All too often, we hear ominous stories about how adulthood can take away our “lives.” My guy friends, for instance, would always talk about settling down as if it means giving up the freedoms they currently have — no more regular basketball live-streaming with their mates, no more beer pong and video game weekends. My girl friends would also freak out a little when imagining their lives as a soccer mom, when their everyday would be consumed by helping kids get ready in the morning, bringing them to school, doing stuff around the house, fetching kids from school, and repeating the cycle all over the next day.
But I always felt like this isn’t necessarily the case. We romanticize the idea of peaking during our high school or college years, thinking that’s when we live the best of our lives because we have the best people around us. Everything else that comes after is just the natural course of things after the end of our glory days. I disagree. For me, meaningful interactions are not necessarily limited to our youth.
Of course, our teenage years are fraught with self-discovery. That’s when we first have an inkling of our passions and the things we like to do. High school is a time to try out your interests and maybe decide what to pursue in the future. But aside from discovering your identity, it is also a time to have fun with friends and make the craziest, most random memories. Most of us also probably had our first kisses then. I mean, who didn’t go to prom? Being a teenager is like being in a whirlwind of new emotions; it’s fun, adventurous, and romantic.
Unfortunately, some of us stay behind and linger with those memories, choosing instead to idealize those golden days and not to go on and have more adventures, even as an adult. Believing that your teenage years are all there is to life is detrimental to your growth as a person.
I’m sure everyone’s college days were also intense and significant. I, for one, probably had my first real and severe experience of distress during my time in college. Algebra homework in high school? Pfffft. Between my terrifying cultural studies professor who demands a reaction paper on every reading, my thesis that doesn’t seem to want me to graduate, and my fear of unemployment once I do graduate, it’s a whole new level of exhaustion. But this can only mean that our early 20s is a time to harness one’s strengths and start working on maturity.
University is also probably where you get to meet the most diverse set of people. So it’s not just a time to gain fun friends to create crazy memories with, but also to find those who can really help you pursue your goals. Despite of and maybe even because of the raging hormones that are ever-present throughout college, it might also present opportunities to grow into the kind of mature person who can handle actual relationships.
Up to one’s late 20s, I think, is a good time to make mistakes and learn from them, through the different people you meet and the different meaningful interactions that you have, whether romantic or platonic.
I myself am in my mid-20s. And like I’ve mentioned before, real adulthood is what people my age are really afraid of. People in their 30s and 40s are probably more likely to prioritize their careers and families. The assumption is, by then, you will get so caught up in living a normal, stable, and secure life that it just becomes tedious — what meaningful interactions are there for me if I just follow the scripts?
Assuming responsibility is definitely important. But being in one’s 30s or 40s also means extending yourself fully and sharing your life with others. Putting one’s family first doesn’t necessarily entail choosing obligation over passion; maybe it’ll even be fruitful to open up to your kids and have them open up to you about things all of you feel passionate about. Likewise, marriage doesn’t have to kill romance; it can provide a whole different and exciting arena for it.
And finally, because you’ve been working all these years to settle down, now might be a good time to go out and know your community. Meaningful interactions can happen in the seemingly most simple events. Grocery shopping is just a routine, but who knows what interesting people you’ll meet there? Just because you have a home life doesn’t mean no opportunities for spontaneous friendships will make themselves present.
In one’s 30s or 40s, people can’t really afford to rethink their priorities. And they don’t have to. Just treating your neighbors sometime could suffice. Smile at someone in the park. Help a stranger out. Everyone you meet will surely give you a meaningful interaction if you let them.
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