It’s common for those approaching forty to mourn their lost youth. Being extremely common, I feel the same way. Oh, how I miss that time without responsibility, those days without much to do besides the uni work that I could comfortably neglect, and taking advantage of that effortless adolescent ability to sleep in until midday which has now deserted me.
But when I find myself reflecting on my twenties, my memory conveniently wallpapers over what I was actually like in my twenties. What I’d really like, I’ve realised, is to be 21, but pretty much as I am now.
What I want, then, is to be exactly like Zac Efron in 17 Again, but with Matthew Perry’s brain. I’d be happy to have Zac Efron’s level of attractiveness to the opposite sex as well, actually – or even Matthew Perry’s. What I want isn’t possible outside the realms of excessively contrived Hollywood comedies written by people like me who frittered away their youth and are now bitter and resentful about it and spend their writing careers in wish-fulfilment.
So, to try to cure myself of this, I’ve spent a bit of time remembering what my twenties were really like, instead of what I fantasise they could have been like if I had been a completely different person. Henceforth, I will bring out this list whenever I find myself remembering a crucial party from 1998 and wishing I’d been awesome instead of awkward. And if you’re struggling with the aging process, perhaps it’ll help you, too?
It’s oh-so easy to forget just how much of our twenties we spend worrying about how we don’t fit in, to the point where it absolutely guarantees that we won’t. I remember standing endlessly on the edge of parties, wondering whether people were judging me for being some loser who stood on the edge of parties. (Answer – no, they probably didn’t even notice, because nearly everyone in their twenties is absolutely oblivious to anyone else they don’t find attractive.) Awful, just awful.
This was the peak of my self-consciousness to the point where it deserves a separate entry. It’s so thoroughly essential that a twentysomething be able to dance at parties, and so thoroughly impossible if you’re me, and so bad at it that during my Law Revue days, I had to do remedial classes. Now, I just move vaguely in time with the music, and if I look ridiculous, then I look ridiculous.
And yes, okay, I do still look ridiculous.
Lack of self-awareness
The flipside of the crippling self-consciousness that affects many twentysomethings in social contexts is our lack awareness that we say terrible things all the time. Boastful things, self-aggrandising things, insensitive things. It may be that many of us stop talking constantly about ourselves because we’ve come to realise that we aren’t really all that special or great after all, which is perhaps slightly sad on one level, but if it stops us being just downright terrible pretty much every time we open our mouths, then it’s worthwhile.
When you’re in your twenties, you’re expected to be cool. When you’re in your thirties, if anything’s cool, it’s indifference. It’s exhausting having to keep up with the endless labels/haircuts/shoes/cosmetics/bands/shows of which we’re supposed to be partaking. In your thirties, you like what you like, and people who like other things are wrong.
Uncertainty about the future
We probably spend at least one full year of our twenties worrying about what we’re going to do with our lives, as our high view of ourselves and our prospects finally comes into conflict with the reality of the labour market. Our twenties are when we go into jobs we don’t want, quit them to follow our dreams, and then in most cases acknowledge defeat and go back into them. And every step in that process involves many hours of agonising and boring our nearest and dearest senseless, when all they want us to do is just make a decision, any decision, instead of speaking.
Whereas in your thirties, you may well be happy with what you’re doing, and if you aren’t you either change it or make do. You may well have kids or a mortgage and even though we didn’t realise it when we were younger, they tend not to pay for themselves.
Not being able to drive
I could drive by the age of twenty, but I certainly didn’t have my own car. Even when I finally got my own car, I didn’t tend to drive to parties because I wanted to be cool and drink to impress people.
I’m keenly aware that brokeness can occur at any age, but one’s twenties are generally our most penniless decade as the parental tap gets turned off and we enter gingerly into the workforce, generally at a fairly lowly level. This applies especially if you live in an expensive city, and applies exponentially, I’ve found, if you have absolutely no self-control and an excessive fondness for gadgets and/or travel.
Okay, so some people know what they’re doing by their twenties… but if you don’t… actually, I think I’m going to finish this one right here, very abruptly. Seems fitting.
Perhaps the human body’s cruellest joke is to crater up our faces just when we want them to be as appealing as possible. Honestly, I don’t know why we waste so much time trying to extract oil from the depths of the ocean when our adolescents generate millions of barrels of the stuff every single day. (And they were single days, let me tell you.)
My skin’s transitioned straight to ‘dry’ nowadays without so much as stopping at ‘normal’, but in my twenties it was still a pustulent minefield despite me purchasing a frankly embarrassing volume of cosmetics to remediate it. When I imagine myself being heaps awesome in my twenties, it’s certainly not with the actual skin I had back then.
Ah, the misplaced overconfidence of our twenties, when we know so little about the world that we think we know everything. The one thing it has going for it is that to older people, it’s a little endearing how twentysomethings think the world works in black and white terms and that all they have to say is something like “why can’t we just let all the asylum seekers in” and magically solve complicated debates in a puff of righteousness.
Whereas now that I’m in my thirties, I pretty much do know everything… actually, watch this space for my forthcoming ‘Ten Things I Don’t Miss About My Thirties’ article.