoons a week suntanning my sweet bod at the river, where I would lay on a rock and read for sometimes 4 hours, then going to work or drinking beer on my balcony if I was off, and then going out with my friends. Wake up and repeat. Being a "real" adult becomes way more complicated and stressful. Give me 24 again any day.

Magnet said...

My teen years were shit, I'm 21 right now, having a car and being able to drive is nice, but not much has changed. Right now, the economic situation is kind of shit, and I feel like since I've finished uni, I've just been struggling to make any sort of progression in my life. Thanks for this post, it's definitely a different way to think about life in your early twenties. I'm glad you made it out of that stage okay :)

The Working Girl Preetma said...

Really like this post, but I would expand it to the entire twenties. I feel like 21-24 were tough, but at least you have the choice to be in school during that time and maintain some structure/motivation while still giving you the time to dwell on yourself. Even when you are internally a hot mess, the consequences are less dire at that age, no matter what you're doing. There is more than enough time to recoup. Being in your late twenties is much scarier because even when you realize you are finally ok with yourself, the rest of the world doesn't give a shit. You realize you will probably be scrimping and slaving for the rest of your life if you want any kind of quality of life (material and non-material). That is, if you're lucky enough to find a place to do that. The every day is more manageable, but looking at the future from the late 20s (to the 30s, 40s, 50s) is much scarier. I had hope when I was 21 that things would be ok, now I'm pretty sure that's not going to be the case.

Goo Girls said...

Meagan you are my life coach...this was a beautiful/honest/fucking brilliant post. Thank you. And I really do believe life gets better as you age...so far it has for me (and I'm still in the scary early twenties bit)

- Amanda

eli o. said...

what i'm going through right now. thank you because i feel so much better right now and less alone.

Grace said...

Thank you for this so much. I'm 23, just started my first *real* job after a mostly pointless uni experience and am constantly overwhelmed by all of the above. This was necessary.

kundalini said...

Dammit this is really REALLY relevant right now. Kinda embarrassed to say I'm tearing up at the combination of your beautiful prose, Rilo Kiley and my pubescent brain (like that of a bipolar 13 year old). I've had to choke alot on my pride this year and being 19 feels very vague and disappointing. I'm doing things I abhor, because that's how I was told it should be. Somehow it just feels wrong. It never took quite so much effort to enjoy myself, but it did find some solace hearing that things DO get...better