Yardsticks and Mile Markers

There’s a profound shift that takes place immediately after you graduate college.

Life as you knew it suddenly changes drastically. You will choose to take a year off before going to graduate school and spending three years working towards your Master’s. You’ll have friends that never moved back home — friends whose college towns loved them so much, they offered them a job they couldn’t refuse. You’ll have friends that work odd hours and friends that work nine to fives. You’ll have friends that are content with their lot in life and you’ll have friends that go to home at night wearing the weight of depression like a cloak around their neck.

You’ll try to hang onto bits and pieces of your youth, all while feeling the incessant pang of a childhood long gone before you were quite ready to let it go. You’ll start to feel a range of emotions you never knew existed. You’ll be eager to get your hands dirty and be knees-deep in checking things off your bucket list. You’ll be hopeful. You’ll be confident that this life is going to be exactly what you dreamed it would be. You will be faced with rejection. You’ll stay up all night applying for jobs, crossing your fingers that someone out there will just give you a chance. You’ll lower your standards for what you want out of love. You’ll feel a bit like a failure. You’ll spend nights going through old moleskin journals from all the years you spent scribbling down every single one of your plans. You’ll question your intentions. They were real plans, weren’t they? They were honest, hopeful, well-meaning plans. They were true to who you were. They were exactly what you wanted. But here you are, sitting on the edge of your bed, grappling the truth of what your life has become: monotony.

You’ll start to feel like you’ve let yourself down. You let down the teenage girl that used to lay on the beach at night with her closest friends, under a blanket of New Jersey stars, making big, big plans for what life was going to be.

You didn’t write a New York Time Best Selling novel at 18.
You didn’t move into an apartment in the city with your girlfriends at 22.
You never took any time to travel.
You’ve never even seen much more than what the East Coast has to offer.
You don’t know what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like.

The truth is, you thought things would be easier. You thought that being an adult meant that you were always sure of things — that you would know, without a question, if what you were doing was right. But you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how many candles you blow out on your birthday cake each year, because you will always be full of questions. You’ll question your passions. You’ll question your choices. You’ll question if the skin you’re wearing is really fit for the person you are. You’ll question the plans you had for yourself. You’ll question your parents. You’ll question friendships. You’ll question your successes and your failures. And you’ll want to give up and go through the motions when you feel like the seams that keep your life sewn together are starting to come undone.

You’ll feel like you’re being flung across a boxing ring. And you’ll get mad. This is supposed to be what growing up is? This is supposed to be fun? This is supposed to be better than what I’m leaving behind? You’ll go from feeling stagnant to feeling like you’re riding a one-man roller coaster with no handle bars to hold onto. And the truth is, it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it? Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’re at a standstill. Like you’re wearing weights on your feet and you can’t possibly run without falling flat on your face. And other days, you’ll feel a gust of wind pushing you towards the finish line, and you have no choice but to ride that wave out.

You’ll surprise yourself at the first taste of envy.

One day, you’ll get a text from a friend saying they landed their dream job. They’ll tell you that they got offered $10K more than they expected and they already had intentions of moving an hour away from your little hometown.

“I’m happy for her,” you’ll repeat those words out loud three times, as you let it all sink in.
I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her, aren’t I?”
You aren’t sure who you’re repeating yourself to. You aren’t sure who is really listening to you.

You’ll go out for a celebratory dinner, followed by celebratory drinks. You’ll count on the bottomless champagne and the glittering lights and the music permeating through the walls to get you through the night. You have no idea what that sinking pit in your stomach is, but you paint a smile on your face and you cheer along when you’re supposed to.

You do it for her. You do it because she’s your friend. And you’re happy for her, aren’t you?

You’ll start expecting it — that feeling, again. The bitter taste of jealousy and confusion. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it knocks the wind right out of you, and other times, it makes you grip the chair you’re sitting in. But it’ll always sting.. even just a little bit.

