1. Getting totally exploited in a terrible internship.
There comes a point in every young worker’s life where you are going to be taken under the crusty, money-lined wing of a company you’d love to work for as an actual employee some day. In a flurry of false promises, heavy implications of upward mobility, and limitless donuts and coffee as some sort of substitute for actual dollars you can pay your bills with, you sign up for the job. A few months into your full-time job that is somehow legally allowed to be completely uncompensated, you realize that you’ve been completely hoodwinked. There are, like, four jobs that are actually getting paid at this company, and those employees are going home every night to shine their monocles on a pile of money as they laugh at the 7,000 indentured servants who are actually doing the work. And you realize that you are never going to move up that rickety rope ladder of prestige.
2. Losing someone you thought you would be with forever.
There are the kind of relationships — like high school sweethearts, for example — which feel eternal in the moment, but which we all kind of know aren’t really going anywhere. They’re meant to fizzle out out in a little puff ball of cotton candy and innocent handjobs in movie theaters. But then there are the relationships — often taking place in your 20s — which really do feel like they mean something. They make you feel a sense of importance and responsibility and commitment to another human being that you’ve never felt before, and can imply things as serious as moving in together, changing career paths, getting heavily involved in the other’s family, and planning definitively for the future. And when that relationship goes up in smoke, it’s all you can do not to swear off love forever, because if that love wasn’t enough to stand the test of time, what will be?
3. Watching a best friend go through a serious life change.
It’s a totally normal response to freak out, and honestly feel a little bit personally offended, when a close friend has something life-changing happen to them. “How can you just up and get married to the love of your life,” the animal part of your brain whines, “We were supposed to spend the rest of our mortal existences being single and drinking out of a bottle of wine in a field together! This is such a betrayal!” But accepting that the people around us are growing, changing, and possibly even producing little versions of themselves that we’re then going to have to pretend we find adorable even whilst spitting up on us, is just part of life in general. And the actual scary part is that moment where you suddenly feel incredibly immature, and picture being the person being left behind when everyone goes off to their Super Cool Secret Adult Club to which you never received a key. But it’s best to push those thoughts away, as they are largely irrational.
4. Having an apartment that you’re not totally embarrassed of.
It’s all about moving up that chain of apartment swag. It’s all about going from the grimy front room of an apartment that was clearly intended to be some kind of living room but has to act as “second bedroom in the one-bedroom apartment” because no one has any money, to having a little place of your own that has shit like an accent wall or candlesticks with vibrantly-colored tapered candles dotting the furniture landscape. It’s all about looking at your space with reverence and understanding that your surroundings are a reflection of what is going on inside of you. If you have no respect for your living situation, after all, it’s hard to concentrate on being a go-getter in the rest of life. No titan of industry is coming home to his or her windowless basement room filled with empty Cheeto bags and a copious collection of insects that can see in a complete absence of sunlight.
5. Realizing how ugly going out drinking can actually be.
You’re going to wake up one morning and, just as the last tendrils of your drunken fever dream fade into obscurity, be confronted with the visceral cringe of all the terrible decisions you made last night. Your combination of drunk texting, overshares with people who barely know you, and total inability to obscure your desire for someone you were trying to play coy with — they are painful reminders that we are not immortal, we are not able to party with the Teflon-resistance of our student years, and eventually we’re going to let slip a secret that will topple our friendships like dominos if we’re not careful. It doesn’t mean you’ll never go out again, it just means that you’ll make more of an effort to find that line of demarcation between “pleasurably buzzed” and “going up to strangers to loudly ask them if they know anyone who has MDMA in-between crying fits.”
6. Growing apart from a friend for reasons out of your control.
Sometimes, all the Skype sessions and catch-up emails in the world can’t bridge the distance. Sometimes people make life choices that we disagree with, and that disagreement puts such a wedge between you that there is no way to pretend that the friendship is as pure as it used to be. And sometimes, for no reason at all, people who are still in the same city and used to be so important to your social life just completely evaporate from your radar. And then you cross them on Facebook, putting up some engagement photo taken in an overgrown field by some railroad tracks, and you’re like “Woah, when did that person get engaged, and why would it be to someone who has no problem wearing suspenders and cowboy boots together in a photo that the whole world is going to see?” It will be weird.
7. Learning that you’re not a kid anymore, even if you feel like one.
There will come a moment when you’re about to ask your parents for something — an activity which used to be one of your favorites in the whole world — and you realize how pathetic you feel about the whole thing. You should be independent at this point, doing things to repay your folks for all the years they spent selflessly stocking the refrigerator just so you could scowl at them on your way to the kitchen. And yet, here you are, asking for money or a place to stay or a car or to get on their phone plan again BECAUSE WHY ARE DATA PACKETS SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE, and it just makes you feel so crummy. I guess that crumminess is the realization that, even though you might feel like you’ve come a long way, there is still a lot to be accomplished. And having to come crawling back to the people who raised you is a more pricy form of currency than actual money.