A muse on: the terrible twenties and the beginning of the end

An exploration of the anxiety of turning twenty.

My recent 20th birthday invited some interesting responses. Though most attitudes were in jest, anxiety is creeping in. Amongst the usual year eight selfies and heartfelt ‘hbs’ from ex-acquaintances was a newfound theme of fear on my Facebook timeline. The comedians
alluded to “old” and the anxious to “scary.”
Panic seems to surround age, even from youth. I can’t tell if that’s because we’re at a pivotal moment; where everything is changing and we’re letting go of childhood, or if this is the start of an age of anxiety that will last a lifetime. Is this obsession just with hitting an important number, or is this the beginning of secret birth dates, bad packet hair-dyes and an obsession with “young and radiant skin?” What a frightening thought.
To tell the truth, it is scary. And it feels like a sudden attack. Two years ago I was buying a prom dress, and now I’m assessing the seemingly decreasing distance between graduation and childbirth in which I have to somehow squeeze a career. The gap between the age of Sylvanian families and real ones is snapping up suddenly beneath my feet.
Where did the in-between age go? These arbitrary landmarks reset our expectations overnight and demand an instant transformation. On January 3rd, I could still excusably be angsting over X-factor boy-bands or the state of my skin. The next minute, though, and in flood internships and real relationships and general act/complete lie of: “I know what I’m doing”.
What doesn’t help, of course, is the ‘time of our lives’ trope. Though the honest moments of Friends are finally starting to resonate with me (“your job’s a joke, you’re broke,” — you know the drill), and while I get the it’s-a-mess-but-it’s-a-rollercoaster high of embracing chaos, I don’t appreciate thirty-year-olds being cast as high-schoolers or the storyline which magically fixes everyone’s woes by age thirty, just in time to meet the new set of age-specific standards. It’s this I hold accountable for the number of memes I see about ‘Remember when you thought twenty-year-olds were adults…’ (which I spend more time looking at than at wild parties or finding myself) and repetitive forms of the comment “but you don’t look twenty,” (although, I also blame my glacially-paced NHS-orthodontist/God’s will to keep me from exceeding five foot two, for that).
This is crazy. Not only do these landmarks make no sense, but we are too young to worry about them. It annoys me when people say things like, “I’ve heard twenty-two is a good age,” because what happens at twenty-two is different for everyone. Obviously, we have a general old-enough-to-have-freedom-but-young-enough-to-avoid-responsibility theme in common, but other variables are plentiful. Some people die before twenty-two, others are already parents, and some, like Ms Swift, actually somehow make it (although let’s be honest, she wasn’t that ready to become an adult, either).
Some landmarks must exist for a reason. If you want children, you can’t ignore the body’s ticking clock, and earning enough to support that warrants another requirement.
Should we be worrying about that now, though? This all feels so sudden
because it is. I’ve been out of school uniform for a year, no wonder I don’t feel ready to embark on adulthood. We’ve barely experienced freedom without responsibility, having only just graduated the years of constant exams, drinking age limits, and, for those of us of nervous disposition/poor co-ordination/general incompetence, reliance upon public transport and lifts from parents.
The in-between age is right now: we should enjoy it before it’s gone. Sure, some future goals can be toyed with by working towards something like, er, a degree, but it’s unrealistic to expect full maturity having so recently flown the nest. The “scary”’ years are coming, but they only seem scary because we’re not ready for them now. I have faith that when we get there, we will be, and for now we should just enjoy the excitement.


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