You’ll scroll through Facebook and see that someone you grew up with bought a house. A beautiful little cottage with a white picket fence and wrap-around porch — the house of your dreams. You’ll see a girl you went to high school with posting every moment of her day, working for a well-known, high-end fashion magazine. That was never part of your plan, but you still get green with envy in a way you can’t seem to rationally explain. You’ll see pictures of engagement rings, and sonograms, and nurseries. Your heart will break every single time you scroll through social media and see an ex boyfriend fall in love with someone who is very much the opposite of who you are. You’ll question if you were ever enough, or if it was all a little game. You’ll see posts from a girl you grew up with talking about her plans and intentions to publish a book of essays, and you’ll die a little bit inside at the 100+ likes and comments encouraging her to do so. You’ll get pissed off — wasn’t that what I wanted? Wasn’t all of that what I wanted for myself?

Your friends are getting married. They’re having babies. They’re buying houses. They’re moving into next chapters of their lives at lightning speed, and you’re still trying to catch up on the three years you missed while you were still in grad school. So, you start to create mile markers in your head for where you should be.

You should be in a committed relationship right now. You should be paying a mortgage. You should be making plans for a wedding, and a honeymoon, and a family. You should be settling down. You should be setting up registries and picking out color schemes. You shouldn’t be living in an apartment that hasn’t ever felt like home, you shouldn’t be getting stood up by boys who don’t come close to what your standards used to be, you shouldn’t be working extra hours and extra jobs just so you can afford to be in another string of weddings next year. You shouldn’t be making trips to your parents garden for vegetables because you have to choose what you can afford: your electric bill this month, or food. You shouldn’t be sitting on the edge of your bed, clutching your old moleskin journals, wondering where the hell all this time went and why the hell haven’t you gone after all the other things you wanted for yourself? Things outside of a degree, and a good career, and good, stable ground.

When did we let ourselves become robots? When did we start allowing what we don’t have to dictate how we feel about ourselves? When did we start using other people’s achievements as yardsticks for everything we are not?

It’s cute in the beginning, I suppose, this little act of self-deprecation. It keeps you on your toes when it starts. But it becomes a habit — a dangerous cycle. You become whinier. You start to become empty of all the hope you once had and instead of discussing thoughts and ideas, you discuss your shortcomings and how they compare to others’ achievements. People stop encouraging you; they stop filling you with empathy and compassion. Because the things you swore you’d have done by now are just thoughts you scribbled down in that moleskin journal long before you were faced with the things that somehow matter more now: rent, an electric bill, student loan payments, being a bridesmaid over and over and over again, house warming parties, weddings, baby showers, taxes, health insurance plans, retirement plans. The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. These days, I’m just trying to get by. These days, I’m trying to set up camp in the valley that I’m living in. These days, I’m trying to forgive myself. I’m trying to forgive myself for tiptoeing around that dangerous trap of comparison — a huge pool that I always swore I’d stay away from. I’m trying to forgive myself for expecting more than what is possible of me. I’m trying to forgive myself for holding up a mirror in one hand and a yardstick in the other, measuring who I am against who I wish I was.

These days, self-forgiveness is the theme of my life. You have to forgive yourself for being a little irrational. Your emotions might not always make sense; you’ll find yourself getting angry over something minor. You’ll find yourself seething in jealousy. You’ll sometimes find yourself sad when you see the things someone else has, even if it’s a life you never wanted for yourself. Your feelings may not always make sense, but they’re always valid. You’re allowed to be hurt, and you’re allowed to cry about it. You’re allowed to feel a little stuck every once in awhile. You’re allowed to kick and you’re allowed to scream. But I’ll tell you one thing: you’re also allowed to forgive yourself.

You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not quite being where you thought you’d be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not being what everyone else wants you to be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not always remembering the things you have accomplished. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for comparing your life to someone else’s. And most importantly, you’re allowed to forgive yourself for being human.

I’m learning that daily. You’ll have to forgive yourself over and over again until you wear the words on your skin. Say it with me: I’m only human, and that’s my saving grace.

I’m only human,
and that’s my saving grace.

