My mom was 26 when she and my father got engaged. She worked for the FBI. The following year, she got married and moved from DC to San Diego. Two years after that, she became a mom. It’s natural to observe our parents’ lives as a template for our own. It’s an organic choice to map my life trajectory alongside my peers. A lot of them got engaged around age 25. Meanwhile, that was the year I checked myself into the psych ward, enrolled in intensive therapy, and learned how FMLA works. Life, man!
I was maybe ten years old when I wrote down the age I expected all these things to happen to me: marriage, a family, and on and on. I also thought I would get my undergrad from Boston University, but when the financial aid office didn’t come through, I found myself at Ohio State. My relatively short life can be summarized as that– going so differently from how I planned and prepared for and so much better.
Half way through 25, I lost the battle with my expectations. I realized how heartily I was forcing myself into an idea of a life as opposed to expansively living my life. There’s grief in releasing things that might never be mine. No matter how hard I manifest and pray and put myself out there, not everything is meant for everyone. And what is denied makes space for other things to enter.
And once I finally stopped bludgeoning my self esteem with my own expectations, it gave my desires room to breathe. Because I don’t want to be married at 25 or 26. For everyone who wed at those ages, I am thrilled for you. It’s now that I see there’s no way a hasty union wouldn’t have resulted in an acrimonious divorce later on. All of the loneliness, the disappointment, the fears of missing out– the other side of that is how much I was missing out on myself. No human being was ever my hiding place. I didn’t make a partner into my personal bullshit whisperer. Maybe I’ll be single for the rest of my twenties or my life. I don’t know the answer to that and it scared me for a long time. Such absence shook in my bone marrow and I lost sleep over it. Now, I dare to ask myself the scary questions. And here’s the brutal answer: if I never have a spouse or kids or that dream job or whatever, I’m still me and I love me. If none of those things transpire, I can still travel the world and have incredible friends and write books and poetry. There is no title tethered to a person of substance. Awaiting some moment or authority to validate me is a direct reflection of how I feel about myself.
I am also not working my “dream job”. I am grateful to have my job. This comment is at no disrespect to my employer. However, I am not a writer who supports herself solely through her words and speaking. That is not my current reality. But even a dream job is a job. Moreover, I do not dream about labor. While working is a part of adulthood, and the gods of capitalism shone upon me for me to get a degree and a salary that supports my lifestyle, it doesn’t define me– neither do my degrees. Education is significant, but is ultimately a mark of institutionalization, not intellect.
I am not my job. I am not who I am partnered with. I am not my education level, and I am not the people who like me or dislike me. An identity is more than a whiteboard for the rest of the world to inform us of who we are. I’m not fully sure of who I am at every moment, but I like her. I root for her. I make choices aligned with the bad bitch of present and future tenses.
In my experience, the twenties are the floppy pool noodles of people: limited structure and direction, waving about hungrily in search of something to lean on and feel solid. None of us feel solid. Humans (especially young ones) are insecure creatures who sometimes force identities out of costumes they later outgrow, and that’s ok. I look like a fool a lot. I’m just trying to figure it out, and as long as the “it” is my life and not the idea of a life I feel socially (or fearfully) obligated to have, then I can live with that. Because even if it’s just my own, the bodycount on making choices for where I feel like I should be is too high.
So here is a list of all the places I went and things I did instead of doing traditional milestones:
- Accepted that bangs will never be for me.
- Took charge of my mental health in a holistic and sustainable way. The most unglamorous, unsexy, yet most adult thing I’ve ever done is a full-scale therapy, meds, exercise, food, behavioral look and prioritization to have an easier time in my own head.
- Flew abroad 3 times– twice by myself and once into a non English speaking country.
- Gave a TED Talk at 21.
- Quit calling myself “a mess”, “a lot”, “damaged”, and “crazy”
- Stopped caring if my identity was legible and interpret-able to other people. That included dating whomever I wanted to date, making choices that felt good as opposed to things that “make sense”. My selfhood isn’t a democracy.
- Built the best damn support system out here!! My friends, my siblings, my mentors– you are the answers to every prayer I ever had. God only knows what I’d be without you.
- Fell in love. That love came back in a different way than I gave it. Another beautiful and hysterical happening.
- Finally put away eating disorders for good. My crutch, the first coping skill I ever learned. I stopped starving and binge-ing and purging and obsessing over food.
- Posted thirst traps. More thirst traps. What? I don’t have wedding pics or kid pics or even a goldfish to showcase, so here is my face!
- Quit cutting myself.
- Embraced my body as the most tangible proof of unconditional love there is– what else has saved me in greater measure than what it has withstood?
- Swapping progress for perfection and adequacy for perfection. Not everything will get done. Not all of it will be in order. That’s fine. Life is rarely an orderly happening.
- Stopped chasing people who weren’t digging me and planted that love back onto myself.
- Saw Beyonce live. Saw Young the Giant live. Saw Hamilton live. So many incredible artists, art, and moments.
- Ran a mile in under six minutes multiple times.
- Can still do the splits I did for dance at 12 at 26.
- Climbed Arthur’s Seat in heels.
- Zip lined through the jungle of Costa Rica.
- I stood in the same room where Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England.
- I stopped freaking out on whether or not my crush liked me and started shooting my shot, no longer fearing rejection. I am ok saying how I feel without the expectation or insurance of that being reciprocated.
- Established boundaries with family members.
- Made peace with having no control on how other people paint me in their stories– that I may be a villain to them and I do not have a right to control that.
- Started my master’s degree (will finish at the end of this year).
- Financial wellness. I now understand student loans and credit scores and calibrating my bill paying schedule and my pay schedule. That it’s not about avoiding these things, not talking about money and being debt free but understanding finances enough to live a moderately comfortable life as opposed to be unaware and anxious.
- Developed a strong allergy to cats– not all of these milestones are positive, folks.
Granted, a number of those choices were afforded by privilege, my the cards of social proximity and whiteness in my favor. But even without the insta numbers, my biggest milestone is that I don’t want to die anymore. And of all the women I prayed to be (someone smaller, quieter, simpler) I am grateful to a wise and deaf god who never granted them. I choose me even in the wake of my biggest blunders. Even then, I don’t want to be somebody else.
My life isn’t a pissing contest anymore. I’m not trying to impress you. I’m not trying to be the sparkliest person out here. But I am trying to live my truest life. The truth can be grizzly, embarrassing, humbling, but also, really cool. And let’s be honest, in my arrogant, self-righteous twenties, I can use some humbling. At the end of my life, it’s not about the milestones, some race against time to get in all the things. At the end of my life, this will still be my life, and I am the only person to blame for those choices. I really like them so far.