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The strangeness of your early 20s

By PATRICIA MANARANG Published Sep 08, 2023 5:00 am

Planning a quick get-together with my friends has recently become a difficult task. Work and class schedules, distance, and responsibilities all clash together. Don’t get me wrong, I know that’s part of growing up. But that’s the scary part: We’re all growing up.

I shouldn’t be having this realization at 23, but sometimes I find myself in line at the bank or driving my car, and I think, when did I turn into this person? When did we all become adults?

Your early 20s is a strange time. You and your friends may be the same age, but everyone is at different stages in their lives. It’s hard to keep track of where everyone is, yet this sinking pressure, both palpable and vague, is constantly there—you can’t help but compare. Your relationships, your career, and your personal growth all seem to be measurable. You look through Instagram stories and start to wonder if you should be happier.

To me, adulthood was supposed to feel like having everything figured out. I’m supposed to feel confident, to know what I want and how to get it. I thought it meant more freedom, thus leading to more happiness and success. I wanted to meet the future me as soon as possible; I wanted to grow up faster.


But now, I’m trying to reconcile with the fact that I may never feel completely secure. I’m gaining more responsibilities but also still making sense of the world. I just feel like a tall child, but maybe that’s what being an adult is.

There’s also fear of what’s ahead. I want to run, chase my dreams, and take the next steps in life but I’m afraid of leaving my comfort behind. There was a quiet consolation in the mundane and the routine: Seeing the same people every day in school was something I didn’t expect to miss. Repetition and monotony are often seen as negative, but I use them as a shield. I can’t help but yearn for how things were but want everything to change at the same time.

Will my friends still be my friends? Can I be someone they’ll still want to stick by? Will they be people I’d still want by my side? I can’t imagine losing anyone, or having friendships fade away “just because.” So I’ve been doing everything in my power to strengthen the ties I have now. I apologize to my friends for all the sap I’ve been spewing to them lately, but frankly, I’m afraid of what growing up will do to us.

The future is uncertain, and I’m still figuring out how to find comfort and happiness in myself. After all, even if some friends leave one day, I’ll still be here. I need to learn how to stop seeing being alone and being lonely as synonyms.

Is this who I’ll be forever? Can I be the type of person who’s memorable, someone with impact? Will my life be worth noting? I have this gross habit of picking a strand of my hair and leaving it wherever I go—a taxi, a restaurant, a hospital room— born out of an irrational fear that something terrible would happen and I’d need a way for people to track me down. In a sense, I guess I just wanted to leave a trace of myself in the spaces I occupied. I was here. You can still find me in the things I love, in the people who love me. Even if times change and I am no longer who I once was, you can still see parts of the old me peeking through.

At 23, I feel much softer and much more fragile than ever before. It’s like I’m blurring at the edges. Maybe it’s my personal circumstances making me feel nostalgic, but I’m finding big love in the little things. The quiet, “insignificant” moments make my heart flutter: the birthday greeting from a friend I only talk to once a month; the message from someone saying, “This reminded me of you”; sending 20+ TikToks a day to each other, without even exchanging words; hugging your college friend who you haven’t seen in a while; catching up over drinks on a Friday night after work.


This period in our lives makes us feel as if we have a foot in two worlds. We’re reminiscing about our youth, craving a simpler time when we didn’t have a lot to worry about, but we’re also running after the people we want to be, working hard to live the life we want to have. What’s exciting about wanting things to change is the underlying notion that you want things to get better. You want something more for yourself, and becoming an adult is the first step to that. It’s pretty cool to think about all the possibilities that lay ahead of you.

The future is uncertain, and I’m still figuring out how to find comfort and happiness in myself. After all, even if some friends leave one day, I’ll still be here. I need to learn how to stop seeing being alone and being lonely as synonyms.

But maybe I also need to look at the people beside me and believe that they’ll be here when time rushes forward. I need to trust in my loved ones more; I need to believe that they won’t disappear. I need to trust in myself more too.

I am getting older. I am changing. This change is growth. This growth is scary, but isn’t it exciting, too?