Staring down at my hands, thinking about the scar on my right thumb and the pinky finger nail that always outgrows the rest, I did anything and everything to distract myself from the conversation I was about to have. I needed to be tough. I wanted to keep my happy face securely stretched wide and open to conceal any doubt or bitterness I felt. If I kept smiling and willing myself to believe that I was satisfied, that I was indeed fulfilled and secure, then it would actually be more than a painted grin by my friends at Cover Girl.
But J saw right through it. As she usually does.
We ordered wine and I had an appetizer — always one to suffocate discomfort with salty and crunchy foods. Though I’ve grown so close to her in such a short matter of time, I didn’t know just how much I could share or how much would be too much for a friendship that was still blooming. After a few sips of Chardonnay that I secretly wished was Cabernet, she gave me the eyebrow raising cue to start talking. And as if the floodgates had been tightly sealed and protected against a barrier of makeup, glitz and teeth whitening for a very long time, I felt them crumble away. Not bit by bit or piece by piece but in one transformative release, letting out everything I felt, all that I feared, and the words sat out there, dangling on the edge of a turning point, waiting to be realized, hoping to be accepted.
I sputtered out each messy thought, every last fear and the growing pile of frustrations that I’m frustrated I feel. I let it all spew out as I let myself go, feeling the tears splashing angrily down my cheek and crashing on my lips, reminding me that if I’m still feeling this much – no matter how bad it is – I’m still alive. Pain and well, being honest and vulnerable, makes you feel just how human you are. Once I finished, I embraced the sense of relief and emptiness that came with it. I had said everything and here I was, wondering if I was the only 25-year-old gal in New York to be a walking disaster of indecision.
And then she said the one thing — the only thing — that could make me feel at peace and better about my current predicament.
“Linds, everyone feels that way,” she slipped out the reassurance in a casual, endearing way, making sure to keep eye contact while grinning a knowing look that eased my embarrassment. “The truth is, no one has their shit together, even if we act like we do. The grass is always greener somewhere else. Someone else always seems better off.”
Here I was in Chelsea, at a fine lounge (that I used to go to all the time with Mr. P), crying my eyes out because J was right — I didn’t and still don’t, have my shit together. Excuse the language, but J picked the best words anyone could –and depicted it in the most accurate way.
I could talk about how I have many luxuries and privileges that so many do not because that’s also true. I don’t struggle to make rent and I luckily love the job I have. I’m healthy and vibrant, settled into an existence that doesn’t really have too many physical, actual pitfalls — but there’s something about this age that is infuriating. Something about being a mid-20-something that makes everything and nothing feel good and bad all in the same breath, all at the same time, all in one sweeping emotion that can overtake you with anxiety if you let it.
I’m somewhere in between college and turning 30, letting go if the love I enjoyed at 22 to find the man I’ll spend the rest of my life with. I’m not quite secure in the city I love, not yet able to afford to live alone, not sure if my next move will be alone or with a roommate or a boyfriend. I don’t know what the next five years will bring, and if the past few are any indication of just how silly predictions are, then well, I’m really in for a shocker.
But even if I feel older than I really am, placing myself under more pressure than anyone else, I feel like I should have it figured out by now.
I feel like I should know what my next career move is or at least have a plan. I shouldn’t rule out short guys or unemployed men or balding guys. I should be more realistic and possibly less picky about the men I date or I’m going to end up alone. And if that’s the case, I need to figure out how to be okay with that. On that note – I need to understand what it means to settle and if I’m settling in any aspect of my life. Or if I’m expecting too much? I really should save more money. I should drink less and pay more attention to my diet. I need to plan out meals and stick to a budget. I should understand my 401K, the effects of my birth control on my body and go to the dentist every six months. I should mange my time and spend equal times with friends, and never ever put guys before girls. I shouldn’t compare myself to others and I should not cry during cheesy romantic comedies that by now, shouldn’t get to me anymore. I shouldn’t get anxious or upset over the small things or the big things or anything – I should be more mature. I should keep a workout schedule and have all the children I’m supposed to have by a certain age. I should figure out what that age is and start preparing for it. I should save up everything I can so I can move apartments and pay more in rent, but feel more at home. I should get an expensive dog walker so I stop worrying about my puppy being alone too much. I shouldn’t talk about having a pet on a date because that’s too intimidating, it screams that I have too much responsibility. It says I’m not spontaneous and sexy and fun. I should not spend so much money on clothes or drinks or trips and instead, invest in my future.
I should have my shit together.
But as I put on a should-show in front of J, she should-ed me right back. She’s in a happy, loving relationship. She has an equally great job. She lives in a lovely apartment with two lovely felines, and yet, even as she has some of the things that I want – like a wonderful man to come home to – she has the same feelings I do. The same shoulds. And so does my friend M. My other friend J. And K and practically everyone else I know who is stuck in their mid-twenties, and early 30s even, figuring out what the hell is next. And getting over what should be next.
It’s easy before you reach adulthood to know what’s coming because it’s all mapped out before you – after middle school comes high school, after high school you go to college. During college you have internships that lead to jobs. Then maybe you go to graduate school and then you land in a new city with a brand new job, and then you…
…you start living your life. You start having so many experiences… and just as many mistakes. You give up on figuring everything out.
And if you’re smart and lucky enough to catch it early on, you realize that the most important part about having your shit together is accepting that you might never get there. And more importantly, you might not want to after awhile. Sure, at times you’re more balanced than at others. Some weeks are happier, while others are busier and more expensive. Sometimes you feel like you’ve accomplished the world and on some mornings, getting out of bed is enough. There are no shoulds to life or no magical prescription to take away your worries or your uncertainties about the future. The future, instead, is always this ominous, illustrative idea that’s far-fetched and seemingly impossible when you’re standing in the present. But you’ll get there. It’ll work itself out. You don’t have to should your life away to make all the things that will happen, actually happen.
The life you’re meant to live will work itself out… even if you don’t do the right things or follow the right timeline. Even if you make every wrong decision you can possibly make. Even if it doesn’t turn out how you think it will or in the ways your friend’s paths take shape. Because having your shit together is a nice idea, but it’s not half as fun as living a full, complicated, beautiful, messy and passionate life… that’s probably full of shit – but still pretty fantastic.