Adulthood really is terrifying. One f, two fs, an innumerable amount of fs because it’s just fucked, honestly. I can’t not giggle when a song pops up on Pandora and it’s exactly four minutes and twenty seconds long, but I also cry a little every month when trying to figure out how to pay my student loans and rent AND buy groceries.
It’s like I know exactly what I need to do but I’m also a stuffed horse who can’t do anything aside from sit there and have a slightly crooked face or something.
My expectations for myself are simultaneously too high and too… weird. And they just keep getting weirder. I think it’s because I’m almost thirty – because once you pass 25 you’re “almost thirty” until you are thirty, and then you’re “barely thirty” until you’re “approaching forty” and then you’re “dead.”
But being almost thirty means I’m supposed to have it all almost figured out. Maybe I won’t be a homeowner yet, or married, or I’ll still be laughing at 4:20 references, but otherwise things “should be” pretty much whatever they’re “supposed to be” by the time I smash face-first into my third decade whipping around the sun.
This ridiculous imaginary deadline traces back to 2004 when I watched 13 Going on 30 six hundred times.
I’m not kidding.
I was 16 or so when the movie came out and I had no idea whether I’d even make it to be 30 – not because I was a depressed piece of trash (which I was) but because at 16 you’re somehow positive you’re going to be 16 forever and, even though you also know that’s impossible, you’re too young to have taken a psychology class so you don’t know what cognitive dissonance is and you’re just confused and mad all the time as a result of your own ignorance.
For some reason, though, the shitty plot line of that movie helped solidify what society had already mostly convinced me to be true: by the time you’re 30, you should have your shit basically on point.
“Thirty, flirty, and thriving.” That’s what Jennifer Garner repeated to her 13-year-old self before crying on a glittery dollhouse and getting thereby thrown 17 years into her own future, only to discover that she was an asshole. An extravagant asshole, but an asshole nonetheless.
(Again, I’m not kidding. Also: spoiler alert.)
Wasn’t kidding about the glitter, either. You should never kid about glitter.
Anyway, Garner learns that she’s an asshole and is able to find that sparkly dollhouse in her own future and cry herself back to the ’80s, where she fixes all her asshole-ness and tells the popular girls – or “six chicks” – to suck six dicks and that’s the end of the movie.
It wasn’t the life lessons about valuing the friends you have because they’ll grow up to look like Mark Ruffalo (or whatever it was I was supposed to deduce) that stuck with me from this otherwise stereotypical-but-heartwarming romcom. It was that stupid, shitty mantra from the imaginary Cosmo-esque ’80s magazine that Garner meditated herself into the future with: Thirty, flirty, and thriving.
Based on the disaster I’ve created in my last 27 years of living – including the fact that I just had to fucking count on my hands to figure out how old I was, because I swore it was 26 but surprise! I’m 27 – I don’t have high expectations for myself to pull it together in the next 2.5 years. By the time I flop into thirty I think they only thing thriving will be the interest on my student loans, and lord knows I’m not going to get any better at flirting as I get older – aside from with disaster, I guess.
But I can’t avoid the “thirty” part, and I guess one out of three isn’t bad.
(Said no one working with statistics or averages, ever.)
Really though, in spite of being traumatically socially awkward, I manage in the flirtation department, so I’m not necessarily worried there. And I don’t anticipate thriving at any point in my life; I chose to be a public educator for about seven different reasons, but not a single one of them had to do with money.
I just wish someone put one of those car mirror warnings on growing up. Like, “Warning! Responsibilities in the future are closer than they appear and also you just ran over a squirrel because you’re reading this warning and not paying attention to the road, IDIOT CHILD.”
But no one ever told me how hard my 20s would be. Amazing, but so fucking hard.
Are adults just afraid to be honest with us when we’re young, because they know the reality of adulthood is so much harder than anyone anticipates it to be? Or is it just so much harder now than it’s ever been before, and the grown-ups are all standing around scratching their heads and shrugging like, “Gosh, I just have no idea how to help here.”
The latter seems to most realistic, since I guess I’m a grown-up now and when I think about advising young people on how to be successful in their adult lives I really have no idea what to prepare them for. Who knows what the world will look like in ten years? And ten years ago, who knew it’d look like this?
In the end, I can’t begrudge Those Who Knew Better for not telling me that I was mostly living my life wrong for the majority of it because, in their defense, they probably had no idea themselves. And even if I could begrudge them, nothing good ever came from begrudging. So maybe that’s the wrong thing to focus on.
Or maybe I just need to find my own glittery dollhouse so I can cry myself back to being sixteen and tell myself to not plan my life based on the expectations outlined in a moderately popular, early 2000s romantic comedy.