So, I’m not YOUR mother. But I am somebody’s mother. And, I was (long ago), a cool-ish person in my 20s. Every day I read the anxious, fearful, exuberant, manic, glorious, devastating confessions of 20 year olds on Facebook, Thought Catalog, the Internet, Twitter and the like. I know you don’t want to hear it, but I have some feedback.
1. Life does not suck.
It is so much better than the alternative. Even if you are lonely, or out of work, or fat, or hopelessly bored. Every day you get to start over and reset the tape/expectations/calorie counter. It’s like they taught you in 4th grade when you were flipping the penny to learn statistics. On average, it’s 50% heads and 50% tails, but every single flip resets the odds to 50/50, regardless of what happened the flip (day) before.
As somebody who incubated two of you young people, cooked thousands of marginally healthy meals, drove around the globe at least twice doing my share of carpools and accumulated body fat and wrinkles as I watched my youth dissolve into the ether, I am here to tell you that all mothers live to know you wake up each day with a tiny speck of optimism that your today will be good. Yes, your life is hard, but you get thousands of do-overs.
2. Boys are not stupid.
Well, some are, but that’s not the point. Boys are just handicapped. Almost all of them are what the politically-correct among us would call “other-challenged.” They have an empathy deficit. It’s like being on the spectrum, but without therapists who can help you. (Note: when dating one of these boys, it is not your job to become their therapist.) Most boys are so caught up in whether they are tall enough, muscle-y enough, rich enough, fast enough, having enough sex and basically cool enough, that they really can’t see anyone else. They are hard-wired for competition, for being king of the hill.
It takes a long, long time for most boys to develop peripheral vision and the only thing you can do is wait it out. It’s not personal – they just want to measure up to the superman image that they’ve been told is their birthright. Blame it on their mother.
3. Girls are scared.
To be more specific, most girls your age are afraid and don’t know why (yes, even the outspoken, bold, beautiful ones – maybe even mostly those girls). Sometimes they articulate it as being anxious about being smart enough, or worried about being understood, or uncertain about whether they’re pretty, or fretful about their body, or just generally not being ENOUGH.
But what’s really going on is that most girls are afraid of losing themselves.
As boys are other-challenged, girls are self-challenged. They have SO MUCH empathy that, as they walk a mile in your shoes, they feat they might just morph into you and leave their own essence behind. Not all girls, but oh-so-many, find their value in reflection…in the approval they see in the eyes of their boyfriends, teachers, parents, bosses. They instinctively know that the reflection is a ghost and they are afraid. Try to see them and let them know they are really there.
4. Life hasn’t happened yet.
The reason you feel unmoored, empty, lost, directionless and superficial sometimes is because you are ONLY 20. That means that you’ve lived only about 8 years of a fully conscious life. Really, who actually remembers being 8? You are an empty vessel….a pony keg with nothing in it, an empty shot glass waiting to be filled, a late night pizza with no toppings. (I know, I know, YOU are different than the others. YOU are smart, introspective, mature, evolved, blah, blah, blah . . . you’re still 20.)
As you rush toward the rest of your life, you might want to take a minute to recognize that your youth is an asset. You can run further faster if you aren’t encumbered by the baggage that accumulates with life. You don’t have a mortgage, kids, a career, decades of mistakes and milestones, regrets, closed doors. Being a virtual tabula rasa is a good thing, even if you do feel a little light headed once in a while. Try to enjoy the vacant buzz while you can – it’s a temporary high. I promise, it will go away one day.
5. Mothers oversimplify everything.
It’s our job. Because if we tried to tell you how much we love you, want for you, know you are the essence of perfection, never want to leave your side, would do anything for you, we’d be accused of smothering, hovering, helicoptering or some other deeply Freudian offense. We’d also look like the raving lunatics that we are.
Mothers want whatever you want and we want to help you get it. We want you to love and feel loved, take risks, make a mark, triumph each day, be somebody. We also want you to slow down, take in the world, find meaning in the small things, care about others and be grateful. We want you to be perfect – but in way that makes you happy and fulfilled every single nanosecond of your life. It’s a big job carrying this monster-sized mountain of mother hope around. And, truthfully, we’d sort of like to live your life for you to make it easier on everybody. But we know that’s not possible, so we settle for dropping breadcrumbs where we can…little bits of sustenance that we hope will get you where you’re going.
These breadcrumbs are really helpful truisms like, “you can’t have it all,” or “be the change you want to see in the world,” or “beds are NOT made for jumping on”, or “don’t cross your eyes because they’ll stick that way.” (I know you just crossed your eyes, cut it out.)
And yes, we know that what we say to you has no internal logic or consistency. We know it’s annoying to have your mother backseat driving your life with her oversimplifications. We can’t help ourselves, it’s how we’re built. And we know that you know (though you won’t always admit it) that it comes from a place of deep, abiding, lunatic love. Now go call your mother.