Your 20s Are For Trying On New Identities

I know the internet is teeming with trite blogs about your 20s: words neatly condensed into bullet points and numbered lists to relate to the masses. I can’t relate.

“‘Your desultory 20s,’ my mother calls my lost time, trying to make it sound reasonable and fun, but it started before I was 20 and lasted much longer.” — Jennifer Egan, The Goon Squad

I stumbled into my 20s. I wanted to extract all the syrupy sweetness that youth and the 20s has to offer. I did so hungrily and eagerly, as though I was tapping a maple tree for syrup. I made reckless, impulsive choices. In other words, I found out you can’t try to taste all that sweetness without tasting the bitter too, growing wary. You can’t become full if you’re always making yourself hollow.

A few weeks ago I finally marched into my 30s standing tall, albeit a bit bruised and weathered.

I am 30. Three-zero. The words rolling off my tongue feel unnatural. Strange. What does it mean to be a woman in the upper-Midwest without a husband, a family, a mortgage, a dog? What is it about people in their 20s these days? Why can’t us Millennials just grow up already? As values have shifted and our knowledge of development has expanded, the quarter-life crisis has seemingly replaced the mid-life crisis in cultural lexicon.

I know the internet is teeming with trite blogs about your 20s: words neatly condensed into bullet points and numbered lists to relate to the masses. I can’t relate. I find them to be reductive, oversimplified. Plus I am a misfit. An oddball, if you will. My blog is not a life hack, it is not an advice column. It is a story of surviving my tumultuous 20s, things that don’t make for pretty bullet points. Psychologists call this phase “emerging adulthood,” piggy-backing off psychoanalyst Erik Erikson who theorized the primary conflict of the 20s is finding intimacy or being isolated. The existential quest for love and closeness in marriage, long-term friendships and partnerships, genuine lasting connections, career.

I see this quest and metamorphosis throughout my 20s. A girl who was not quite sure who she was, trying on different identities for size, fit, and shape. Trying to see what fit and just as importantly, what did not fit. The winding trajectory of my 20s can be easily seen via my experimentations with image from vintage to punk and rockabilly, girly and tomboy. I wore an eyebrow ring, a lip ring, gauged ears, a few tattoos, bright blue hair, and hot electric pink and purple streaks. I was athletically built, then went soft around the center, edgy and gaunt with protruding bones. The party animal then the home body.

I think that is what the teens and 20s are for, a time of experimentation. As a bookish teenager, I so eagerly wanted approval that I didn’t feel comfortable rebelling against societal expectations until later when I began to question why things were the way they were.

I invented and destroyed identities. More than most maybe. Some I was proud of, others will only live in the folds of memory and yellowing dusty notebook pages. I was the cry baby. I cried and I cried and my tears were baptisms. I tried to be tough and apathetic but it never was convincing. I was the drunk girl and I was the sober girl. I was indecisive. I changed majors four times until I decided to just choose three of my favorites: English, psychology, and social work. I was a typical then an older-than-average college student.

I loved passionately, ferociously, I wanted forever and I didn’t. I was the health nut, doing yoga every day for a year and drinking smoothies, then lazy drinking Coke, sleeping, feel depressed. I did everything from work at a homeless shelter to change adult diapers to baby diapers to document processing for only a few days. My car has been broken into three times, my identity has been stolen, sacred things stolen. My dignity stolen and broken. I was homegrown and uprooted, a Fargo girl and a big-city Portland girl.

Through it all, what I have figured out in trying identities and things on for size are some consistent traits and values that have become etched into my personality and being. I love and feel passionate about writing and creativity, I savor books, music, and art and don’t care about sports. I am a bleeding heart. I am a dreamer, a free-spirit. Passion is more important to me than power or money. I prefer adventure and spontaneity to routine and order.

Although I may be forgetful and often run late, I will be there when it matters, listen and care. I have made friends who are like family, friends who have picnics with me when I am in the emergency room and bring me flowers and books to the hospital, friends who let me live in their basement and let me be the first one to babysit their newborn. Friends who inspire, never give up, listen, and care through it all.

I may have veered off the paved road for 20-somethings, especially in this geographic area. I can count on one hand the number of high school classmates I know of who are unmarried and don’t have kids. But their journey isn’t mine, they probably haven’t experienced or seen the extremes that I have: from the dark Marianna trenches to carefree, adventurous trips all over the West coast. So no, I don’t feel left behind, or destined to be a cat lady for life (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I am writing a book, I am applying to graduate school for English and creative writing.

What once felt like a crisis now feels like growth, even if sometimes it meant slashing and burning. I’ve emerged. You will, too.

Tessa Torgeson is a social worker by day and aspiring writer, yogi, friend, and cat lady by night. She works and freezes her bones off in North Dakota.

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