You are sunshine
You are roses and buttercups
You are starlight and Saturn’s rings
You are a storm of beauty.
You are sunshine
You are roses and buttercups
You are starlight and Saturn’s rings
You are a storm of beauty.
I don’t think I was ever one of those people who planned their dream wedding. There’s so many misconceptions about love, romance, and happily ever afters. I think the biggest is that no one ever lives happily ever after, not really. Because life isn’t happy all the time, and a relationship isn’t happy all the time, and moments aren’t happy all the time. I think marriage is a lot like paying taxes: everyone expects you to do it eventually, but no one prepares you for the reality. In spite of the fact that millions of people have done the same thing before you, you’re not given an extensive education on the subject. You go in blind, hoping for the best, not necessarily prepared for the worst, but you try anyway.
It’s interesting to think about the reasons why people get married in the first place. There’s all the right reasons of course: meeting someone you genuinely want to spend your life with, meeting someone you want to start a family with, wanting someone to love and share all the good and bad moments with. There’s a beauty and an almost fantastical ideology behind love. It’s probably the only thing in this world that can make us feel like, in the right moments, that we’re living in a magical place. But other reasons people get married is to avoid something that is uncomfortable to them, primarily the idea of ending up all alone.
Most people feel their best knowing they have some level of independence. But human beings are highly dependent creatures. We want to know that if we need help, someone will be there to support us. Whether it’s physical or emotional, we rely on others to keep us content, healthy, and safe. Despite this need for human connection, there’s so many cultures in our world where people are largely left to fend for themselves. We’re a species that needs others, and yet when someone (typically an adult) is in need, we want them to deal with it themselves. One thing that becomes apparent as you enter into adulthood is that there’s very few people who are there to support you in all the big ways.
When you’re young and in school, you often have a wealth of communities to be a part of, and people who will offer you support simply because of your age, and consequently, lack of ability to be more independent. There’s an emphasis to make sure kids have community, an education, and activities to be involved it. Adults have to carve these things out for themselves, and depending on location and circumstances, that can be a challenge.
That’s not to say that adolescence is an inherently more enjoyable time in one’s life (even though some people may indeed feel this way). Ironically enough, the freedom and independence that adulthood can bring can be liberating, scary, but ultimately something many of us wouldn’t want to give up. For me, it’s less about wanting to be a kid again, and more about wanting to bridge a gap. I want the independence and self-sufficiency that I need to develop as an adult, but I also want to have access to many of the (often free) programs I had as an adolescent, many of which made it easy to do things I loved while meeting other people.
The transition from adolescent years to adulthood raises an interesting question: does independence have to equal isolation? What would an America that emphasized a greater sense of community and support among adults look like? Can we value independence and ingenuity while also acknowledging that none of us can handle life’s hurdles alone?
I think that, in some ways, marriage (and committed relationships of all kinds) are one answer to the problem of adult isolation. But is it enough? When I was in school (even in college), I noticed an attitude toward romantic relationships that was quite different, and maybe a bit more negative, than the attitudes people have when they are no longer in school. When I lived in my dorm, there was one girl in my hall who didn’t socialize much with the other girls in the building, but her boyfriend visited her often. I knew more than one person who expressed that it was unhealthy for her to spend so much time with her boyfriend without making other friends.
Naturally, no one could know what her social life was like outside of the dorm. Perhaps she had enough friends. Perhaps she was in more of an adult mindset than her peers were. When I was in high school, there would sometimes be a level of animosity if it seemed like a girl was choosing her boyfriend over spending time with her friend group. In school, everyone wants to be dating someone, but there’s almost this unspoken rule that platonic relationships are key in order to have a healthy, balanced social life.
But in the adult world, past the college stage, keeping up with friends becomes less realistic. People have jobs or they are dealing with unemployment. Some people are getting married and others are getting over breakups. Some people are having children. Suddenly, a person is spending most of their time with their significant other, only this time, it isn’t “unhealthy” or odd or antisocial, it’s just the norm. Spending time with a significant other and family makes sense. There’s a change in lifestyle and, consequently, a change in social expectations.