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The Battle Between Quality & Quantity

If I close my eyes tight enough, I can see back to that August night nearly nine years ago, when I sat with a group of my closest friends, hoping that the silence and our tear-filled eyes would keep us there in that very moment.

We found out then that heavy hearts just don’t beat quietly, and when the silence broke, we did everything we could to bottle up all the last words that we said. Carrie Underwood was playing on repeat in the background, drowned out by the sound of desperate voices clinging onto our youth.

And she says, ‘I don’t want this night to end, why does it have to end?’

We talked about all the ways we would keep in touch. We would write letters, send cards, mail each other care packages. We would have our own version of what the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had. We calculated the miles between all of our colleges and mapped out the road trips we’d take. We made plans for all the weekends we’d see each other, and all the holiday’s we’d come back to this spot. Our plan was fool proof. Nothing would change.

They’ve been dreading this moment all summer long; the night before, life goes on.

We made promises and plans for the future. After college, we’d get apartments together. We would travel together. We were going to take on the world together. We promised that no one would ever love as deeply or laugh as fiercely or feel as close. We promised that despite the miles, and schools, and states, and new friends — nothing would change the fact that we had history on our side.

They take one last drive around town and man, it already looks different. He bangs the wheel and says, ‘life ain’t fair. And this growing up stuff, man I don’t know; I just don’t want to let you go.”

At 18 years old, the promise of forever felt real.

The best way to describe where I am today is somewhere stuck in the space between moving on and nostalgia.

The years following college graduation and really settling into adulthood are strange in a number of ways. You suddenly get sucked into the vortex of what real life is about. You went from being on the very same page as all of the people in your life, to occupying the same space, yet somehow living in different time zones.

You realize that living out your dreams of squeezing 6 friends into a studio apartment in Manhattan sounded so much more romantic when you were 18. Truth be told, when you’re 18 years old and looking towards the future, it’s so hard to see beyond those four years of college. It’s hard to imagine life when your friends – especially the ones who were so much a part of your existence, are not your priority.

The truth is, we blindly made those promises to each other nine years ago.

We never could have anticipated what was to come. We didn’t have a crystal ball that told us what it was like to turn 22, and then 25, and then 27, and how things would evolve during that time. We somehow had blinders on to the real world. We thought that growing old together would be the same as growing up together, but with more freedom than our parents granted us as kids.

The reality is this: you look around and you’re suddenly real adults, and you’re not sure when that happened. You scroll through your Facebook feed past several engagement photoshoots. People your age are announcing pregnancies — planned pregnancies. They’re buying houses and learning how to garden and choosing curtain patterns. You start really understanding the importance of a 401K, healthcare plans, and the seriousness of keeping a good credit score.

Your life becomes a routine. You wake up, go to work, make a living, go home, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. If you’re lucky, after rent and utilities, student loan payments, and credit card bills, you’ll have enough money at the end of the week to get together with your friends. And if you’re really lucky, getting together with your friends can be more than just half price appetizers at Applebees. But if you’re anything like me, you’re tired (because my God, adulting is exhausting). Canceled plans are like Christmas morning, and days spent sitting on your friends couches are the only kind of hanging out you have the energy for.

Life is no longer solely about socializing. It’s about savings accounts and deadlines and job interviews and trying to figure it all out. It’s about toying with the idea of marriage, or maybe putting yourself out there and finding a boyfriend, or maybe trying to make this whole thing work alone. It’s saying yes to being in (A LOT of) weddings, and deciding if you’re going stag, or bringing a plus one. It’s going to showers – both baby and bridal, and trying to muster up the energy to cook healthy meals, do your laundry, and stay up late enough to watch prime time television.

You suddenly become the center of your life, while your friendships are soft-focused in the background.

And when you look into that lens, you see the few people who stand out. These people are your soulmates. These are the elastic friendships that make their way around all the growing up stuff. These are the people you carry with you above the rest into adulthood. They’re the ones who bend with you, who stretch with you — the ones whose lives still flow with your own. And there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the people who sat in that same circle nine years ago — nothing either of you did to cause a rift. But there is a tangible difference between your friends and your soulmates — and the difference lies in the elasticity of their friendships. There is a deep-rooted and profound appreciation for these people.

