In college, people told you how lucky you were that you didn’t have to get out there and support a family at 18. You look back on that time in your life and you wonder how that would have ever been possible. Teenagers and early 20-somethings don’t have adult brains yet. They haven’t fully developed the basis for impulse control. You remember how smug you were when science proved that “emerging adulthood” is justified.
Your prefrontal cortex finally finished growing when you were 25. That means you are now fully responsible for your own decisions. What’s worse, if you’re not growing anymore then what are you doing now? Dying. That’s what. Science is now the enemy, because it proved that too.
The fat melted off your face a couple years ago and it made you look great. But now it’s melting off your hands. You can see a few blue veins through your skin. Same with your neck. You freak. There are teeny tiny creases in your forehead and the skin under your eyes is just a fraction thinner. You’d been wondering exactly which features determine your age from year to year. You look at pictures of yourself from just three years ago and now you understand.
When I was 18, my dad told me what his dad once told him. He said you think of your parents as these larger-than-life figures. And someday, you realize that they’re just people.
My grandfather told him that when he was about 18. And I imagine he was just as incredulous.
My parents had goals they didn’t accomplish. They had dreams that went unrealized because they chose to pursue a family life. Yours did too. You look at them and wonder how much they were like you. You wonder how much you’ll be like them when you’re their age. If you’ve made completely different choices than they did, you wonder whether they could have been more like you if they’d done things differently. A few different turns in life result in a completely different human being.
You thought Britney Spears and Beyonce were way older than you. Now you realize they’re only five years older. You’ve hooked up with people older than that.
What’s worse, the famous people you’re hearing about now are five years younger. You look at some deranged whippersnapper and you feel kinda smug because you’ve got squeaky clean legal records/nasal passages/genitals. Then you realize they were on their way up in high school. Your first door has closed.
However. Broadway could still take you. Opera programs could still take you. Bettie Page didn’t start ‘til she was 27. That makes it worse in a way. Maybe you could still slip through that door if you gave everything up to do it. But chances are you’re on a solid path already. Are you willing to throw all that away for a long shot?
My friend gave up a solid writing career to pursue acting at 29. He showed up balls-to-the-wall with his life savings, a dream, and a yearlong lease with four random people an hour away from Manhattan. Back home they’d told him it was time to adjust his expectations, that he is not a fresh-faced carefree teenager ready to conquer the world anymore. You need mad self-awareness, a will of steel, and the ability to ignore those you love to resist the incremental process of settling in your late-twenties. He’s my hero, but he’s someone else’s fool.
Everybody starts to look a little more multifaceted. In high school, it was the jocks, the nerds, the hipsters, etcetera. It still is, and it always will be. But as you’ve gotten to know more people you’ve seen exactly how different every human is from every other human. That slut from high school married a solid, handsome guy. She has a good job now. She had ten years to grow up but it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.
Maybe you thought your best friend was just like you. You agreed about everything. Then she took a totally different turn and you realized she’s always had impulses brewing in there that you can’t even begin to relate to.
Or you found a partner who felt like your match in every way. One soul in two bodies, reunited against all odds. It was like each of you was an eroded Lego that washed up on different beaches and still managed to fit together. Until one day, it didn’t. Or doesn’t, and you see how hard this is actually going to be. Leveling your goals, fears, and habits to fit with the needs of another person.
You realize it isn’t just getting things that’s hard. It’s keeping them while you and everything around you is changing. But your newfound knowledge of humanity makes you way more compassionate. I had a high-strung, short-tempered boss who made my life hell because I’m slow. She’s in her early 30s. Two years ago I would have thought that c&%# is just jealous that she’s not creative like me.
Then I creeped her Facebook and found out she was a DJ for ten years at some of the best clubs in the city. It looks like this is her first office job. I guess she felt it was finally time. Maybe enforcing an efficient workplace by any means necessary is how she’s shown herself she can do this adult thing after all.