falling short of zooey deschanel
At 4:48 p.m. on November 7, 2015, I was pushed into my 20s.
I’d always had a clearly defined image of what this would mean. Older, wiser, able to work a stove, at 20 I wouldn’t have everything figured out, but I’d have the important things—job, boyfriend, stocked refrigerator. I’d have been through two serious relationships and gained proficiency at the art of email writing. Think Jess in New Girl—quirky, but with direction.
But now, without quirk, without direction, I’ve been booted into my third decade. I’m officially 20 and unsure how I got here.
A few months ago, when I was still safely in the realm of 19, I went out and drank four too many one-dollar beers. I then came home and, as I do every night, FaceTimed with my boyfriend Sammy who goes to school in Boston.
“Come down right now,” I told him. Now meant 3:09 a.m.
“Just do it, it’ll be fun.”
He, being sober and sane, declined my invite. But the beer had shown me the way. I knew what must be done.
“No, it’ll be fine. I’m going to order you an Uber,” I insisted.
And in a stunning display of monetary indifference, I opened the app and dropped the pin right outside his dorm door on 21 Dewolfe Street without so much as asking twice. I did, however, have the presence of mind to split the fare.
And with Sammy on his way, being hand-delivered by a man named Young in a grey Subaru, I did what people do at 3 a.m. and fell asleep.
That is, until I woke up two hours later to a policeman trailing Sammy into my room.
As it turns out, I had forgotten to set an alarm and, in a deep alcohol-induced slumber, had slept through my phone ringing 32 times trying to alert me that I needed to open the front door.
But it was all okay, because luckily a policeman had been paroling Pembroke that night and was nice enough to swipe a strange man from Boston into the dorm, something I only questioned much later.
Sammy and I had a nice two-hour chat, and then he went back to the station at 7 a.m. He had a morning class.
This is not a scene from a sitcom. It’s a real-life Sunday night in which I became probably the sixth person ever to utilize Uber’s Boston to Providence flat rate, forced my boyfriend to throw rocks at my window from 4:12 to 5:15 a.m., and deactivated the Uber app on my phone.
Out of that September night, I got a good story, a sad boyfriend, and a sadder state of affairs. I know I was drunk, but I also know the underlying issues that prompted my Uber request were still there the next morning. In the moment, I didn’t care about charging a pricey Uber to my parents’ account. I wasn’t responsible enough to keep myself awake so I could let Sammy in. I demanded that I get what I wanted when I wanted it, despite the fact that what I wanted was already tucked into bed in a different state, with a 10 a.m. the next morning.
These are not the acts of a 20-year-old. But at the time, I was a teen. I didn’t think twice about calling that Uber, just like I still pretend my mom is going to clean my room as I let the dirty tea mugs pile up until I have to haul them to the kitchen in shifts every Sunday. I’m a high-school girl living in a college world.
But now I’ve reached the age of Mary Shelley when she wrote “Frankenstein” and Jane Austen when she wrote “Pride and Prejudice.” Bill Gates founded Microsoft at 20; the only thing I’ve found is dirty teacups.
But even if I’m not trying to be on a “20 Under 20” list, I’ve still entered the decade in which I will start my adult life. I’m six years from the average child-bearing age, seven years from the average marriage age, and only two years from when I will apply to my first job.
I don’t know what my major is. My room looks like the inside of a dishwasher. And the other month, I dropped a not-insignificant amount of money for the hand-delivery of a human. Is it time to get my life together?
Probably. I’m now in the decade in which my brain will stop changing. I have five more years to make any finals touch-ups to my synapses before I’m stuck with them. These finishing touches depend entirely on the way I use my brain. Striving for the shape that’s best for you, the brain will cut off any pathways its owner doesn’t take advantage of and dig grooves into the pathways they use most. Not a big crier? Snip go some of the more emotional neurons. Ambitious? Let the brain just wear down your reward processing path a little more. But you only have until 25 to make your adjustments. After that your customized brain is the only brain for you.
Aside from maybe intensifying certain grooves in my anxiety-producing pathways over the next few years of Brown, I have arrived at 20 with the same brain I’ll have when I’m reaching 30 and filling out my I-9 forms, and then 40 and weighing middle-school options for my kids, and then 50 and well on my way to my next midlife crisis.
In fear of forever being a hard-wired adolescent, incapable of performing any of the tasks above, I’ve taken some precautions in the past few months. I recently wrote down all of my passwords and important numbers on a sticky on my computer, so I would stop having to create a new password each time I log onto something. I trained myself to put my ID back in my wallet each time I take it out, so I’ll stop losing it. I regularly check my bank balance, so my credit card hasn’t bounced for a bit. That’s been nice.
And maybe this is enough for now. Being in your 20s no longer means what it used to mean. Young people are taking longer to reach adulthood. If I have to hang my Brown diploma in my childhood home, I’ll only barely be a minority. Forty percent of 20-year-olds move back with their parents at least once.
In 1960, 77 percent of women had finished school, become financially independent, married, and had a child by the end of their 20s. Now it’s less than half. Thirty is no longer a deadline to be a fully formed person.
So why should 20 feel like a deadline to stop being a child?
I remember being at Thanksgiving as a five-year-old and thinking my 10-year-old cousins were so grown up with their sparkly eyeshadow. And then I was in lower school and being intimidated by the fifth-graders who could walk alone down the stairwell. Then the eighth graders. Then the seniors. The college students. And now the 20-somethings. The only difference is now I’m a 20-something, and it still feels old.
But I guess it’s also true we never feel our age. Fifty-year-olds are the most verbal about this, but I think it’s universally true. And maybe if I let go of my image of 20-somethings as slightly fresher Carries and Samanthas and actually think about what I thought it meant to be 20 five years ago, I’d feel okay. I have a boyfriend I love. I’ve found things I’m passionate about and have stopped pretending to be passionate about things I’m not. I have enough going on to justify keeping a calendar. At least on paper, I’m more 20 than teen.
Ten years ago, I was 10 and slept in a princess-patterned bed. Ten years from now I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping, but I know I’ll be 30.
I don’t want to remain at this age, half-baked, forever paralyzed in the middle of child and adult, questioning whether or not I’ve been prematurely moved to the next level.
So maybe it’s time to abide by the same motto as my pruning brain. Use it or lose it. Embrace my 20s or risk missing out on the age of exploration.
Goodbye to my quarter-life crisis.