There is more planning that goes into seeing your friends. Hanging out with them is no longer natural. We don’t just pick up our phones, send a text, and meet at the swings on the beach. It takes an invitation sent out a month in advance. It takes planning, and effort, and the hope that when that plan comes up, you’re not exhausted from the week before. It takes, ‘okay, you bring the veggie platter, you bring the salad, you bring the cheese and crackers, and I’ll bring the dessert.’

Your soulmates are the ones you can talk to all day or not at all. They’re the ones who require no real plans when you get together. They can come home once every other month and you see them for a half hour for coffee or Chic Fil A, and conversation is effortless. They’re the ones whose house you run to after work each Thursday to watch your favorite Shonda Rhimes shows. They’re the ones who you can call up and say, “hey, I’m going to Target, wanna come?” and they’d be on their way within seconds.

Your relationship with your soulmates are effortless.

Their couch is your couch. They are the family that takes you in when there’s a pending snow storm, so you don’t get snowed in alone. They’re the ones who never have to ask what’s new, because their daily phone calls to and from work are exactly how they know what’s new. They’re the ones who know how you feel at any given point. They’re the ones that really get you through this whole life thing.

And don’t get me wrong, accepting this is much harder than it sounds. It’s hard to fully accept that life can’t be like what it was like when we were 18 and full of wonder. Life just can’t be about funneling beers and shaking off our hangovers the next morning with pork roll egg and cheeses on the beach. Life can’t be about the big and bold plans to live together and take over the world.

I’m inching closer to accepting that this is the way it is — that this whole growing up thing is about relinquishing the preconceived notions I had when I was younger. All of those promises and wishes that we made nine years ago were genuine and real then, but they aren’t timeless. They can’t stay true.

The truth is I can’t be all the things.

That’s the part I’m struggling with the most. I want to believe that I can close my eyes and go back to that night in 2007 when we promised that nothing would change. That, no matter what, we would still be everything to each other.

It’s hard to admit that I can’t be everything to everyone, though I desperately wish I could. I want to be your friend, but I want to be the best friend. I want to be the person that shows up at your door step with a tub of ice cream, 90s romcoms, and a box of tissues when you’ve had your heart broken. I want to be the one who shows up, unannounced, with a car full of girlfriends, a bottle of champagne, and reservations for a girls night out when there’s something to celebrate. I want to be your girlfriend, but I want to be the best girlfriend. I want to find your favorite childhood memories, and spend a weekend recreating all of them for you. I want to be the one who shows up with all of the things you need. I want to be the best sister, best daughter, best writer, best counselor, best employee, best person.

I want to be all the things to everyone, but I just can’t be.

So, I guess that’s where I’m at these days — still stuck somewhere in between growing up and nostalgia. I’m learning to slowly loosen the grip on the idea that I can be everything to everyone.

And maybe this is a harsh lesson that we all need to learn. That we don’t need to apologize to our younger selves for making promises that we didn’t all keep. We were so, so young. We had no idea how life would unravel. All we saw was the immediate future. We saw the freedom of life outside of our hometown. We could have never anticipated that the future was more than just having fun with your friends.

On any given day, after shedding the excess layers of fat, I’m realizing that this is perhaps what we all need: people who show up, people who sit with us, head on our shoulders, and hear the noise in our silence. We need people who make life effortless — who make friendship effortless. We need people who see through us, who gets us, who grows with us.

Maybe all we need is someone who shows up and says, “I will be here on the days that you need me and the days that you don’t. I’ll sit with you through the tough stuff and dance with you through the fun stuff. We can stay in on a Saturday with too much sushi in front of us, or we can book a road trip to the Poconos for a weekend. We can talk all day, or we can say nothing at all. But I promise you’ll never doubt this. You don’t have to be all the things to everyone; you just have to be all the things to some and that will be enough.”

Today, this is all I need. Quality over quantity. People who make this growing up thing easy– because as we all know, going at this life thing is hard enough as it is without the people who make the ride effortless.

