My twenties were a rough decade.
I mean, my thirties were pretty awful (my twenties in fact look quite benign beside my thirties!) But the thing about my thirties is that they were rotten basically because they were all about cleaning up the myriad messes I’d made in my twenties.
I just turned 41, and I’m actually still cleaning up those messes. (They were pretty big messes.) At least I’m down now, luckily, to, like, wiping down the countertops in this whole cleanup process. The worst parts (the toilet-scrubbing, if I want to follow the metaphor) are thankfully over.
But anyway, I was thinking today about how confusing everything was in my twenties, and how little support I had for working things out in the best ways for myself. What I really needed back then was to trust myself more and to follow my nose to doing the things I was really passionate about. But I just didn’t have that kind of faith in myself.
And in fairness to the me-of-my-twenties, I had a lot of opposition to stand down – or, at best, indifference to get around. I wasn’t able to manage that very well. I was so scared of messing up, so distracted by the idea of figuring out what the “smart” choice was. And so I ended up doing everything wrong for myself.
Now, I do believe that screwing up is never all bad if you learn from it. And I really, really learned a lot! So there’s that. And I have a certain perspective and definitely a much firmer sense of self than I had before, which I’m grateful for. And then there’s the fact that if I hadn’t done things the way I did, I wouldn’t have my kids – and I can’t be really sorry for anything that brought me them.
So I’m not saying I totally regret my twenties.
But I do know that if I had them to do again, I would make utterly different choices.
But I’m not writing this to talk about the past, per se.
Something occurred to me today while I was thinking about this stuff, and it kind of struck me. And that’s that: Yes, I’d make different choices because I have self-knowledge and experience now that I didn’t have then…that’s true. And me saying that, thinking that, is probably something that pretty much anybody who’s 41 could say about their twenties (even if they didn’t look at their twenties as a period of great mess-up.)
But there’s more to it. And that’s what’s interesting to me. That “more”? It has to do with the internet and things-digital. And that’s really kind of fascinating to ponder.
If I was just coming out of college now and moving into my adult life, and I had this world of information at my fingertips that is the internet…wow. That would have changed…well, pretty much everything for me.
It’s almost scary how true that is. And, while it might be truer for me than for some other people my age (because of who I am and what I particularly wanted that the internet and things-digital would have facilitated), I think it has to be true in at least some degree for almost everybody my age.
That’s because the speed at which ideas are shared now has accelerated so exponentially. And with that, the ability to learn and ask questions, to connect with likeminded others. And when you are able to make those connections? It opens up your sense of possibility. And a sense of possibility tends to change things.
It’s not that it was just more tedious to get information then. (Like, the connections were slower, etc.) It’s that the connections didn’t exist. You couldn’t just come across something and ask a question about it. If you even accessed that interesting something in the first place, if you were in the right place at the right time to be exposed to it, your only option for following up on it was to to look up more information in a book – a book written, at best, a year prior. Maybe you could find something in a magazine or on television that was more current – but the content of those you had zero control over, so it was pretty hit and miss if it would suit your needs.
You could write somebody (if you could find an address) and request specific information. You might get an answer back – and it might tell you what you needed. And if it didn’t, or if you wanted more? Back to square one. What I think of now as easy-to-find info (basic Google searches), I would have been completely barred from back then.
So sometimes I find myself thinking about choices I made back then or things I didn’t do that I should have done and I get angry at myself for a second. Why didn’t I just do X or Y? And then I remember: it’s because it was 1998 and I couldn’t. Many times, I couldn’t even envision the option – or at least I couldn’t envision the steps I needed to take to get there. And not because I had some sort of intrinsic lack of vision or imagination.
So many of my problems back then were a direct result of being isolated. There was nobody in my physical sphere who wanted what I wanted or was passionate about the things I was passionate about. It would have been so tremendously empowering to be able to read blogs and look at photos, etc, of people who cared about the things I cared about! To get ideas from their journeys, to tap into that encouragement and sense of community.
For me, a tangential result of that isolation was that when I met somebody who was equally floundering, somebody who, like me, wanted some as-yet-undefined “more” out of life (and who had some personal problems to boot that I was able to help with…which made me feel important and gave me something of an object to focus on), that relationship almost immediately felt HUGE. It felt important and weighty in this heady way. It had its problems – because it wasn’t actually the right relationship for me (or him.) We weren’t suited for the long-term. But it was very easy (particularly as we were, both of us, young and very naive about such things) to think that any problems were fixable….they just required working on. And we should work on them, because this thing between us was SOMETHING.
And you know…it was something. We weren’t total idiots. It just wasn’t an all-caps kind of something. (Maybe capital-S.)
He and I understood each other in certain ways that neither of us had found in other people as yet. We had (and have) certain pivotal things in common – things to do with creativity and the intrinsic value of cool ideas. This has always been a bond with us – a strong one.
It’s the reason (along with the fact that we co-parent really well together) that we’ve been able to rebuild a real friendship post-marriage. It’s because we were, I think, meant to be friends – maybe even lifelong friends.
But we had no business getting married. And it wouldn’t have happened if we were in our twenties now, meeting now, living now, with the world the way it is now. I’m absolutely certain of that.
Isn’t that a strange thing to realize? But that’s how much the world has changed. It’s cracked open now, and light shines in places it didn’t back then.
For all that people bemoan how hooked everybody is on their devices these days, I do really believe things are better now than they were back then (I’m talking in the nineties and early 2000s.) I mean better inter-personally (I’m not talking about the economy and that sort of thing.) Because isolation is hard.
I’m not saying I don’t see the benefits to unplugging now and again; I do. I just mean that isolation, in my experience, is worse than being over-connected. And that there are opportunities inherent in the accessibility of information that means the world is wide for my kids in a way it wasn’t for me.
I’m grateful for that, for their sakes.
These guys don’t watch too many DVDs (it’s more PBS Kids or Disney Junior on t.v., or random things on YouTube). But occasionally they’re allowed to get some DVDs from the library to watch on a laptop.
Every time there’s a scratch that disrupts the play, they call me or their dad in, complaining that the DVD is “buffering” – which we find hilarious. They can’t get their heads around the fact that a DVD just plays information that’s embedded on it; it’s not connected to anything.
When their dad and I were their age, we each had like 3 or 4 television channels and not even a VCR. And our families were pretty normal! Times have most definitely changed.