Why Your Twenties Don’t (Completely) Suck: An Open Letter To My Younger Self
Your twenties exist so you can experience all of life’s ups and downs at once. Read one twentysomething’s story of navigating his twenties and trying to make sense of them, and tune in to the All New Season of Please Like Me for more true-to-life dating and relationship struggles, Fridays at 10 p.m. on Pivot.
Remember? Reach back to when you were 5 or 6 or 7 (like 25-year-old me reaching out to 15-year-old you right now). Before you were an adult, or a teenager, you were just a boy, and the sky looked ghost-blue over your dollar-store kite, moments before the wind stole it from your hands. You watched as your kite seemed to touch the pregnant Midwest clouds above the park next door, clouds you had previously assigned identities: a bear, a strawberry, a schoolhouse. Immediately after the string left your reach, your heart sank. Which was worse: the fear of letting go, or the fear of leaving the ground?
The kite, you think, was a butterfly, but that extended metaphor is just too unbearable. (Sorry. I know how much you liked those.)
I'm telling you this because one morning, thousands of miles from that park, you'll be hungover during your morning commute, sitting and waiting for your connecting train, when you'll notice a place on the wall where two rust stains have formed the silhouettes of a Persian cat and a dinosaur. In that random moment you'll remember how it feels to assign order to things — your twenties, you'll realize, have almost entirely been grab-and-let-go.
So I’m here to help you brace yourself for what’s to come, the things you’ll have to deal with in 10 years that you haven’t yet experienced. What’s important is that you see how your twenties might totally suck at first. Kids in your high school class will die (“pass away”?), and former bosses — people you respect — will too. Friends will join the army, or get married, or both. And there you’ll be, selfishly wondering why you can’t fall in love or feel satisfied with anything or even process your own thoughts.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s first go over a few things to keep in mind as you move from your less formative years into your lesser less formative years, such as: letting that high school jock cheat off of you in Spanish class? That'll eventually pay off in the form of you exploring your latent bisexuality. (Really. Not to mention sparking an affinity for the name Brent.) Later, you’ll accept that — let’s be real — you slide a little farther right on the Kinsey scale than you initially thought, but at first you’ll explain it to friends, your mom even, as just “noticing guys” — you weren’t into them or anything. This huge self-admission (but unsurprising “revelation” to others) will lead to your affectionately given, friend-bestowed label of “quarter fruit” (which, spoiler alert, is in actuality more like three-quarters fruit...but don’t worry, you’ll embrace that truth in time).
In your twenties, though, these labels and anxieties will all but cease to exist. Instead, you’ll be too preoccupied with actively diving headfirst into the dating pool. Gone now is your fear of leaving the ground; you’ve already left it and feel just fine not knowing when you’ll touch back down. (I know, at 15, this spontaneity might sound a little scary, but it’ll soon become your M.O., and people will appreciate you more for it — including yourself. Trust.)
To be clear, that doesn’t mean this time of your life will be smooth sailing. In fact, to be completely transparent, it’s gonna get pretty dismal. Your first two dates with men will end with invitations to accompany them on their evening errands (“Smell this body wash,” “Which color toothbrush should I pick up?”, “Smell this body wash!”). One guy has mommy issues and a live-in ex-boyfriend — he’ll want to make out with you on an indoor Ferris wheel, but stops himself because he “doesn’t want to give you strep.” (Whatever they say about chivalry being dead? So not true.) You’ll wonder, Is this how people date in a big city?
The short answer? Kind of.
Dating itself will eventually feel like shopping: full of seemingly endless options, having to pick and choose what you think is best, and often putting items back or giving up altogether (and all this only if you’re not the item swiftly being put back on the shelf…). Grab, grab, and let go.
But before I lose you, it will pay off eventually — I swear! You’ll finally meet someone, a hoodie-wearing, nerdy guy like yourself who’s easy to talk to and who entertains your in-depth over-analyses of [insert TV show obsessions here]. He’ll be your first much-needed foray into dating — real dating — where conversations aren’t forced and you can just be yourselves when together.
But something that sucks about this time in your life? You’ll tap into your more selfish side. As selfless as you perceive yourself now (bless you), you’ll understand the unsustainability of that lifestyle. His OCD tendencies will quickly grate on you, and your inability to travel anywhere farther than 30 minutes away without whining will surely grate on him, and you’ll both reach a plateau; you’ll have gone through the motions, and then you’ll want more. New, better, different motions.
OK. Now, wash the acne cream off your palms and give that Pride and Prejudice paper a break: If you’ve been nodding off, you’ll maybe want to pay some attention to these next parts. (And please, continue to bear with me — you’ve yet to discover the next-day effects of alcohol consumption.)