I Never Wanted To Be A Cliche

Someone once told me to write my truth.

“Be honest. Write your truth; no one can take that from you.”

Those words came to me nearly four years ago when I was gearing up to take on this little project. I was apprehensive. For most of my life, I’d scribbled in journals, jotted down daydreams, and made private blogs that never met the eyes of anyone I knew. Publicly opening my heart was new.

At the time, I was doing something so dangerously outside of my comfort zone, I almost felt like I needed a life jacket just to step into it. But those words of wisdom were so important to me. They are the words that remind me today that I shouldn’t worry about sugar coating it. Writing shouldn’t be about waiting for inspiration to strike, or when the positive, uplifting, and motivational messages seem to be pouring from my fingertips. Life just isn’t like that– it doesn’t come at you cropped or filtered. Life is real and raw. And writing should be real and raw. It should always be about writing what you know — it should be about your own truth.

And so, the driving force behind this little machine has been about owning up to and writing my own truth. It’s been about confessions — about getting down to the heart of the matter — the things that hurt, the things that heal, the truth.. my truth. It’s been a nearly four-year-long honesty hour.

So, I’ll be honest. I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been avoiding a lot of things – this blog, friends, acquaintances, commitments, plans. Nearly everything aside from my two closest friends, my coworkers that I see daily, and my every day responsibilities. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen a bit down the rabbit hole, but not quite all the way; I’m still hanging on.

I’ve spent the last year of my life running on a hamster wheel, desperate to get to a finish line that just wasn’t quite there. I spent hours huddled up in Starbucks studying for (and later passing) two really important exams that led to graduation, certification, and licensure. I graduated with my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I landed a job in the field and even progressed into a position that I thought was years away, only three months into my career. I packed up what little belongings I had and moved. I watched friends get engaged, I watched friends get married, I watched as friends pack up their things and move states away. I fought with my family, I fought with myself; I fought through some of the most challenge seasons of my adult life.

The truth is, I selfishly didn’t expect life to just keep on moving.

Being a college student was about how many nights I could spend at the local pub and still maintain a 4.0 Being a graduate student in my mid-20s was about trying to keep myself afloat– how to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, or from forgetting what day of the week it was, or trying to keep up with friends who seemed light years away. I was doing fine if I kept my head just a little bit above water. I was forced to follow a strict schedule — I was a student, working two jobs, interning, and trying to maintain relationships and some semblance of sanity. I had blinders on to the world outside of my own.

I almost naively expected time to stand still. I expected to cross that stage to get my diploma and be greeted on the other end by this world that waited three years for me to catch up. 

Moving forward has been difficult for me. I could sit here and tell you how grossly ungraceful I am at transitions, or exits, or new beginnings. I could tell you that I hate change. I could tell you that surviving the shifting of orbits doesn’t really fall onto my resume as one of my strengths. But please, name someone who is graceful at change. Name someone who is actually good at it. Tell them to come find me. Tell them to teach me how it works, cause I haven’t got a clue.

I wish I could look back on the last nine months of my life and pinpoint the exact moment when the path I was flying down started to get a little turbulent. I don’t remember when, but I do remember a coworker, who I’d interned with prior to both of us working together looked at me in the months following graduation and asked me, “What happened? You had it all together when we were in school, and now you’re literally falling apart. You’re crumbling right in front of me.”

It’s just as dramatic and funny as it sounds, but when someone you’ve worked side by side with nearly every day for the last year says something like that to you, it sticks. What the hell did happen to me?

I was struggling. I started to become a pressure cooker. I was filling myself daily because that’s what I thought I needed to do. I was making plans with people and listening to them talk about their lives and finding myself barely listening on. I was detached. I didn’t care about the matching his and her towels, or the future vacation plans, or the joint bank accounts, or the new jobs. I didn’t care about the baby planning or the wedding planning or the flavor of the week they were dating. I wanted to be present; I wanted to be supportive and attentive, but it was hard. So I rationalized by making all these plans in the hopes that one day, some of the circuits would align and it would make sense and I would somehow find myself enjoying the conversation in front of me. I was filling myself with people, and plans, and things, and going home every night and hating myself for it. I kept filling and filling, and despite overflowing, despite coming to a head and essentially bursting, I was never full.