Adulthood comes with a certain expectation of self-sufficiency. A person is expected to have a career that can support their lifestyle: one that probably includes paying for their own housing, food, car, healthcare, clothes, etc. It’s the whole reason our parents, schools, and communities raise us, so we can eventually obtain all of life’s essentials and luxuries on our own. There’s also an expectation that one will enter a long-term, committed, typically heterosexual and monogamous relationship. This person should also be self-sufficient, having a career so they can afford housing, food, clothes, etc. Then, there may be an expectation that this couple will have children, whom they will raise until they can be self-sufficient themselves.
It’s a cycle. But are we doing this thing right?
It’s been expressed for years now that in the U.S, about half of all marriages end in divorce. Do I think this is a bad thing? No. I’m twenty-five years old. I don’t want the same things that I wanted when I was twenty. And the things I want when I’m thirty may be entirely different than what I want now. People change. People and relationships should be allowed to change. I don’t see the divorce rate in this country as a failure. I see it one way our culture’s obsession with self-sufficiency has actually paid off: no one feels the need to stay in an unhappy or unhealthy marriage out of fear. Fewer people in the history of humankind are left to worry that without their marriage, they have no means of meeting their needs for basic survival.
In the grand scheme of things, I probably know relatively few married couples. And I know even fewer who have relationships that I’d aspire to emulate. Too many people, from the outside looking in (and with an enormously limited amount of information) seem to be in unhappy marriages. There’s a lot of reasons why people get married, and usually those reasons are on the extreme ends of things they hope for and things they fear.
But why do people who are unhappy in their marriages stay married? New relationships are always more exciting than those that have been established for a while. Unhappy people might stay married for their children. Another reason is, again, fear. Leaving a marriage means going into an unknown future where one is scared, uncertain, and of course, alone. That fear of loneliness can influence a lot of people in their most life-changing decisions.
One of the reasons early adulthood is so stressful is that it seems everyone wants, and feels they are expected to, achieve all of the adult milestones at once. People want to have their careers and their love lives in order by the time they reach the age of thirty. But that first decade of adult years is more often filled with trial and error than certainty.
Lots of people reach their mid-twenties and find a good relationship, maybe have their first child, but are still figuring out their careers and finances, and many are still supported financially by their parents. Others have their career path figured out and a decent level of financial stability, but haven’t found the relationship they want. Few people seem to have both of these areas balanced out in their twenties, and nothing is set in stone or “finished” because these are areas of growth, Relationships, careers, and one’s sense of self are constantly evolving.
When I was younger, if I thought of marriage, I probably thought of it as a simple, singular, and even somewhat isolated concept. But now, I can’t think of it without acknowledging how it connects to other areas of adulthood. I don’t know for sure if I want to be married. But I do know that I want to be financially independent first. I know I want to find new ways to do something I love while meeting new people. I know that I want to be free to grow, change, and evolve without the weight of other peoples’ expectations influencing my choices.
I know that if I do get married, I don’t want it to be because I’m afraid of being alone. And I don’t want it to be because people think it’s odd that I’m not spending all of my time with a significant other, much like my school peers thought it was weird if someone didn’t spend more time with their platonic friends.
It’s a complex idea to navigate; the concept that we should be these independent beings, but also that we should be partnered with someone. This idea that we should be able to handle paying bills, feeding ourselves, and keeping a roof over our head on our own, but also that too much independence is considered strange.
There’s a lot of potential in the human ability to be independent while maintaining a need to rely on others. If only our society could learn to allow these needs to intersect instead of prioritizing one over the other at different times, tipping the scales to opposite extremes and constantly leaving people to feel as though they are failing at something–the paradox of either having too much independence or not enough of it.
