November 03, 2011 968,483 views
So which is it? Are these the years everyone looks back on fondly? Or some of the hardest times of your life? Well, I’ve been out of my 20s for nearly a decade and I gotta say, that period when TV says you should be carefree and playing wacky fraternity pranks on your buds? From my experience, those rose colored glasses just show me rose colored turds. Mainly because …
#5. You’re in the Last Stages of Cool
Let’s take music as an example.
In high school, music isn’t just a matter of personal preference, it defines what social team you’re on. In my school, the rednecks listened to country, the tough guys listened to metal, the weird kids had the alternative stuff. What came out of people’s car speakers was as important as the clothes they wore, or the slang they used. And each group was grading how “cool” an outsider was by whether they liked that same music.
“Have you guys heard the new Creed son- OH GOD, WHY DID YOU STAB ME?”
Then at some point in your 20s, you get to experience the bitchslap realization that the music you loved as a teenager was specifically designed to appeal to teenagers. And man, I’m telling you, it happens all at once. You’ll flip around the radio or turn on one of the MTV channels that still plays music, and suddenly it hits you that what you’re hearing is just absolute shit.
It’s because you’ve entered a state of adulthood that just isn’t represented in music at all. You’ll know when you’ve reached it because the music designed for teenagers now seems shallow and ridiculous, the stuff that’s supposed to be “dark” and “soulful” suddenly sounds laughable and trite. Suddenly, every band is an inferior ripoff of something awesome you heard when you were 15. It’s the reason your parents thought the same thing about your music when you were that age.
“Have you guys heard the new ABBA so- PUNCHING MY FACE IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE!”
So, you still have a part of you that wants to declare membership to a social group by liking their music, but now you don’t like that group’s music and, in fact, suspect that the music they’re listening to now is bullshit.
But the music is just a symptom. Because now you look at the 16-year-old kids that, if you were 16, would be the kids you would hang around with, and suddenly see nothing cool about them.
But you’re also not old, you’re certainly not ready to turn into your Dad, proudly listening to Skynyrd in the garage and drunkenly proclaiming it to be the last “real” music ever made. You’re still more likely to play pranks at Halloween than chase pranksters off your lawn. You’re on a seesaw that straddles teenager and adulthood.
Yep, you look totally natural, buddy.
And it’s the same with everything that could be used to define you. Like clothes. If you try to dress in whatever teenage fad is in style that month, you look like a creepy old guy who’s desperately trying to look cool. If you resign yourself to dressing like what catalogs say adults should look like, you’ve just kissed goodbye any chance that you’ll ever be cool again. This is why you go to a college campus and half the people just wear their pajamas to class. They’re out of ideas.
When you get into your 30s, you get a little more resigned about this stuff — you’ve reached the point where if you show up at a Justin Bieber concert, girls start ducking away and dialing three digits on their cell phones. There is no maintaining the illusion that you’re young and cool. I’ve got to say, it feels good to finally let go of it. But damn the actual act of letting go is hard.
#4. Your Ego Gets Punched in the Dick
A guy I went to college with — we’ll call him Meatneck Flabalanche — was known in high school as the class clown. He was exactly the same as the one in your school: loud, brash, would literally eat a live child if it made eyes turn his way.
The very first day in college, he started his routine in class, jumping in with “that’s what she said!” when the professor said anything that left even the tiniest opening, using the lab’s beakers like props from a Carrot Top show, you get the idea. Lighting his farts.
You know the type.
Anyway, that lasted about a minute and a half before the teacher finally had enough and just flat-out stopped her class and addressed him directly. “I’m assuming this is your first year of college so I’m going to give you exactly five minutes’ worth of leeway. The next time you interrupt my class for any reason, you won’t be attending it.” And that was it. Shut down on the spot. As far as the school was concerned, that was his last trip to the “look at me” well … because in college, there is no trip to the principal’s office. Get kicked out of enough classes, and they boot your ass completely out of school. And all at once, there was no venue for the show this guy had spent his entire childhood perfecting.
This kind of thing winds up being the first in a long line of mindfuck realities that completely change how you view high school when you look back on it. High school is hard while you’re there — those are tough-ass years. But once you’re out, you look back and realize that everything about the system was built to make it easier to succeed. Society needs you to get that diploma, and will do everything it can to drag you across the finish line. You were praised for getting a good score on a test. If you win a big game, you’re revered. Hell, most schools even give out awards for perfect attendance.