I found that I stopped caring about things that I used to care so fiercely about before. I was losing enthusiasm for people I cared about. And it wasn’t fair to them. It wasn’t fair that I was struggling with my own stuff and to take it out on my relationships with other people, but that’s how the tape played out. I was struggling with closing the chapter of my life as a student and entering this new phase of my life: the one where I struggle to live on my own, to make it in this field, to bare the burden of some of the most beautifully broken souls I’ve ever met, and to still have to face my own realities at night.

And so, I started to avoid things.

I started protecting my heart. I stopped filling myself with things that made me heavy — the things that made me go home at night and tip over to pour right out of me. I stopped answering texts and disconnected myself from my phone. I started detaching myself from things that seemed to be just filler. Because I’m going to be honest with you: I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of things that lack substance. I’m tired of relationships built on small talk. I’m tired of friendships that aren’t meant to span a lifetime. I’m tired of feeling like I have to force a conversation– like if I don’t have something witty to say back to a random text message that doesn’t interest me in the least, I become fearful that the person on the other end is mad at me. I’m tired of feeling a little behind, like I can’t contribute to a conversation because I don’t have a mortgage, and those matching his and her towels, or plans for a baby. I stopped writing because I didn’t have anything good to write. I didn’t have anything positive. I didn’t want to be the person who whined and moaned and waited for some miracle that never came.

But I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? The truth. The not-so-pretty reality: that life isn’t perfect. That you can get everything you worked so hard for and still feel like something is missing. That you can get to a certain point in your life where some relationships aren’t serving you and you have to let them go. That you feel like an elephant is sitting on your shoulders every day, but you don’t dare tell your friends just why you don’t want to get together. Because the truth is, there isn’t a reason. You just physically can’t do it.

The truth is I always swore I would never look back.

A lot of the last nine months have been spent staring into a rear view mirror, wondering if there was anything I could have done differently — what I could have done to just hang onto the things I never wanted then, but strangely want back now. I’ve been decorating my walls in memories and moments I never thought I’d miss. I somehow planted my home right in the heart of Nostalgia Lane. I’ve been stuck here ever since.

So much of my life was about moving forward and looking towards the future. I spent years investing significant time into chipping away at what I thought was the grander picture. I spent my entire childhood desperately craving adulthood. I never planned on being the girl that missed all the things she was running from.

I’ve suddenly become that 20-something cliche.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. I wanted a hipper hair cut, I wanted my license, better clothes, a car that I could drive with the top down. I wanted freedom. When I was in high school, all I wanted was college. That would be freedom. I wanted to live away from my family, and the house that built me. I wanted adventure and new beginnings. When I was in college, all I ever wanted was a career. I wanted a place of my own. I wanted a life I could say I proudly built with my own hands. And when I was in graduate school, I wanted to go back and have fun. I wanted time to slow down. I wanted life to stand still. I wanted the chance to have a couple do-overs.

The saddest part of growing up is this: time doesn’t stand still, no matter how hard you fight for it to. Second chances are few and far in between. You just don’t get do-overs. 

Just like grains of sand along the shoreline, you can try to gather it all in your hands, but it somehow still just slips right through your fingers. And what I would do to go back and apologize to all those all-knowing adults that stood right here, where I am today, and told me to slow down, to take it all in, to stop worrying so much, to write it all down, to remember these moments, these feelings, this laughter. To enjoy it all. I swear if I had a chance to do it over, I would take back all the times I rolled my eyes at them.

