The 20-Something Syndrome

There’s something special about being a 20-something.

It’s after the uncomfortable teenage years, but we still have enough awkwardness to keep us humble. Well, at least at the start of our twenties anyways, until we discover a certain power we have because we’re young and yet to be jaded. By the time we reach the mid-way point between the second and third decade, we’ve been burnt, hurt, used, tossed, and treasured, and we’ve done to the same to countless men, jobs, friends, apartments, and shoes. But more than the year before and less than the one that will follow, we’ve managed to capture and ignite the spark we have to offer the world and the men in it – and though we may still settle for less than first rate at times, at least we’re aware we’re settling. Unlike before when we may have not been able to spot a red flag a mile or an inch away. I haven’t reached the late 20’s, so I can’t speak for that crowd – but if my friends are any indicators (or Mr. Possibility), it seems something happens around 27 or 28, where the need to lockdown a relationship or make some really impressive steps in our career becomes priority. Either, in my opinion, seem like a lot of pressure when desired at the drop of a dime.

But really, isn’t being a 20-something about pressure? Isn’t the 20-something syndrome an ordeal (or a blessing?) we all have to pass through to make it to the 30’s? (Which, I’m told by my mother and every 30 and beyond, will be the best time of my life.)

The pressure of being a 20-something is not just from external factors but often enforced by ourselves. If this 10-year span is when I’ll look my very best, be in the best shape, feel my best, and put my best face forward – shouldn’t I be going out constantly? If this is the period where I’ll have the most opportunity to travel, where I won’t have to consider anyone as a higher priority than myself, where the decisions I make won’t weigh as heavily as future choices, and where I’ll have the most energy and brightest perspective on life – shouldn’t I go after whatever I want with diligence?

But isn’t that the issue? When you’re a 20-something, the options seem limitless, but the resources are often not – at least for me, currently. However, I have ways around monetary setbacks, primarily because I’m female. Right now in this late hour as I write this blog after a few glasses of wine and an evening spent with Mr. Hubby, I could grab a pair of heels and a swipe of my signature lipstick and be at a bar in midtown in thirty minutes or less. I could lure in an eligible bachelor or two, have my drinks paid for all night long, and head back uptown in a cab paid for with cash given to me by a stranger I met an hour earlier. Tomorrow morning, I could go anywhere on this island I want to – Times Square, the Empire State, Wall Street, and Magnolia’s (let’s be honest, it’s sadly a landmark now) are not destinations for me, they are just part of my home.

If I wanted to – or if I was brave enough – I could save enough money to live abroad for a year, working low-paying jobs, backpacking, and experiencing the world I’ve never witnessed. I could consume alcohol in vast amounts, I could go by the golden rule that if he’s foreign, he doesn’t count as part of my “number”, and instead of focusing on editing and writing, I could take a completely different turn in my career. Or not focus on work at all and throw my luck to the fates, hoping I’ll land up where I’m meant to be, even if it is far away from what I pictured or hoped for.

I have no real obligations – my lease is actually up in May and it is undetermined what commitment I’ll make after that. And really in New York, signing your name has merit, but finding a subleaser is quite simple. I’m not married. I don’t live with a boyfriend. I have no children. I don’t own a pet, unless you count Giorgio the fish – who I’m sure would be happy with anyone who fed him and cleaned his bowl once a week. I have barely any bills to pay (damn you Best Buy and Student Loans). Nothing is keeping me in New York other than the magazine job that’s important to me and the fact that I love this city with most of my heart.

And yet, when I think of being in my twenties, when I feel the pressure from the 20-something syndrome, I never feel like I’m doing enough. If I go out three times a week and stay in on a Saturday because I’m tired and the commute home at 3 a.m. nearly kills any opportunity for a 10 a.m. run – I feel guilty. If my friends beg me for one more glass of wine or one more song or one more hour when I’m exhausted, if I don’t give in – I feel like I’ll regret it or I’ll miss something. When I see my peers who, instead of joining the workforce or going to grad school, like many of us who graduated in the downward pivot of the economy, decided to live in another country without any concrete plan – I’m envious. When I skip a night at the gym to cook dinner and consume large quantities of ice cream with Mr. Possibility, the next morning – I feel fatter, though I didn’t gain a pound. When I succeed at work, only to take two steps backwards the next day – I feel like I’ll never get to where I want to be as a writer. And then again, sometimes I have no idea what the endpoint or goal is – or if there even is one.

So what’s the cure for the 20-something syndrome? How do I forgive myself for indulging or giving myself a much needed evening in for me-myself-and-I? How do I celebrate what I’m doing right instead of turning every little miss into all the reasons I’m going about my life the wrong way? How do I prepare for this seemingly inevitable end-of-decade turn when my priorities will become more important? How do I get through my twenties happily, successfully, and healthily – feeling like I’ve done all that I could with all that I had?

I’d like to have a real answer, but I don’t. I only have a guess – and it’s maybe simplified too much. But to overcome the 20-something syndrome, I think the trick is stop trying. Or deciding it isn’t something to get over or to get through or to survive. It is, like every other period and person we’ll experience, temporary and yet, absolutely necessary. Children grow into teens, and teens into twenties, and twenties into thirties, and so on, and so it goes – there is no end in sight until it is, the end.

