When I was around 13 years old, I became absolutely desperate to be in my 20s. I was just old enough to desire independence but still too immature to handle it. I imagined my 20s as this glittering time in my life when I would have my own apartment, spend my evenings partying and eventually meet the love of my life. I envisioned my 20s as the best decade of my life; I wouldn’t be burdened with children yet, and I would still be young and in shape. I would also have a high-power, high-paying job. I would never be alone, and my life would be magical.
Though I’m not too far into my 20s, I have to say this experience hasn’t been what I expected. From what I’ve seen so far, adulthood actually consists of living with roommates in cheap apartments, praying to find a well-paying job after graduation and using mobile apps to hook up with people you hope aren’t weird. Overall, this decade will most likely consist of inconsistency, of never settling in one place long enough to establish a community.
Once you make friends in one place, you find yourself moving again to a different city. And from what I’ve been told by those in their late 20s, life won’t really settle down until long after college is over. You move out of your parents’ home, try to make friends wherever you go and get used to being alone. Instead of being called “the most exciting decade of your life,” maybe this decade should be labeled “the loneliest decade of your life.”
This year, I’ll be a senior. Since starting college, I have switched living arrangements five times and moved permanent residences once. I believe this living situation is pretty normal for a college student, but the process of constantly changing homes creates a real feeling of isolation. When the people you usually see on a day-to-day basis suddenly change, you have to find comfort and a feeling of home inside yourself instead of in those around you.
I’ve come to recognize many aspects of my life — my possessions, my goals, even my friendships — as temporary. Upon graduating, I won’t know when I’ll see my friends in person again. What I once considered to be perennial facets of my daily life have now become temporary situations I’ll need to prepare to live without.
Yet I’ve also discovered there are some benefits of being lonely for an extended period of time. Of course, when you’re living in that solitary moment, it’s hard to see what good can come out of a long period of solitude. But nothing helps two people get to know each other better than being forced to spend a lot of time together; the same works for getting to know yourself. When you are forced to be alone, you learn a lot more about how you function, what your likes and dislikes are and thus how you can better succeed.
Without the influence of outside voices, you really begin to know what makes you, you. And I have found that a place or a city is most accessible not when I have a lot of friends there, but when I’m not afraid of exploring it on my own. True confidence and self-assurance don’t come from being surrounded by friends and family, but from knowing yourself well enough to be able to spend an extended period of time alone.
It’s true that my 20s haven’t quite yet lived up to the expectations I held when I was 13. I’m not super rich and I don’t have a bajillion friends and as clichéd as this sounds, I’ve come to the awful understanding that our lives are not at all like the young-people sitcoms we used to watch. But every day I learn something new about myself, and every day I’m a little bit stronger, a little bit more confident for it. And even though I can’t wait until I’m (hopefully) financially and personally settled in my 30s, I’m trying to enjoy the freedom and independence I know I only get to experience when I’m on my own.
Elena Hubbell can be reached at email@example.com.