Because life comes without warning. One day, you’ll turn 18 and you’ll feel invincible — like nothing on the planet could touch you. And then you’ll turn 20; you’ll find yourself stuck between saying goodbye to being a teenager, and being so unsure of what being in your 20s even means. You’ll taste heartache and you’ll know that even though you are young, with the world right in front of you, you aren’t invincible. You’ll look back to mornings where you packed eye liner and mascara in your backpack, and ran straight to the bathroom at school to put it all on before anyone could see you. You’ll look back on the nights you spent fighting with your parents about the length of your shorts, or the cut of your shirt, or the inappropriate writing across the butt of your sweats, or the skin tight dress you absolutely had to wear to Homecoming. You’ll smile at the memories and feel a knot of pain at how far away they’ll seem. You’ll turn 22. You’ll graduate from college and you’ll look back at middle school graduation and think to yourself, “how the hell could I think that this would be better?” How did I think that facing the unknown was a hell of a lot better than being 14, and hanging out in the mall, gossiping about boys, and buying new hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works. And one day, you’ll be 26, inching closer to 27. You’ll feel a surging rush of emotions as you walk across the stage to get your Master’s. You start a new job, you’ll struggle despite essentially having it all.

And then you’ll be 27. My God, 27 sounds a bit old, doesn’t it? Like you’re meant to have some sort of grip on who you are. But, you’ll slip down the rabbit hole just a little, and you’ll try to climb your way out of it.

Some days, I feel so incredibly guilty for looking back and pining over memories when I have wonderful things in front of me. But what I’m finding is that growing older is equal parts living and equal parts being nostalgic. It’s about small glimpses into the past and remembering what it was like being 18 and carefree and driving to the beach at night with our heads halfway out the window. It was feeling weightless. It’s about what life was like, what it’s like now, and what it could have been. It’s about looking through a lens into your past and cursing yourself for not holding onto those fleeting moments that we never knew were so important. Like sneaking out for the first time, blowing cigarette smoke off rooftops, making wishes into the starry night sky. It’s about not realizing that these small moments were actually big moments. It’s about missing moments that you had no idea would mean so much.

I think a lot of my struggles the last few months have something to do with how fiercely I cling to nostalgia like my favorite childhood blanket, in the hopes that it’ll all come back to me.

The thing is though, those memories do come back. Just not in the way I necessarily want them to.

They’ll come back to me when I am standing at the end of the aisle watching as one of my longest friends walks towards her husband-to-be and memories come flashing back about the first time we slept in tents outside, huddled around a bottle of vodka, telling stories of what we wanted for our lives. The moments will come back when you are sitting side by side an old friend and really see them for the first time. When you see how much of you is in them and vice versa. And how different would your life be had they not been there for all of the big things: for high school, college, and graduate school graduation. For all the times your family broke your heart and the times that the boy who they never approved of, came back and drove right over it, as if almost knowing you needed your heart to survive. Moments of the past will come back when you look at your beautiful baby sister and realize she is not a baby anymore. Not even close. It’ll be in saying goodbye to friends you grew up with and hoping and praying that living states apart won’t change a thing, but all the while knowing that it changes everything. And when these moments do come back, I’m learning that it’s all okay.

What I’ve found in my little hiatus from the world is this: maybe it’s okay to be a cliche. Maybe it’s okay to be just like any other 20 something millennial struggling to get by. Maybe it’s okay to say yes to guacamole on your burrito, even if you can barely afford your student loans. Maybe it’s okay to say no to plans because you need time to yourself to decompress. Maybe it’s okay to distance yourself from people. Maybe it’s okay to feel like you’re missing something. Maybe it’s okay to still not know what you want, to still not be engaged, or married, or have a kid on the way. Maybe it’s okay to be 27 and still renting, without having even let the thought of a mortgage cross your mind. It’s okay to be a 20 something cliche. In the end, it’s all okay. It will all be okay.

Everything You Say Is Gonna Matter, Everything You Do Is Gonna Add Up

I used to envy my friends who grew up with brothers and sisters close in age. I used to go on and on about how lonely it was to be seemingly sibling-less growing up, despite having both a younger brother and sister. My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is 15 years younger than me — both age differences were a bit too much as a kid to ever fully appreciate having what could have been a built-in best friend from the start.

The thing is, even at a young age, I always felt compelled to grab onto the people around me and keep them in my company. I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone.

