The time is 2 a.m. A 21-year-old redhead is on her last nerve and her second-to-last menthol cigarette. She is begrudgingly sitting with friends of an old friend outside a tacky bar on O Street. Her old friend is properly drunk and flirting with her boyfriend, and the redhead is stuck talking with two virgin boys from Bennington and two girls who definitely share 1 ½ brain cells between each other.
The silence is deafening until one of the girls pipes up and screams to one of the virgins at the top of her lungs, “Oh my gosh, I just threw up in my cup. Look!” The virgin laughs and puts his arm around the girl still holding her cup. I have no confirmation, but I assume the story ended with there being one less virgin from Bennington.
At first I was just annoyed with them. Their high-pitched whining and browned-out banter over Greek life drama made me consider drowning myself in a flight of beer. However, with some retrospection, a part of me almost appreciated their childlike musings.
I was originally going to write this column on a high horse telling every other 20-something on the planet to grow the hell up. However, thinking about it now over a can of wine with Tangled playing in the background, I’m inclined to appreciate the frivolousness of youth a bit more.
I have always followed the train of thought that one’s 20s are designed for people to make stupid decisions for the sake of their personal plotline. How else are you supposed to be content with adulthood unless you’ve squeezed out every ounce of childish wonder from your golden years? I’ve also assumed everyone knew that, while they could go out and be stupid kids, they also know how to do so with the class of an adult.
The way I see it, you can go out and drink and hook up with strangers, but if you puke you better hold your own hair back. If you suffer from main character syndrome, by all means, make bad decisions to spice up the plotline of your life. But do so in a nice jumper from Express instead of a cheap mini skirt from SHEIN.
I still follow this train of thought like gospel. However, I could stand to loosen the reins a bit. There is no precise moment that we have to start acting our age. Some of us had to grow up fast as the result of less than ideal childhoods, and others have been graciously sheltered from the cruel world of growing up.
Regardless of maturity level, there are both good and bad aspects from adolescence that culminate into the bittersweetness of growing up, especially when talking about love and dating.
In high school, relationships were frivolous. Every emotion we experienced was bubbling out of each orifice like a shaken-up champagne bottle. We were selfish and lacked a fundamental understanding of nuance and how we affect other people, especially whoever we were dating at the time.
Communication was mythological at best and non-existent at worst, and so many ugly mistakes were made — from the homecoming dresses we wore to the sexual escapades in the back of cars while our parents thought we were at the movies.
To an extent, I think we should all keep a part of wild euphoria and impulsive dreaming within us at all times. That willingness to look stupid and feel everything in high definition gave magic to our boring world, and there’s no reason we have to lose it entirely. However, as we grow older, decisions we make start to connotate a whole lot more than just a fun story of how we were young, dumb and broke.
At 20, our reputation begins to ingrain itself into our identities. Decisions begin to have long-term consequences, and relationships are a lot more complicated because they involve the final phases of becoming nearly fully-formed people.
Eventually we all have to put away the wishy washy-ness of our youth and come into ourselves as adults. We stop drinking to black out and screaming at the top of our lungs for attention. We learn to do our taxes and laundry, and we buy flatware and comforters. We learn that people are the sum of their experiences and that we aren’t responsible for anyone else’s feelings.
All these lessons come together to make us into humans who are equipped enough to withstand a healthy, committed relationship, because for the past decade we’ve been learning how to have that relationship with ourselves.
I’m not saying I have this whole adulting thing figured out. I definitely don't, but at least I’m trying. The girls and virgins from Bennington may also begin to figure it out. They’ll become nurses or accountants, maybe mothers and fathers with time, just like the rest of us will.
In the blink of an eye we’ll be 40 with 401ks and crow’s feet, and we’ll collectively look back on these years of angst and childishness with fondness — maybe even a bit of embarrassment. Right now it’s OK to enjoy the angst. Just do it without puking in a cup.