You couldn’t do math for fuck, but you did show up. Good job, Jennifer!
Then when you graduate, all of that gets stuffed into a cannon and shot into the sun. That is literally the last time society forces success on you. Suddenly it’s, “We don’t give a shit whether you succeed or not. If you mess up this (job/degree/relationship) there are a million people waiting in line behind you ready to take it.”
You’re quickly met with the dead, limp reality of, “All that ego-stroking? Yeah, that was bullshit we do to grease your way through your training period. Now you’ve been trained. Here’s your shovel, help us move this shit pile from here to there.” And though you may turn out to be the best shit shoveler who ever shoveled some shit, there’s not likely to be any celebration for your shit technique and impeccable shit ethic. You did what you were paid to do. “Come back tomorrow and do it some more, or we’ll get somebody else.”
This starts all over again when you start your career, when suddenly everything you accomplished in the classroom up to that point again counts for jack shit. You’re the new guy, there’s one spot you can be promoted to, and there are six guys in line to get it who’ve all been working there since the ’90s. And until they hire someone else, you will always be known as “the new guy.” I used to work as the computer guy for an auto dealership, and we had the same “new guy” for two years before they hired some newer guy (who, by the way, was using his bachelor’s degree in psychology to change oil for a living). To a 20-something, it just seems like more arbitrary unfairness and bullying.
“This is bullshit! It’s age discrimination!”
Your perspective changes right around the first time you are old enough to have worked at a place for a while and seen a 20-something walk in the door, thinking his grades automatically earn him a salary higher than that of people who actually know what the hell they’re doing. You chuckle and/or cringe at their sense of entitlement and realize, “Wait a second! Ten years ago that was me.” And then you wonder how the other people in the office tolerated you.
I guess that’s when you know you’ve gotten past it: the embarrassment. Just remembering how at that age you were positive that you had everything locked down and figured out. You figured you were educated and smart and awesome and there wasn’t much left to learn. I wouldn’t live through that again if I were forced at gunpoint by time-traveling Time Rapists.
“So who’s up for some rape? Don’t answer that, it kills the point.”
#3. It’s the Worst Dating of Your Life
This is the time of your life when you’re most desperate to meet a girl or a guy, and it’s the absolute worse time to actually do it.
Let’s face it, besides school, parties and bars, there aren’t a lot of avenues you can take to meet other single people. The reason is because it’s much easier to get to know someone in a group setting before handing them your phone number and pointing out that if you add a letter, it spells out “FREE DICK.” In college you have that group/school setting, but as anyone who is paying tens of thousands of dollars for a serious education can tell you, it’s not exactly the “get drunk and fuck” atmosphere that the old National Lampoon movies make it out to be. People are tied up in trying to balance studying with a part-time job so they can survive. The last thing they have time for is a relationship that may or may not last through the end of the year.
So you end up latching on to whatever short term relationship you can get your hands on, just to fight the loneliness. And when that goes sour, you’ll move on to the next, not fully realizing that committing to the chick you met by doing jello shots out of her cleavage probably isn’t going to be the long term romantic connection you’ve been searching for.
And then when you do meet the one you think is your soul mate, you realize it’s like meeting a girl at the airport. The odds that both of you are planning to wind up in the same place after graduation is astronomically small. He plans to move wherever a job opens up, she intends to go to grad school in Arizona. If you’re not the same age, one of you will be in school for a year or more after the other has moved on.
And then there’s the fact that at 20, everyone is in transition. This is why you go to a college campus and the girl who was prom queen two years ago now has green hair, and the minister’s kid has dedicated his life to his freestyle rap skills. Everybody’s trying on personalities like outfits in an ’80s movie dressing room montage. The girl you fell in love with, is that actually her, or is that one of the personalities she’s testing out? And are you the same person you’ll be five years later?
The worst relationship horror stories I’ve ever heard have all come from this age group. It’s a terrible hit and miss process, done at a time when you’re most vulnerable and emotionally unstable. And every time you bounce back from a bad relationship and give another try, you’re picking up a set of dice made out of your own balls.
“I’m here for our date, you blind fucking consumer. Let’s talk about racism in Pig Latin.”
#2. You’ll be Balancing the Heaviest Workload of Your Life — Or At Least it Feels Like It
So you’ve been out of high school for two years. You’re now in college, halfway to your bachelor’s degree in male pole dancing. You spend the day attending class and your nights working a local taco joint because you realized one month into your first semester that you couldn’t survive on student loans and financial aid alone.
