People tend to look back on their youth with rose colored glasses, which is fine because if you lived your life without the ability to filter out every little shitty thing that happened to you, you'd go insane. But there is this weird thing with your early 20s, where Hollywood portrays them as the fastest, wildest, road-trippingest years of your life ... but in the real world it's the age when suicide rates suddenly double.
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 ...
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.
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."
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."