A lifetime ago, or so it seems, long before I ever walked into my twenties, or felt the gut-wrenching heartache of failure, or tasted even a real glimpse of life-affirming success, or cried over the loss of a good friend, or watched love fade away, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, ruminating on what my future would be like. Would I be successful? Would I keep all of my childhood friends? Would I get married? The vision I had was built on bits and pieces of what the future looked like through the scope of books, movies, and TV shows. I relied on fictional things to formulate a reality in my mind. I clung to the story lines, the friendships, the love. I was the girl who, every Thursday night at 8 pm, tuned into NBC to watch her Friends navigate through life together, and planned her future vicariously through their present.
When you’re young and naive and unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Ross and Rachel were going to end up together, you have a certain image of how your life is going to turn out. The pretty picture you paint looks like the inside of a 90s sitcom. You imagine stumbling into a new city with all of your childhood friends and growing up with them. Growing old with them. Making mistakes, falling over, and picking yourselves back up with them. You imagine that life after college isn’t all that hard. That even during the most difficult of times, it’ll never be that bad. You’ll have the support and the love of the people who’ve known you since before you knew yourself. And how could life ever be painful, or dark, or lonely, with that kind of love?
But then we get there. We graduate high school, some of us go off to college, and some of us don’t; and somehow, we cannonball into our next adventures. We’re thrown into the middle of nowhere and are forced to come to terms with the reality of our lives. We’re forced to come to terms with the fact that perhaps the vision we had when we were younger was a distortion of what reality really is. We realize that life in our twenties doesn’t consist of hanging out at Central Perk, listening to your slightly erratic friend singing a jingle dedicated to a cat, or coming up with a New Year’s Eve dance routine to be aired on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with your brother, or getting a Thanksgiving turkey stuck on your head, or building a giant poking device to see if the man in the apartment across the alley is alive.
And that’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that life in your twenties is often sticky and messy and heavy and confusing and wonderful. That you will, in fact, be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.
They don’t tell you this, but I will.
You’ll wake up one day and feel like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. You’ll look at yourself, you’ll look at your friends, you’ll look at acquaintances, you’ll look at enemies even. You’ll find that you’re barely getting by in graduate school, or being a stay-at-home mom, or starting up a small business, or pounding the pavement at a job you’re sure you’ll never advance at, all the while wondering if this life belongs to you. You’ll wonder if this is where your story ends or where it begins. You’ll feel stuck inside someone else’s story. You’ll beat yourself up over not having done it differently. What would be different if I went left instead of right? If I followed my heart instead of my head? If I took that job when it was offered to me? And on the days when you feel a little too defeated by the what ifs, you’ll look at what you have and wonder if it’s enough. You’ll ask yourself if you’ll be okay and content and full for the rest of your life if you don’t ever achieve anything else. You’ll try to be okay with it. You’ll try to quiet the incessant voice that says, ‘no, I need more. I cannot settle.’ But the voice will still be there, and it’ll rattle your bones until you do something to silence it.
You’ll start fresh and you’ll start new, and it can come in waves; the change can be welcome, or it can be sudden and uninvited. You’ll bounce from different careers. You’ll decide that you really don’t love what you have a degree in. You’ll leave a job that you never had any intention in leaving and you’ll wonder what the hell you can do differently. You’ll walk away from financial security and open doors to possibilities, only to find that the door you walked through wasn’t the one with the winning lottery ticket, but you’ll still try. You’ll still fight, despite the sinking feeling of walking into the office every single morning. You’ll make an effort and establish a routine. You’ll talk yourself out of bitterness and resentment. You’ll wonder if you have the strength and the courage to start over just one more time, and you’ll forget how brave you are for starting over in the first place.
One day, you’ll scroll through your Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram feeds and realize that your friends somehow figured it out and you’ll ask yourself how you missed it. You’ll go back to the summer nights spent on the beach, Wawa milkshake in hand, coming up with a list of goals and dreams for the future, and wonder where the hell it all went. You’ll wonder what happened to the plans you made together. To the dream of getting your first apartment with your childhood friends and dating twin brothers and having kids at the same time and raising them together. You’ll go in different directions. They’ll move on, and part of you will feel like you’re sinking in quick sand, while the other half of you is elated. You’ll be happy for them. You’ll celebrate their engagements. You’ll organize a cocktail hour when they get their first promotion. You’ll be the first one at their housewarming party. And in the midst of all this growing up stuff, you’ll feel selfish for feeling anything other than ecstatic. You’ll wonder when it’ll be your turn. When you’ll settle into a career and relationship and new apartment. You’ll stop yourself and wonder how on earth you can be so happy for their gains and successes, yet so heartbroken at not quite being there, all at the same time.