Time may seem to pass as quickly as it does slowly. I may be dumbfounded seeing the start of April this upcoming week. I may be shocked to know I’m closer to my next birthday than I am to my last. I may not always feel like I’m doing what’s best or what’s good or what will take me the furthest or make me the happiest.

But I’m living. I’m learning. I’m loving. I’m 20-something.

Seasons of Security

Some used their thumb, others swaddled a mangled blanket, and a few were content on their own. For my sense of security as a child, I had Mary.

Or as my mother called her, Punk Rocker Mary.

Being the loving pretend-mother I was, I carried my prized doll around everywhere – by her hair. She’d go sledding down our snowy backyard, take dives in our kiddie pool, and she’d dig with me while I looked for buried treasure outside. I refused to go anywhere without her and though I gave her hair that stuck up 90 degrees, she was always up for the ride, and I felt safe dragging her along.

One afternoon, when my family was at one of those highly classy North Carolina flea markets (no judging) – I left Mary in my stroller to get an ice cream cone with my mom, and when we looked back, she’d disappeared. To this day, we’re not sure if she fell out or someone stole her (with her crazy locks, why would anyone want to?), but I was devastated. My mom forced my dad to go buy another Mary to keep me from hysterics, but I wanted nothing to do with the imposter: if I couldn’t have Ms. Punk Rocker, I didn’t want anything.

It’s no surprise people attach meaning to objects – it’s the reason athletes wear the same jersey for weeks or CEOs only sign documents with the same fancy pen – though it may just be another thing to most, once emotion is enveloped, it’s hard to take it away.

While Mary meant everything to me at one time, like we all do, I moved on to the next something that would give me that peace of mind. I found Sammy, a stuffed animal I slept with until I went away to school, a change purse I swore was lucky during middle school, and a pair of jeans that made me feel so incredibly sexy and skinny during college, that I only recently gave in and threw them out a few months ago. Until I actually moved to New York, I held onto the Metro card I used two summers previous during my internship, just in case I never had the opportunity to return.

And that same transitional sense of attachment has been just as adhesive in past relationships.

When a love starts to fizzle or I can feel myself strapping on my walking-away boots, prepared for the right moment to suck it up and strut away – I start to notice that ping in the corners of my heart that question: What if I don’t meet anyone who makes me feel this way again? What if I don’t feel as secure and comfortable and loved? I mean, what if this is it and I screw it up?

Perhaps I should be asking though, why is it that the thought of moving on is more difficult than the act itself? Doesn’t moving on happen naturally but deciding it’s time to leave can be more painful, more intense, more relentless than any breakup? That sometimes, we’d prefer our dolls, or our men, to just be stolen away, so there would be no gray area to navigate.

After receiving a text message from an ex who will be interviewing in New York soon, I thought back to the months we shared when his presence, his companionship, his midnight kisses on my shoulder – meant everything to me. With him and with pretty much any man I’ve shared a part of myself with, was for a fleeting moment, a huge part of my life. They were the person I talked to each day, the person (besides my mom) I called when something incredible happened, or the individual who knew the most about me at that given stage in my life. A relationship by its definition causes two people to coexist, to be together – emotionally, sexually, spiritually, or otherwise – for the time they are meant to be in whatever form, side-by-side.

And then, as all things change, all things transition, and pages turn quicker than I could ever write them – love fades. Intensity becomes extinguished. People move. We grow apart. No common ground can be found. Eyes wonder, along with hands. Stolen moments turn into bittersweet memories. And then we find ourselves, weeks, months, years – decades – down the road, not even having a clue what someone is up to. Not knowing, for the life of us, where they live, who they work for, or if they’re happy. In some cases, maybe we don’t care and can’t be bothered to send an email (or add as a friend on Facebook), but isn’t it funny how our partners-of-yesterday become the strangers-of-today? And those strangers we passed hours ago, could be the lovers we eventually never go a day without seeing?

How our security blanket of love, the stability and commitment that comes with a relationship, continuously crumbles and is rebuilt, time and time again, with revolving faces and places we can never quite predict. And though when we first turn our backs, release the protection, the safe harbor of togetherness, and sail into the single sea (where we’re told there are many fish) – we’re terrified. Yet, give us a few miles, smooth waters, and tidal waves to battle – and we’ll be fine. We won’t even see the shore we left anymore, except for those rare occasions when something triggers a memory, but rather, we’ll only see new horizons.

Isn’t that what moving on is all about?

A friend of mine once told me the people we meet – romantically involved or not – come into our life for a reason, for a season, or forever, and the point of the relationship or friendship is to determine which one this person will be. In some cases, I agree with her but in most, I’m under the belief that everyone, no matter what impression they make, comes into our lives at the right moment, for a purpose, and that lesson, that value they were designed to give to us – will forever be part of who we are.

Perhaps learning to love yourself, letting go of not only past heartbreaks and destructive mentalities, is accepting that maybe, it’s okay to remember the good. To remember that simple security that comes with a person you admired or loved and to trust that if you can feel it once, you can feel it again. That if lucky charms and skinny jeans have taught us anything – it’s that the greatest strength, the purest magic isn’t in an object or a relationship, but the credence we put behind it. That moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, it just means believing in the present and in the future – more than you do the past.

And that security we seek, in its most powerful and protective form, must first and foremost, start with being secure in ourselves. Even when we’re one baby doll, one lover, or one something-less.