I say that loosely today because I’ve never really ever been alone. 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom who, for lack of a better word, babysat a few of the neighborhood girls after school. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school.

Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had (until, of course, my sister came boppin’ along when I was a freshman in high school). Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We spent hours riding bikes around our neighborhood, taunting the boys that lived houses away from me. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.

That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.

– – –

I remember the 3rd of July the summer before I turned 21 vividly. The air was hot and sticky, but typical for that time of year on the Jersey Shore. I went with three of my girlfriends to the annual fireworks held a few towns over — a tradition we claimed as our own since we were in high school. Following the fireworks, we packed ourselves up and headed back to one of my friends dads houses. We had a girls night planned: pool, hot tub, and beer.

At 20, we were in the beginning stages of transition. We saw how quickly the world turns. How fast we went from high school seniors to college juniors. We spent that summer, and the summers following, trying to latch onto scraps of our childhood while still trudging through murky water trying to get to that light at the end of the tunnel that was college. While it seemed that summer break for most college students was defined by long days spent at the beach and nights spent funneling beers, ours were never like that. We all took summer classes, interned, worked full-time. We learned early on how difficult it would be to keep up with each other as adults.

But we tried. And we appreciated those fragments where the real world just stops and time seems to be standing still and we get these good, long, full moments with our friends.

It was the summer I realized how small I really was against the tide of love. I was in the crux of loving and hating that green eyed boy whose shallow love was enough to turn me into the boy-obsessed-girl I swore I’d never be. It was his eyes that reeled me in — I melted into those emerald greens every time he looked my way. I was infatuated and consumed and I swore he saw me.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized those eyes never saw me the way I thought they did. At least not in the way I needed them to.

But I swore he was it. He was the one that would save me from every monster masked as a hero. 

I became the person who, wherever she went, had her phone perched right next to her. Keep in mind this was before I got caught in the vortex of smart phones. At the time, I had the Verizon TV phone, and to me, it was the coolest thing next to the T-Mobile sidekick that I never got to claim as my own.

On that 3rd of July night in the middle of the summer of 2009, I sat in the hot tub with three of my childhood friends, beer in hand, eyes glued to my phone sitting on the ledge. Two of my other friends were on their phones as well. Somewhere in the middle of perhaps one too many beers, and I suppose an awkward silence that filled the air, but went by unnoticed at least by me, my friend who didn’t have her phone on her yelled at us. And I know she’s probably reading this right now laughing or rolling her eyes or swearing up and down that it didn’t play out that way. But I swear it did. “Can you guys get off of your phones? I just wanted to spend a night with my friends and you’re glued to the screens. We never get to spend much time together, and now that we’re here, you’re not really even here.”

And maybe those weren’t her exact words. But they were close. And she was mad. And for a long time we looked back on that night and teased her for it. We teased her for being bossy and overbearing and getting mad when all we wanted to do was stay connected with the boys on the other ends of our phone.

Little did I know then what all of that would really mean. Little did I know that trying so hard to connect really disconnected us from what was literally sitting right in front of us.

Oh, and by the way, my little Verizon TV phone fell in the hot tub that night. It took a plunge right into the warm water and sunk to its death. And I guess that’s why karma is a thing, right?

– – –

It saddens and scares me that my sister will never have what I had. At 11 years old, her idea of spending a Friday night with her friends is sitting in front of her computer and having a group video chat with them. She’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of her iPhone. She’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid she’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between she and one of her friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid she’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what she feels.

Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights date. When you’re riding the train to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.

But I just can’t bring myself to give up just yet. I want more than that. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected.

When I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend, I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that paper on time yet? Did I apply for graduation? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”

I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point.

There is still something so romantic, so beautiful, almost sacred, about real conversations. And I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever get so caught up in my life that I forget how much more to life there is beyond a text conversation. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.  

It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of his voice, or his crooked smile, or the way he can’t keep from grinning when he sees you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left his house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.

And you just can’t get that through a screen.

“Conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, the smile, the silences between words.” -Annika Thor

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Had A Dream’ by Kelly Clarkson.