One’s ability to support themselves with food, clothing, and shelter are needed for survival. But marriage? Marriage is but one solution to the complex problem of loneliness. Our views of family, relationships, and community rarely extend to support those who are not married. It leaves few other options. But maybe people who aren’t married need more options to feel like they aren’t alone in this world.
I think that in many ways, (consensual, healthy) marriage is good for people. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone. I don’t have much of an answer to the question of whether or not I want to get married. I’m twenty-five. Ask me again when I’m thirty.
I turned 25 just over a month ago. It feels like an important age on some level. In a weird way it feels like I’m officially an adult. Like I can feel more empowered in my choices because, at this point, who really cares what anyone else thinks? I’m not saying that this age is the epitome of drinking from the fountain of wisdom. I think it’s far from it. Which is interesting, because I feel like I’ve experienced and learned a lot, especially in the past few years. But at the same time, there’s still so much left to experience and learn.
There’s a wealth of wisdom you gain when you reach 30, 40, 50, and so on. It really puts things into perspective. This (my twenties) is just one chapter in my life, one stage where all I can do is trust my intuition, try my best, and see where all of that takes me. Still, at this point in my life, I’ve learned a lot of things, many of which I’d probably pass down to my younger self if I could. Here’s 12 lessons I’ve learned by 25.
1 – Go at your own pace. They call your twenties your “defining decade” for a reason. In a way, they’re like the high school years of adulthood. You’re figuring out who you are, what you like, and the kind of life you see yourself living. It’s pretty huge! The people around you are all going to be at different stages in their careers, finances, romantic relationships, and family life. In the age of social media, it is especially tempting to compare your journey to another person’s. Don’t. Your path is yours alone. It is unique. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
2 – Milestones are optional. In some ways, birthdays bring expectations. You may feel like reaching a certain age means that you should already have your own place, a stable career, your own car, the love of your life, and even your firstborn child. I don’t think it’s emphasized enough that you are not REQUIRED to do anything at all by a certain age. There is no such thing as being a “late bloomer” in love, career, or any other aspect of life. When you reach retirement age, do you think anyone (including you) is going to look back on your life and judge you for things you didn’t accomplish in your twenties? Of course not. So just live. Take your time. Do things your way. Don’t worry about anything, just keep being better than you were yesterday. Keep growing.
3 – Foster meaningful relationships. My personal philosophy is that one meaningful friendship is better than ten acquaintances. The other side of that is that building a relationship takes time. Invest your time into good people. By the time you reach your thirties, your job, city, and romantic relationships may change a few times, but good, healthy friendships can last for life. (Sometimes friendships also run their course, and that is okay, too). But overall, investing in good friends/family members is a great thing to do for your future (and present) self.
4 – Passions can evolve. I’ve always been someone who is passionate about many things. Art, music, theater, animals, the environment, helping people, etc. People often say to “do what you love,” and many times this message suggests that you should love doing one thing for the rest of your life. While it’s important to find focus in your career, it’s okay to try different things and to change your mind. (In fact, most people do exactly that). I studied theater in college before I changed my major to English. I focused on writing for a few years before realizing it wasn’t an easy way to pay the bills, so now I’m pursuing social work. I still love theater, I still love writing, and now I can pursue a career that will allow me to help others, which is something I’ve always been passionate about as well.
5 – You don’t have to be good at something right away. This is something I feel needs to be emphasized more, especially in schools. You don’t have to be good at something the first, second, or even third time you try it. You can be terrible at something, but spend a few months or even years improving your skills. This goes for anything: math, writing, sports, and even other areas of life such as dating, interviewing, and communicating. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to fail. Most things you fail at in life are not going to have high stakes (i.e – it’s not brain surgery). So give yourself a break. Let yourself fail. Let yourself improve.
