What an incredible time in a young person’s life, they say. How great it would be to be 21 again, feeling slightly liberated by adulthood, yet still basking in the carefree behaviors of childhood. Well, that’s precisely the problem.
I know they say preteens are the “in-betweeners” of adolescence but I like to think that us early 20-somethings are taking over. To be 21 means to love the person you are, all the while hating the things you love. To accept that even though you feel “old,” your life is still coming together; and may never be “together.”
You live your life in a vortex characterized by your contrasting desire to be an actual real person surviving on your own dollar, and your desire to keep pretending like you’re asleep on the couch so daddy can carry you to bed. You’re ricocheting madly between the urgency to speed time up—to get to that point in your life where you know, you’re certain, everything will be wonderful and perfect—and the plea to slow time down—to live forever in this exceptional microcosm of society known as college.
Yet, they don’t tell you that you’ll be a walking, talking paradox for the greater half of your college years. I like him, I like him not. I’m so happy and so sweet they should make an ice cream flavor out of me, yet I’m so sad and so confused that I wouldn’t mind being vacuum packed into a space bag and left in a dusty storage unit until the end of time. One moment you’re on a health kick, snacking on an apple and Greek yogurt and the next moment your face is finding solace in a bag of the saltiest chips on the shelf. It’s little things like these, that they don’t tell you, which actually represent the bigger changes in life. They don’t tell you that the confidence you have always had about your body will finally be tried. You’re supposed to be in your best shape at 21, right?
You beg yourself to answer your own demanding questions, while refusing to provide any answers.
They don’t tell you that you’ll be fighting to hold onto your childhood beliefs about religion, education, relationships, family, friendships and your faith in humanity. They don’t tell you it’s all right to create a Bible of your own; something that speaks to you, your experiences and your beliefs. You are raised to believe that you don’t need to prove yourself to anyone under any circumstances, but when it comes to applying for jobs and making relationships last, that’s exactly what you think should be done.
Shouldn’t the high school bullshit have timed out by now? The jealousy, the competition, the negativity, the drama, the insecurity. Truth is, it’s still present, but in a way that is learning to play well, or not at all, with your developing sense of maturity—you’ve decided to “be bigger than that”…and that’s the next step to growing up. They don’t tell you that there will be people, boys and otherwise, who will use you, play you, and destroy you. Your trust and integrity will be tested.
They don’t tell you that you’ll still feel that wild teenage invincibility, while also dragging your seemingly shackled feet, week after week, trying to be a decent adult. They don’t tell you that even though you’re saying and doing things you agree with and believe in one day, those things could change in an instant, and it’s okay to move day to day, to be present.
At this juncture you’re likely away at college for three or more months at a time, fully enveloped in frat parties and classes, spending time with the friends who have become family. They don’t tell you that one flight later you’re 3,000 miles away with your real family, and friends from high school, trying to distinguish your role: child/college student/big sister/best friend?
With this three-month life you’re living—school, summer, school, home—it’s harder than hell to find a constant to ground and comfort you. They don’t tell you the grim challenge of finding that constant is up to you; you’re creating your life, you decide. They don’t warn you that that depression you’re feeling every time you come home, and sometimes away at school, can also be known as the very real diagnosis, “growing pains,” and that it will plague you, exhaust you, but eventually cultivate you.
To be 21 is to rifle through all the confusion and doubt about life, often arriving at a point of misunderstanding. Because what’s wrong with being misunderstood? At least it’s a sign that you’re trying. And so it goes…if we’d been told what 21 would feel like, we wouldn’t have believed them anyway.