The only way to separate what you want from what you’ve been told to want is to get it.

I did things in reverse.

I’m reading Penelope Trunk’s Trust yourself in your twenties: you know more than you think.

I spent my 20’s acting like I was 40. College was chill. I didn’t drink much, do any drugs, or hook up. I met my future husband first semester freshman year. I married him immediately after graduating.

Our first five months as newlyweds were incredibly stressful. His teaching contract would be up at the end of the school year, and he didn’t have another job lined up. I had no job at all. 2008 was a bad year to be a recent journalism grad in Birmingham, Alabama. Publishing was dying, and Birmingham was a big publishing town. There were unemployed writers and marketing folks everywhere.

I finally got an office job, doing SEO copywriting for a multinational corporation. Being a white-collar worker was all I had ever wanted. Well, that’s not true. What I really wanted to do was write columns for a living. I wanted to be Ann Coulter. But I settled for marketing when I realized no one gets to go straight to Ann Coulter. And fuck a newspaper job, not that I could get one.

A white-collar office job wasn’t something I took for granted. My mother hauled her two kids to Athens twice weekly to get a degree as a single mother and ended up working on an assembly line. At 22 years old I alone earned more than the average household in Alabama. This was not the land of opportunity. This was a steel town in a country that imports its steel. I didn’t know how much easier it was in other places. I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me.

Job in place, we bought a house in 2009. It was a beautiful one-side brick two-bedroom, two-bath number far from downtown but close to work. It had a little shed in the back where there was just enough room for our lawnmower and for me and Evelyn to smoke weed because hubs didn’t like us to do it in the house.

It was a really nice life. Hubs and I would get frozen yogurt after going to the dollar theater. Work was easy, but still interesting. I had two great friends at the office, ex-hippies a little older than me. I got into the Ron Paul thing a little. We went to church. I tried to make friends at the Ladies Club of Forest Lakes.

That’s how I spent my early 20’s. Then, at 26, I left it all. The husband, the job, and the house. It was hard and scary.

I spent a lot of time regretting that I did it in reverse. I felt embarrassed to be living my early 20’s in my late 20’s. Luckily it wasn’t hard to find people my age in DC still doing drugs, dating, and hooking up. But mostly I hung around the young folks. Still do.

There’s this path you’re supposed to take. Get everything fun out of your system in your 20’s. Find someone to marry in your 30’s. Get a real job. Buy a house. Have a kid. Be an adult when it’s time to adult. People who do it early are lauded as precocious and mature. People who do it late, or don’t do it, are mocked and pitied as perpetual children.

The thing about doing it in reverse is that I got to see behind the veil. I know what it is to adult. And let me tell you fam, it’s overrated. So is partying and drugs and hooking up, to be sure. But there’s no Valhalla waiting for you behind the obstacle course of young adulthood. Finding a husband, buying a house, an office job, none of those things will make you happy. They won’t make you unhappy either. They’re not bad or good things. They’re just things.

Having done it already means I never have to do it again. I might do it again, but I don’t have to open the box to see what’s inside. I know what’s inside. And I know that if I didn’t know what’s inside I’m the kind of person who’d have to open it because I’d need to know.

Here’s what I’d tell someone in their 20’s: There’s no way to separate what you want from what you’ve been told you’re supposed to want except to get it. I thought I wanted a big house. Turns out I prefer a tiny apartment. One more thing: The older women at work know a thing or two. Listen to them.

 

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