I wanted to write a letter to my Twenties, explaining how “it’s not you; it’s me.” I wanted to give this fabulous decade of my life some closure, some understanding. I didn’t want her to lay awake at night, reviewing our every moment spent together, wondering where she’d gone wrong.
I figured explaining my thought process and the inevitability of our parting to her would be the compassionate thing to do. And maybe it would be. But then I would also simultaneously be robbing her of the greatest lesson she could ever learn—that life doesn’t always give you perfectly packaged, tied-with-a-bow kind of closure.
I mean, I loved her. I really did. In fact, I still do in a way. And probably always will. How could I not?
We learned how to love together. We navigated the ups and downs of friendships and relationships, and we accepted that life isn’t always perfect. Or at least we tried to. We can both be kind of stubbornly hopeful.
We learned SO much about people and the world because we took so many classes in so many different programs, and she encouraged me to say “yes” to almost anything that came along. She was really good at motivating me and pushing me to believe in myself and take chances. Kind of makes me sad in a way, given the leap I’m about to take into a new decade, away from her.
We grew up a bit and learned how to take constructive criticism, but we also learned how to filter out what is sometimes just projection from other people. To this day though, we both still struggle with figuring out what is our fault and what we can let go without claiming as our own. I’m hoping this new relationship with my Thirties will help me increase my discernment with those difficult situations.
We opened our minds to how amazing it is that we are all so different. We began to not only understand but also truly, truly value and admire those who think and live differently than we do. We’ve still been trying to figure out the balance between surrounding ourselves with people who will challenge us but also love, support, and encourage us. So we’re super grateful for having found so many people who do a lot of both.
We finally recognized the things we’re good at, and we also acknowledged the things we may never, ever be good at—like cooking, cleaning, paying bills. You know, the usual life stuff. Try as we might, we’re never going to be naturals at that. But at least now we don’t beat ourselves up about not being perfect.
We worked a million different places—restaurants, a hotel, an architecture firm, a magazine publisher, a marketing agency, a production company, a university. We experienced all kinds of work environments and met all kinds of people. We did all kinds of things, like take out the bathroom trash and drive a shuttle van and travel to Walt Disney World and help students figure out what they want from life. We’ve kind of come to the conclusion that we may never come to a conclusion about what it is we want from our own lives though.
We also had tons of ridiculous fun. We sang a lot of karaoke, swam at a lot of pool parties, danced until our toes went numb at countless wedding receptions, made new friends everywhere we possibly could, got married, learned how to improvise and listen and understand people, figured out how to move like a pro, and traveled around our own country and many others. We pretty much shared all of our major life experiences together.
That’s why our parting is so ironic—she is the reason I think I finally love myself enough to say goodbye to her. I no longer need her the way I once did.
For all that she gave to me, she also drained me of energy worrying so much about how to make other people like or accept us. She wanted us to have everyone’s approval all the time, and it was exhausting trying to figure out how to get that from countless people all at once. She would worry a lot about what might happen and had a weird love of searching her every symptom on WebMD. Thank goodness she finally got over that. She was anxious, unsettled. I suppose that’s why she was always onboard when I wanted to switch into a different graduate program or pursue a completely new career path. She craved change and had a love-hate relationship with commitment, so that was perfect for her.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m incredibly grateful that she was so flexible and excited about new things. I think that’s something about her that I’d like to always remember and carry with me. However, she could never quite manage to learn how to be happy where she was, how to be content in the moment. I’ve been growing into that, and she seems to refuse to join me.
She’s been resistant to my being myself and sharing that with other people. She bites her nails in nervous anticipation when I share an honest thought or feeling. Whenever I say, “No, thank you,” to an opportunity or an invitation, as soon as we’re alone in the car, she cries, “Why did you do that?! You might be missing out on something great!”
And, for a minute, I believe she has a point. But then I do what I had promised myself I’d do—like write an article or read a book I’ve been trying to get to for weeks or clean my house so I can feel sane or go buy some groceries to actually cook a decent meal for my body with a metabolism that is bound to slow down any day now and needs to be treated a lot better—and I realize that I owe those things to myself. I realize that she’s holding me back a bit. Because not everything that is “great” in life is breathtakingly fun every moment of every day. There is also great joy to be found in relentless dedication to people and paths and purposes.
She has encouraged and supported my emotional and spiritual growth, and she has inspired and taught me so much about love and passion. I’ll never forget her for that. Ever.
But my Thirties have been promising me that if I invest the time and energy into some things that may not have seemed so alluring before—like a decent night’s sleep and meditation and some hobbies and an exercise routine and a healthy diet and a clean home and an organized budget and an actual plan for my career—then I just might find a different kind of happiness than I’ve ever known before.
I know that this impending decade may sound a bit boring. But, trust me, she is anything but. She still has that glean in her eye that my Twenties did but also possesses the kind of wisdom that I can only hope to attain one day. I hate to admit this, but, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve kind of been cheating on my Twenties with my Thirties for about six months now. So I’m not saying all of this with blind hope—I’ve actually experienced a fraction of this kind of clarity and joy for a while now. And I want more.
So, really, what could I write to my Twenties that would make her feel better about our parting? Can anything I’d say ever really help her understand why we can’t be together anymore? And, honestly, I shouldn’t assume she’ll be so hung up on me anyway. She’s always been good at bouncing back and finding the excitement in new things.
Somewhere out there, there’s a 19-year-old girl who is so excited for her new decade to come along in a couple weeks. So maybe my Twenties can’t see it right now, but she will find someone else. Someone full of life and hope and optimism and excitement who is so confused about who she is and what she wants that she is ready to let life kick her ass for the next 10 years while she figures it out.
Maybe my Twenties will think of me once in a while and wonder what she could have done differently. But she needs to stop worrying so much what people think of her, especially me. She needs to focus on the people who appreciate her for who she is and what she brings. So the greatest gift I can give to her at the end of these glorious years together is a little bit of ambiguity, some lack of clarity, an imperfectly shaped door that doesn’t close just quite right. It’ll be good for her.