Pro tip: Hooking up with friends or roommates is another beast entirely. Definitely approach with caution. And seeing a roommate who also happens to be your friend? Well, that’s perhaps the most complicated relationship of all. (Note to self: Be wary of any adjoining bedroom doors when signing a lease.)
In this relationship — what you’ll call the Codependent Cohabitors — you’ll become the kind of couple (even without that label, “couple”) you actively try to hate, the kind that sees each other 24/7, goes everywhere together, waits to watch certain TV shows until the other is free… Don’t get me wrong: Most of the time it’ll actually feel pretty great. Fun. Intimate even. But eventually you’ll feel too grounded. You’re in your twenties now, remember! You don’t want your feet firmly planted.
One day, you'll have an early-morning stoop conversation with her (yes, her — surprise...?). She'll tell you her period has been late, but before you can even process that information, she'll reassure you: a false alarm. Sitting on the hot cement in your pajamas, you two will grab that moment for a little while, discussing what you could have done, what you’d have wanted to do, etc., as if entertaining the idea of raising a baby in a liberal arts college were the responsible thing to do — but this seemingly important conversation will soon end the only way it can: with you saying, “So...should we go grab a dozen doughnuts now?” This thing, like so many others, will happen...and then you'll move on.
In your twenties, it's the fear of not letting go that drives you.
Also, just like that, catching strep on an indoor Ferris wheel suddenly doesn’t sound so crazy.
I know what you’re thinking: So, my twenties are going to be, like, all about dating and relationships? Right? No? You’re thinking about how you’ll survive gym class tomorrow? Don’t worry, buddy, you will, and then nobody but yourself can ever make you exercise again. And in lieu of that good news, your twenties aren’t all about dating either!
Take it from me: You'll understand more about yourself through the dumb, spontaneous moments you experience than anything else. Importance, you'll realize, comes from doing seemingly unimportant things; it's like eating a fortune cookie without a fortune inside: you just go for it, and then the lesson comes later. This might seem totally antithetical to your current learn-first, act-later philosophy, I know, but — sorry — you also know so little about yourself. I’m confident you'll find my method to be much more successful, whenever you get to it.
For example, I’ve found that as you relieve yourself of certain societal pressures, you open yourself up to more experiences, whether those experiences are “good” or “bad.” No matter what they are, though, they’ll help you better understand your moral views and who you are. You’ll meet closer friends, as well as know what types of people to avoid in the future. It may sound preachy or cheesy (it is, a little) but it’s not untrue.
The way I know you feel now will also become a little clearer: your uncontrollable laughter and feel-good attitude at random moments, and the immediate shift in mood to helplessness, as if you can only exhale for long stretches of time. It all feels normal to you (“Doesn’t everyone feel this way always?”). But eventually you’ll find yourself filling out month-long mood charts (slightly more adult versions of those “How are you feeling?” posters with colorful faces in various stages of happiness or agony), mood charts where you make little check marks on a scale of one to nine, where “one” means “manic” and “nine” means “depressed.” You’ll see no pattern at first — the checks end up scattered across the page as if the chart had been given to a child — but you can start identifying triggers. And all of that information comes together to form something tangible: cyclothymia, a lesser version of your dad’s bipolar disorder.
What you’ve suspected for some time will hit you all at once; you’ll immediately feel dirty, devastated, and desperate. But more than anything else, surprisingly, you’ll feel relieved.
Before you go full-mood-chart-nine on me, I want you to understand that this moment will empower, not debilitate. Right now you can only think about who you want to be (and that’s fine), but in your twenties, who you don’t want to be matters so much more.
In your twenties you’ll stop pretending to pray at your family’s Christmas gatherings and you’ll accidentally choose the one straight guy to approach at a gay bar and you’ll dance by yourself when no one is home and eat too many burgers and give wrong directions.
You’ll be green-face neutral, red-face angry, and blue-face sad. And you’ll own all the faces, all the feelings, the failures and the feats.
Now, please, take a seat and try to calm down. I know your thoughts are getting the best of you right now (your mind is racing a million miles a minute — we’ll work on that) but I’m here to reassure you that, while you may or may not be a better person in your twenties, you will be a truer version of yourself. And the moments that you think suck? Those will ultimately be the ones that help you reach your fullest potential and aid in your long-term growth. Through a shitty job, you'll meet some of your favorite people; through random bar encounters, you'll have some of your best nights; and through hitting rock bottom, you'll come out mentally and emotionally stronger than before. (Not to mention, we both know I’m going to peak in my thirties anyway.)
So, when you finally do reach my age, simply do as I’ve suggested, and grab and let go.
And also, one more thing, do me this favor? Remember.
What would you tell your younger self about your twenties?
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Photos courtesy of Participant Media.