I turned 21 recently. Unlike being 16 where I could legally have sex, 17 where I could legally drive and 18 where I could drink, 21 doesn’t really have anything that stands out. I can now adopt a child (ah), hold a pilot’s license for a gyroplane, and buy high strength PVA glue from my local Poundland who refused to serve me it until I was 21.
So my gyroplane flying, gluefilled Saturday night with my new son is sorted, but after that, it’s a continuation of the inevitable and unashamedly stereotypical slide into existential anxiety. I’m not sure why it scares me so much. It’s possibly because 21 is the last boundary before you’re definitely an adult, and it’s possibly because 20’s are the decade people get stuff done. By 30, you’re supposed to have yourself set, it’s not acceptable to still be loitering around the SU bar, so they’re makeor-break years.
Either way, 21 always seemed impossibly old. I remember being 15 and thinking 17 was gonna be amazing, and I being 17 thinking by 21 I’d have my life together, an ambitious hope to say the least. So I turned to everyone’s favourite comfort tool: the World Wide Web. Breathe in. According to Amigo Loans (I’m not sure how I got there), I’m supposed to have passed my driving test, have moved out and have had my first holiday with friends. This all seems pretty good, I have no interest in driving, but besides that things seem to be on track. Breathe out.
However, in just a few years I’m supposed to have been a best man (the only plausible option is for a man I watched pour a shot on himself instead of down his mouth not 24 hours ago, so don’t hold your breath), have got engaged (ah?!), and have started to rent a house on my own. Panic. Panic. Panic. I figured everyone can’t have it together as well as Amigo Loans figured they do.
So I asked a few of my friends how they feel about turning 20/21, and how they feel about getting older. Perhaps the most chilling response of all was, “Yeah it’s a bit odd because I guess it’s all over then isn’t it?” It’s all over then, isn’t it? Apparently we’ve done it. We’ve finished the young days. Passed the tutorial. Completed level 1. Congratulations don’t feel like they’re in order, but probably are.
This revelation that ‘we’ve done it’ hit me hard, partly because I wasn’t sure what the next bit was, or what the bit I’d done was. I found myself looking at the happiness curve which shows people are at their happiest at two points in life: 20, and retirement. It’s downhill in-between.
On top of that, new data from the Prince’s Survey Trust found that young Britons “have never been unhappier.” So even when at our peak, we’ve been at the bottom of a much bigger trough. I was beginning to think turning 21 could be the worst thing that would ever happen to me, but then two things happened.
My two nephews (five and six years old) were walking with me down the road, hand in hand either side of me. A car came round the corner so I made sure they were both on the curb, then I walked, and they stopped. I asked why they were waiting, and the eldest said he was letting me check it was safe because “I’m in charge now” because I was an adult. That’s when you know it’s true, when other people notice it. Either way, I had two kids to look after, and they were my responsibility.
Next, my best mate (the one who can’t drink shots), asked me if I wanted to go on holiday. According to Amigo, we were supposed to go on holiday at 19, and we’d already done that. I was meant to be saving for my first car at this point. Either way, we’re going to Paris now. It might creep up on us, but it’s something we’ve been awfully well prepared for. I’m not sure anyone knows exactly how they’re supposed to do it, so I realise that it’s acceptable to blunder from step to step and laugh about it with everyone else.
I also realised that it’s probably a good idea to stop judging yourself by what you expected adulthood to be like, or by what Amigo Loans tell you. 18-21 was nothing like I thought it would be, but I managed that pretty well, and honestly, spending my life waiting for a mortgage doesn’t sound that fun anyway.