On being 20

by Egemen Aray

When I was blowing the candles of my 20th birthday cake, I knew things would be different. The feeling of turning a new page in life felt more serious this time – even when I compare it to the day I turned 18. 18 gave me the right to vote and the relief of no longer fearing whether someone would check my ID during a night out. 20 was more real. And painful. 

We all have our Roman Empires; mine is being a young adult. When I was a 13-year-old teenager, I used to look at people in their 20s and think about how mature they looked/behaved. One only understands how wrong this assumption is after reaching the same age as the people they used to look up to. I still feel like the same old high school kid I was – only with more responsibilities and emotional burdens. Having more responsibilities made me realize how easy it was to be that responsible kid growing up, given that all I had to do was study and hang out with friends. I didn’t have an empty fridge waiting for me to grocery shop, nor did I have to worry about choosing between a weekend getaway to Como and paying my phone bill. These were brand-new anxieties my 20s introduced me to. I used to overthink which burger place to go after school but now it is the cheese I need to consume before it gets moldy that makes me stressed. I cannot overstate the pain that comes with the realization of running out of a clean pair of socks. The simple yet depressing reality of everyday life makes you feel miserable in your 20s. I often think about all the crazy shit I had the energy for when I was growing up. Now, I cannot help but ask each time: Why do I even need to pay for my laundry?

Balancing daily life, friends, family, and school got way harder than it was – because running away from problems no longer solves anything. The more I talk my problems through, the more I realize how I used to repress every emotion during my childhood. All could have been way easier, this made me conclude; for all of us. Instead of pretending like nothing ever happened after huge family fights, we could have… just talked. But family is complicated, right? Being 20 is weird in that sense, too. I spend too much of my time thinking about the unconditional love my mom has for me, yet I still struggle with comprehending it. Maybe that’s why I can no longer feel any anger or resentment when it comes to family, although I still occasionally argue with them. Being away from family makes you realize that nothing was that serious, except for the time that is passing by so quickly. The pain is real when you realize your parents actually get older; the white on their hair makes you feel things you never felt before. And there are no antidepressants to abuse to make this go away because the clock is there; ticking, ticking, ticking. 

20 is fun, too. It would have been unbearable otherwise, right? You learn how to maximize the amount of alcohol you can drink with the last 20€ in your bank account. Thrifting 24/7 is cool for two reasons; firstly, it is cheap. Secondly, you are away from your parents, so they can’t comment on your outfit. If I look like a homeless person, mama, you are miles away to see it now. Partying multiple nights in a row is challenging, but less challenging than hitting the gym frequently. 20s is the only decade in life that gives the freedom to make the most stupid decisions. It sometimes gets more serious than that, though. Choosing a life path to follow makes you think about all the other alternative paths you give up. How horribly limited we are, as Sylvia Plath says. My life is branching out before me like the green fig tree, and I think about all the things I haven’t become.  

It took a simple question for me to realize how I view young adulthood. “What’s your biggest fear?”, asked my friend, as we were chatting. “Snakes…”, I started. “Being jailed because of something I tweet. And turning 30.”, I added. As I get closer to my 30 day by day, I find it funny such a big deal this is to me. And to Dolly Alderton. And to millions out there struggling with the same reality. After all, 20s are all about fucking up and starting all over again – or having no energy to do either. 

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