You have four major tests and three research papers due at the end of the week, and you haven’t done a single second’s worth of studying because you planned to do that on downtime at work — and it turns out that drunk people love tacos at 2:30 a.m. after the bars close.
And they are a fucking pleasure to be around.
Meanwhile, your mom has been nagging you to come home for a visit next weekend, and you can’t really get out of it because the last time you were home was during summer break. But you still haven’t taken your girlfriend out, and she’s getting restless around five thousand other college males with working genitalia and an infinite supply of box wine.
You manage to pull off two of your research papers on four hours of sleep, but the other one just plain isn’t going to get finished in time. So you beg your professor for an extension, which he denies because he couldn’t give less of a shit about your problems. His is the only class that exists in the entire school as far as he’s concerned, and you should have spent more time writing and less time taco-ing. He wants it in his hands by tomorrow morning. So you resign yourself to another four hours of sleep and bust out a half-assed paper that will pull a C at best. But since the paper accounts for a quarter of your total grade, it’ll have to do because the F from not turning it in would wreck your GPA.
Meanwhile, your boss at work catches you nodding off during your shift and tells you that your school schedule isn’t his concern. He hired you to make tacos, and if you can’t do that he’ll find someone who can. He has a business to run.
“Now, you get in there and stir 6,000 gallons of meat chunks!”
Now, a lot of the older readers are thinking, “Ha! I run my own roofing business and on top of working 80-hour weeks, I have seven kids, and four of them are in wheelchairs! Try living my life, college kid!” but you worked your way up to that. You got acclimated to going without sleep and having no down time.
When you’re 20 or 21, the sudden change in life’s difficulty curve is an absolute shock. The amount of free time in your life is slashed down to nothing, all at once, and the number of responsibilities suddenly explode. Your body needs sleep more than any time of your life other than infancy, and you’re not allowed to get it.
There is probably at least one war veteran out there eager to point out that at 20 they were in Iraq trying to defuse homemade bombs, but the military is actually a good example — the entire process of basic training is built to shock the recruit into understanding how radically the world’s expectations have changed. Maybe that’s what we all need, some guy to yell it into our face on the first day. Instead, nobody tells you, and all of these new, conflicting expectations just start slowly pulling your limbs off.
“Man, I really need to have my own kids to take this out on.”
#1. You’re Uncertain About Your Adult Status
Twenty is the age where you most likely have a couple of straggler friends who are still in high school. Like say in high school you were a senior and they were a sophomore, but now you’re out. When you were both teenagers, there was nothing strange about it — teenagers hang out together. But when you’re 20 or 21 and you stop by to pick up your friend for lunch, you’re now the weird old guy from Dazed and Confused who refuses to let his high school years die. And you figure, yeah, but even at 18 Steve is cool and mature. But now Steve has a sophomore friend, Matt, who’s only 16. And he’s brought his 14-year-old girlfriend along. And all at once, you realize that some of the people in this car live on a different planet than you.
“So … uh … menstruating yet?”
But even with the Steves of the world, you have these little reminders — they still can’t legally buy alcohol or be caught with it, they’re legally bound to local curfew ordinances, they can’t go into the clubs that you can. And all of that teenager stuff you used to get away with — sneaking beers behind the backs of your parents, etc. — the kind of stuff that would get you grounded back then? If you get caught doing that shit now, your ass goes straight to jail for corruption of a minor. In a hundred different ways the world is telling you, “Move on, dude, this is getting creepy.”
But there’s another side to that coin. When you get into conversations with people just a few years older than you, they’re still fucking treating you like a teenager.
You’re not taken seriously on any adult subject because you have virtually no life experience yet. Your political opinions? “Yeah, that’s what I’d expect from someone your age. You’ll think differently when you’re older.” Opinions on raising children? “Yeah, you’ll laugh at what you just said when you’re 30 and have kids of your own. Hell, you’re still a kid yourself.” And don’t think you can just earn your way out of it — if you are successful in your career right out of school, that just makes people resent you more. They’ll look at you and your advanced work position and say, “I wonder who he’s related to?”
If you want a vivid example of what I mean, try walking onto a car dealership at 20. The salesman won’t come out and try to talk you into a car. He’ll look at you like you’re about to vandalize something. In that setting, you might as well be 13. At a party with teenagers, you might as well be 30.
“I totally fit in here!”
So all the movies that make those years of your life look like a romantic, vibrant sex-o-coaster? Fuck ‘em. I know better.