Sometimes, while you’re sitting next to the people who know you the best, you’ll feel at a loss for words. You’ll feel small next to them. You’ll feel like the conversation you bring to the table is nothing like the success they bring. And you’ll kick yourself afterwards for being so selfish. For wallowing in self-pity. For letting your feelings win.
You’ll get a taste of what love is, only to have it walk away from you. You’ll see the love of your life fall in love with someone else. You’ll watch in envy at how easily it is for them to move on. You’ll pray, every night, that you will never get the notification on Facebook telling you they got engaged. You’ll date people who are bad for you, and you’ll be bad for other people. You’ll wonder what’s stopping you from your own happy-ever-after. You’ll make a mental list of the reasons you’re alone. You’ll guard your heart with everything you have and you’ll wonder when someone will come and permanently knock your walls down. You’ll decide for yourself that it’s okay to be single, but you’ll grow frustrated at hearing your friends and family ask ‘when are you getting married, when are you having kids, you know your time is slowly running out.’
They don’t tell you about the isolation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you don’t grab onto your dreams, someone else will take them right out of your hands. So, you put in the work. You stay later at the office to finish a project. You take on overtime hours at the hospital. You choose to go for your Master’s. You start building a family. You’ll feel comforted by your friends when they embark on the journey to reaching their goals, too. You’ll have the same ideals for the future, but different paths to walk to get there. You’ll sacrifice sleep, you’ll sacrifice a social life, you’ll dedicate your all into what you want, and it will be lonely as hell. You won’t be the person who runs to her best friend crying about an argument you had with your parents. You won’t be the person who calls someone up in the middle of the night to go grab half price appetizers at Applebees. You’ll ask your friends to hang out only to hear that they’re all busy. And then you’ll be busy when they want to hang out. You’ll spend nights going through old pictures of drunken college nights out and reminisce over the simplicity of life back then. You’ll cling onto your youth and life before the transition into this in-between stage of adulthood. You’ll bargain with whatever higher power you believe in just to feel forever young with your friends one more time.
They don’t tell you that despite your best efforts to keep your emotions stifled, hidden under layers of bravery and strength, and a shield of armor, you will cry. You will cry when you realize that your planner is overflowing with due dates and test dates. You will cry when you scroll through Instagram and see your group of friends hanging out without you. You will cry when you clock out after your 17th day working in a row without so much as a consecutive 8 hours of sleep in one night. You will cry when you realize that you can’t split yourself apart and be in two places at once. You’ll cry on your way to school because you don’t know how much more you can take. You will cry because you’ll feel misunderstood. Because you are a master’s student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and you will be made to feel like what you’re doing is not enough. You. Will. Cry. You will cry when your friends confront you for drifting from them. You’ll cry when they call you a stranger. You will cry because they don’t get it. You will cry because you feel all alone in a world that shouldn’t be this cruel. You’ll cry because you are so profoundly happy that there are still people in your life who decided to stick around. You’ll cry when you share in their successes. You’ll cry because you can’t imagine what life would be like without the friends that turn into family. You’ll cry and you won’t know why or how to stop the tears from falling.
They don’t tell you that sometimes, you will feel everything and nothing all at once. You’ll feel your heart exploding from happiness and your brain drowning in misery. They don’t talk about the influx of emotions and the roller coaster we ride just to fight through them. They don’t talk about the brokenness and the bitterness. They don’t talk about how confusing it is to be in your twenties. How life can be incredible and heartbreaking at the same time, and how it makes perfect sense to feel like you’re unraveling from time to time.
They won’t tell you it’s okay. They won’t tell you that it’s normal. That despite the broken pieces, your twenties are a time to feel everything. To get a taste of both highs and lows. To fight for what you want. To really learn what it’s like to love and to lose. They don’t ever tell you that. But today, I did.
“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” -Louis C.K
The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘22‘ by Taylor Swift