6 – Do things for personal enrichment. So much of our twenties revolve around “getting our lives together.” We go to school so we can have a career. We get a job so we can afford our own place, food, etc. We date so we can find “the one.” So many of the things we do are so serious, with long-term thinking in mind. And all of these things are good. Like I said before, your twenties are the foundation of your adult life. In the midst of all this, make time for things you do “just because.” Read good books, try a new sport, go for hikes, talk to strangers at happy hours, go to concerts. Do things just for fun. These are the things you’ll remember years from now, and these are the things that will keep you from being too stressed out.
7 – Don’t worry about what people think. This one is always easier said than done. But the truth is, there’s always going to be people judging you for something. More than that, people will expect you to live the way THEY are living. People who are married will expect you to get married, too. People who have kids will expect you to have kids, too. People who have good careers will expect you to have one, too, etc. But at the end of the day, no one is living your life for you. If people can’t respect the way you live, happily show them the door.
8 – Give yourself options. It’s easy to feel like you have to find one career, one life partner, one place to live, etc. But you don’t have to limit yourself, especially not in your twenties. Give yourself options for your career. Don’t settle down and get married just because others expect you to (do it because you genuinely want to). Exploring your options can save you from looking back years later, thinking, “I wish I knew I had another choice.”
9 – Be honest. Be honest with yourself and the people you care about. If you’re going through a hard time, talk to someone. Don’t feel like you have to do everything on your own. The more authentic you are in the way you live, the easier it will be to find the right opportunities for you.
10 – Forgive, but don’t forget. By the time you reach twenty-five, you’ve already gathered your fair share of “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” and regrets. You may look back on your life and wish you had chosen a different college major, a different romantic partner, a different city to live in sooner, etc. The sooner you learn how to forgive yourself, the more inner peace you’ll have. There will also be other people who may have hurt you or betrayed you, sometimes in more extreme ways than others. Forgiving other people is a personal thing, and sometimes it’s too hard. But taking care of yourself and being patient with your journey is a good start. If something from the past is affecting you in the present, consider talking to a loved one or working through it with a therapist.
11 – Do activities you enjoy. When you’re trying to pursue your career goals, it can be easy to let other passions, like music or fitness, fall to the back burner. Try to make time for personal projects. Join groups that share your interest. Take an enrichment class or two. Nurturing your talents is a great way to boost your confidence and do things you can feel proud of.
12 – Help others. Whether you support your friends when they need someone to talk to or donate to a good cause, it’s important to give back. You have unique gifts you can use to help others or brighten someone’s day. Knowing you can make a difference, even a small one, can give you a sense of purpose and keeps you motivated. In addition, being there for others often means having people who will be there for you as well. You give love, you get love.
These are some of the lessons that I’ve learned by 25. Life is a journey, and we all pick up different nuggets of wisdom along the way. Learning new things means that you are growing and evolving, and that is always a reason to feel proud of how far you’ve come.
You deserve to pause and feel the rain. You deserve guilt-free cupcakes and moments of laughter. You deserve friends who love you and people who respect you. You deserve peaceful nights and rested mornings. You deserve walks in the park and time to gaze at the stars. You deserve to hear your favorite music and to dance around your room. You deserve to smile. You deserve hugs and hot tea and warm blankets. You deserve kisses. You deserve adventures and new beginnings. You deserve to be happy where you are. You deserve to have your dreams come true.
[This poem is taken from my book of nature poems.]
And the cool drops
Pitter-patter on the sidewalk
Birds find shelter
In tall trees
As a gentle wind rustles the leaves
The sun shower kisses your hands
And your face
And everything smells like spring
Flowers drink up the water
And your worries are washed away
Today is a new day, a fresh start.
Don’t keep me in the dark
Tell me your feelings
Paint them onto my wrists
Let me taste the truth on your lips
Don’t leave me in the dark
Stay by my side
In a storm of secrets
In the calm of lying awake, side by side.
You take my breath away
You add color to my daydreams
Your hugs are sweeter than honey
And your quirks are works of art
I whisper in the moonlight
I ask the stars to keep you safe
I ask the night sky to sweeten your dreams
And for your corner of the world to be happy.