I got together with an old friend the other night — a friend with whom I keep in touch with often and see as frequently as both of our busy schedules allow. It was a spur-of-the-moment get together, as they usually are. We made ourselves cozy in the corner of an eclectic little cafe a couple blocks from the beach only a few towns over from our hometown and caught up over dinner.
Conversation surrounded the future — my upcoming graduation, new jobs, interviews, vacation plans, and year-long goals. We talked about her taking a new job position — her dream job. My heart was so full knowing that after all this time, she’s finally getting the opportunity that she deserves and has worked so hard for, but it was also a little heavy knowing that she was leaving her job — the job that kept her in this area, even after she moved out of town a few months ago.
It dawned on me then that no longer could I text her last minute, knowing she was in the area because of work and ask to grab a coffee or a drink. Dinner dates would have to be specifically planned out ahead of time. Girls nights with our circle of friends will be marked on our calendars as something to look forward to in the upcoming weeks.
And that’s when it hit me. This right here, this is really growing up.
The thought was profoundly heavy.
Suddenly, everything felt a little foreign. I looked around the cafe, covered wall to wall in paintings and photographs taken by local artists — at the couches set around the small stage for live entertainment and young musicians so full of wonder. At the electric fireplace that paints the cafe a mix of cozy and modern. And at my favorite part of the cafe — the organic juice and coffee bar at the front. I turned back to my friend and said, “if this was here when we were 17, we’d spend so much less time at Applebee’s and more time at cool places like this.” She agreed.
It got me to thinking about how much changes in very little time. The cozy cafe I was sitting in was relatively new. I’d been there a handful of times before, but it hasn’t been there long. Across the way, a brewery was being built across from a bar I spent a lot of summer nights at when I was 22 years old and so sure I knew what growing up meant. In the next town over, a new Biergarten recently opened. I’ve always been so fond of where I grew up. The Jersey Shore… not as seen on Jersey Shore. But it seems that in just the blink of an eye, everything around me’s changed. There’s traffic lights where there were once just stop signs. New strip malls. Condos where there were miles of land. Biergartens and brewerys and bed and breakfasts.
Everything around me seems to be changing. This is what growing up really is. I swear it is.
Growing up used to scare the crap out of me. There’s so much unknown stretched out in front of us. There are so many pieces of our lives laid out on that long road waiting for us to pick and choose which ones fit together. And anyone who doesn’t say that sometimes growing up is just as scary as a trip to the dentist when you’re five years old is lying to you.
We always think there’s a sign. We think that when we sign the title on our first car, we’re adults. Or when we move into our first apartment, when we’re picking out place mats to match our curtains, or making center pieces for our wedding, or registering for our baby shower, we’re grown up. We think that growing up is acquiring all of these things. But if we fall short of these expectations, if we never get this stuff… then what?
Growing up has nothing to do with stuff.
When you’re little, you equate adulthood to the turning of the second hand on the evening of your 18th birthday. As soon as that clock strikes 18, you’re an adult. At least by law. We think that by 18, we’ll move out of our parents houses, we’ll be free to do what we want. We look to 18 as an elusive and magical time. A time when we would have it all. And then we get there. At 18, we make our decisions about where to go to college. We pick dorm furniture, meet our roommates, and move away and start fresh. And while we’re standing there on our brand new campus looking towards another four years as a student, we realize that this isn’t at all what we predicted.
So we keep on trekking through. Soon, we’re 20, 22, 24. Some of us signed titles for cars, some of us have moved into our own places. Some of us have beautiful china sets that we only take out for holidays. Some of us are engaged, married, and have kids. And some of us don’t have all that stuff.
Growing up has nothing to do with stuff. It just doesn’t.
Growing up is accepting that work and school take precedence over hanging out on our friends’ couches watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey marathon. It’s finding new cafe’s with big couches to have coffee and catch up at. It’s letting go of your usual Applebee’s spot and reminiscing on the days when half-priced appetizers were the only things you ate (or could afford). It’s random texts and phone calls from friends asking how you are, wishing you luck on your interview, or just saying they’re thinking of you. It’s the nights you stay up all night around a firepit with the friends you grew up with having beers and laughing over old times. Growing up is that feeling of so much love and pride and joy when your friend gets a promotion, lands the job of her dreams, gets engaged, gets married, or finds out she’s pregnant.
Growing up is being there for the good, the bad, the sweet, the ugly, the messy.
Growing up is watching your friends pack their things to move away for new job offers, for love, for a big change. It’s making brunch plans a month in advance and sending cards and letters just because. It’s learning to let go. It’s learning to accept change. It’s being okay with knowing that nothing will ever be as it was, but nothing will ever change either.
The real stuff — the deep stuff, that’s what growing up is all about. Everything else is just a side effect.
“Speed and direction of our path through life are pretty good measures of our age. We race headlong through childhood, never looking back. Wanting it to end as quickly as possible. As we get older, we occasionally slow down long enough to savor certain moments. It’s a sure sign of growing up. It’s only in our twilight years when our pace is slowed and the long race is nearing the end that we spend most of our time looking backwards, and we wonder why we were ever in such a hurry.” -Everwood
The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘The Night Before‘ by Carrie Underwood