“Let me tell you something about being twenty-five,” my friend Maya said to me a few years ago. It was February, the dead of winter, and we were living in Bushwick with a band of boys, still enjoying the noise and the activity and the grime of five roommates.
Maya had just celebrated her birthday that week. Mine, still six months in the future, made me — at twenty-four — still a youngster in her eyes.
“It’s so strange,” she told me, lowering her voice as if sharing a secret. “Since my birthday, I can’t sleep through the night. The last night I was twenty-four, I slept like a baby. Then I turned twenty-five, and I’m up like clockwork, at three, four, five in the morning. It’s like — I’m old.”
We thought this over. “This must be what happens when you’re twenty-five,” she said gravely, and we sat in silence, staring, shaking our heads.
These past few months, with most of my friends on the cusp of turning thirty, there have been countless jokes about what no longer seems possible in our lives. Our bodies, once able to endure the ongoing abuse of either too much work or too much play, ache in new and mysterious ways. Recovering from injuries takes longer. No one can suppress their yawns past midnight, or manage more than two drinks before becoming wary of a hangover.
Nick, exhausted one night after a bike ride over the Williamsburg Bridge in the cold, was kidded by a friend afterward. “You’re almost thirty, man — you can’t be doing this stuff anymore.”
We laugh about all of this — and of course, everyone realizes that none of us is, by any stretch of the imagination, old — but still, there’s a tinge of fear to the fun. What do we lose, I’ve wondered, by leaving our twenties behind?
Earlier this fall, I had coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a few months — another writer, and a former college classmate. Since graduating, he co-founded a literary magazine, received a Master’s degree in creative writing, and moved into an apartment in Brooklyn with his girlfriend. Still, he told me, life post-college didn’t look quite like what he’d expected. “I was recently part of a panel discussion on writing in your twenties,” he said. “I ended up telling a roomful of people that I spend large portions of my day in pajamas, writing from my couch.”
“But you’ve come so far,” was all I could say. “Think about all of the ways our lives are completely unrecognizable from when we left college.”
We live on our own. We have deeper friendships, and better perspective. We make smarter choices (some of the time, anyway). We feel more confident. I’ve realized that for all that I’ve lost after a decade of adulthood, what’s been gained makes letting go of a youth — whose start and end are only purely imagined — much easier and much more joyful.
My friend Emily told me about visiting her parents in their home country of France last summer, and having the very surreal experience of finding herself as an adult in a place she’d only known as a child. It was wonderful, she said. It was powerful, and liberating.
Here and there, in flickers and flashes, I’ve had moments like this, too. It’s strange where it hits you: alone at the laundromat; smiling at babies; sitting down to dinner at friends’ apartments and realizing that people who seem so cultured and complete aren't elders but are, in fact, peers.
Sometimes I’ll catch my reflection in the glass windows of shops in the street and find I barely recognize what I see. Very often I look away. Other times, I look twice, struck with the impulse to smile and wave — the same gestures I’ve offered strangers once or twice, when I’ve made eye contact in passing and, for reasons I can’t explain, felt a curious inkling that we could be friends.
You can find my previous POV entries, here. Thank you so much for reading. Photo via Emily Johnston's Instagram.