Being in your 20s is a breeze in comparison to childhood – you just don’t realise it
Conventional wisdom has it that your twenties are a scary time – and it’s true that some parts are trying. You still get ID’d at the Sainsbury’s self-check-out queue by someone who seems half-convinced that you’re using a fake drivers’ licence for a wild night of Merlot, Chipsticks and gangland destruction. When your bank manager tells you that you qualify for a credit card, you get the same feeling as you did when a smartly dressed stranger asked you to come outside of the school gates just for a second so you can see the basket of puppies he’s got inside his van. And your mum still tells you your room is messy and occasionally even tries to wipe your mouth with the back of her sleeve.
But at the same time, your (my) little sister – now at university, despite the fact that you only helped potty-train her yesterday – will swan round to your flat at some point and announce that the bar she went to last night was deeply uncool because it was “full of 25-year-olds pretending they’re not old”.
For all of these reasons and more, there’s an abundance of commentary around at the moment on quarter life crises and how to avoid, embrace or navigate them. Most of them focus on the terror people our age supposedly feel when faced with the reality that no one’s going to write you a note to get out of that meeting at work or pick you up when you have a meltdown at a party. But those articles don’t chime with me.
Perhaps it’s because I spent a lot of my childhood being shuttled between different caregivers as school holidays, weekends and special occasions were segmented seemingly randomly by mysterious forces I had no control over. Or perhaps it’s because I’m what my mother euphemistically terms “quietly controlling”. But I’ve never felt that adulthood is scarier than childhood.
Adulthood to me means knowing I’ll never be a pawn in a parental dispute. I’ll never have to sit for hours at a table staring down food that makes me want to vomit. I’ll never have a book taken off me because reading isn’t a sociable enough exercise. I’ll never stand in the changing rooms being called unprintable words by a PE teacher because I didn’t catch the ball in rounders and I didn’t care. In other words, finally entering financially independent adulthood has been greeted with a huge sigh of relief.
If you’re deeply ensconced in millennial panic, you might think your freedom is a small price to pay for a complete lack of responsibilities. But you only have to look at Madonna and her son Rocco’s public estrangement to see how that logic can quickly unravel.
It’s funny how much your routines can change when left to your own devices. As a child I lived in a TV-heavy household, where the box was the centre of every room – including every bedroom – and the default activity was sitting in front of it. Since moving out, I’ve never once owned a TV or missed it (despite what the periodic threatening letters from the TV licensing authority through my door seem to imply).
Recent figures suggest that’s a growing trend, with 16 to 35-year-olds the least likely age group to have a TV in their household and the least likely to watch TV programmes or series at all, even when taking into account their internet habits. Our lifestyles are defined by connectivity and communication. We aren’t happy to be passive consumers. We believe that we all have an equal right to wade in on debates with our own opinions, even if we don’t have doctorates in the subject or aristocrats for parents. For this transgression we are often labelled ‘special snowflakes’ by people who would rather we knew our place.
These are all the reasons why young adulthood in 2016 is brilliant. It’s true that salaries are low, rents are high and benefits are being slashed. These are serious issues impacting on many of our lives, mine included. But our voices have never been heard so clearly. We’ve never been able to seek out kindred spirits so easily.
Whenever you feel your cortisol levels rising, you should try to take a deep breath and appreciate the uniquely twentysomething privilege of being youthful yet entirely independent. In other words, your mean new stepmum isn’t going to unexpectedly pick you up from work, you don’t have to do your homework to the blaring, floorboard-rumbling rabble of Top Gear, and people are still going to good-naturedly forgive your naiveté.
Post-adolescent acne and electricity bills aside, is there any freedom sweeter than that?