I turned 20 years old last month, and it was just as lackluster an experience as the other milestone birthdays that films like “Sixteen Candles” and “Hannah Montana: The Movie” promised would be exciting. Like the elusive Sweet 16 bash that no one seems to actually host in real life, my 20th birthday lacked any fanfare that would perhaps be expected from a day that signaled my graduation from being a teenager. It’s not that I was expecting to have a big party or celebration; I’m not a huge fan of either, and I enjoyed the cozy night in that my friends and I had to celebrate. However, I had expected to feel a little older and perhaps more like an adult as a result.
Instead, turning 20 only brought forth a whole new set of questions and insecurities to supplement the ones I had already accumulated over my teenage years. I almost feel like I’m in the beginning stages of a quarter-life crisis; I’m 20, and yet it feels as though I haven’t accomplished as much as I should have. I’ve also realized that most of my accomplishments are tied to my academic career, which is great for my resume, but useless otherwise. As cliché and unnecessarily dramatic as this question is, if someone were to make a tombstone for me today, what would be written on it? “Well-rounded student”? Or maybe, “Involved in several extracurriculars”?
Other than bringing forth a slew of unanswerable questions, being 20 also just feels awkward because I’m not a teenager but still can’t legally drink. While I don’t feel like a child anymore (which I’m aware is something that a child would say), and I haven’t in a while, I certainly don’t feel like an adult either. I’m not expecting to suddenly feel like an adult once I turn 21, but being able to drink legally is at least some kind of noticeable way in which my growing older will be recognized. Such a change is nonexistent when turning 20. Being stripped of teenage-hood doesn’t count since it doesn’t do anything but cause a shift in demographic placement and contribute to an identity crisis. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like I’m in limbo, somewhere between being a real adult and a child — like I’m floating between two distinct age groups I’m excluded from.
The truth is, though, that I do belong in an age group — I’m in my 20s. This has also lent itself to revelations that made me feel simultaneously extremely young and old. Celebrities, whom I grew up watching on screen and therefore always perceived as being much older, can now be classified in the same age group as me. Jennifer Lawrence and I are both in our 20s. So are Taylor Swift and Emma Watson. They were teens when I was in elementary school, and entered their 20s at about the time I celebrated having an age that was two digits, and now we’re in the same age group. We won’t be for long, since they will inevitably enter their 30s, but that only serves as a reminder that the next time I enter a new age group will be when I turn 30 — only 10 years away.
My friends also expressed similar feelings regarding my age on my birthday, quipping that I’m “so old” now. These friends are all younger than me or are 19 going on 20 this year, and I have no doubt that my birthday caused them to realize that they, too, will leave their teenage years sooner rather than later. Their reactions show that I’m not only the one who feels this way. Being 20 is a pregame for adulthood, and it invokes contradictory feelings and thoughts for a lot of people, it seems. I’m sure there are people who have no such thoughts when turning 20, but the majority of us are probably cognizant of what it represents: the last stretch in the transition between childhood and adulthood. After we cross that last stretch, there’s no going back. Whether we choose to act like adults or not, the law will eventually bestow us with privileges reserved only for people who are supposedly mature and old enough to handle them.
Being 20 isn’t a hardship, and the quirks that come with it aren’t tangibly burdensome. Since my birthday has passed, I don’t think about my age too often, either. It’s more just a strange detail about myself that confuses me when I do remember. I’m starting to believe that the reason people are so eager to turn 21 isn’t because they want to be able to drink legally, but because doing so lifts the last of age-related bans and firmly sends them into adulthood. At 21, I can drink legally, buy cigarettes and I can even apply to be on “The Bachelor” (though the franchise’s last few choices of bachelors have been discouraging, to say the least). But to put reality shows aside, I hope turning 21 isn’t as disappointing as turning 20.
Krystal Hur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.