“What if the terror a girl faces at twenty-one, when she must decide who she will be, is simply the terror of growing up – growing up, as women were not permitted to grow before? What if the terror a girl faces at twenty-one is the terror of freedom to decide her own life, with no one to order which path she will take, the freedom and the necessity to take paths women before were not able to take?”
-Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
February birthdays are complicated. On one hand, it’s your birthday, and that’s great. On the other, it’s February, and that sucks.
I still remember going to Young Women’s on my sixteenth birthday. My leaders prepared an elaborate birthday ritual where I would lie on the floor, mouth wide open, while my peers dropped cookie dough onto my face. (If you ever thought Mormons might be a little weird, you have no idea.)
I’m not saying this wasn’t a fabulous tradition. I love cookie dough and absurdity as much as anyone, but that day I wasn’t having fun. I knew I was supposed to be having fun – after all, what kind of lunatic isn’t happy on her own birthday? – but truthfully, I felt numb, and a little tired.
Once I grew up ever-so-slightly and developed emotional self-awareness, I realized that this is just what February is for me. Cold. Dark. Frustrating. Depressing. Overwhelming. Scary. Blah.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my birthday! I love my birthday. I just happen to be in a dark, contemplative, melancholic mood every time I blow out the candles. Not even complaining.
One perk of being melancholic and reflective is that I get the chance to evaluate the past year and realize how much I’ve changed and grown. Betty Friedan was onto something when she wrote about the terror of being 21 – it’s a big and intense year of realizations and goal-making, but I think I made it out all right.
For the sake of remembrance, here’s my grand list of 21 Important Things I Did While 21:
- I grew approximately 600% more cynical, which I honestly had no idea was even possible. (Thank you, Trump election)
- I deleted all dating apps from my phone. I have more important things to be doing and no desire to meet my eternal companion via OkCupid.
- I purchased beer on four separate occasions and made some fabulous steak and ale pies. There are definite perks to being legal, even when you’re perpetually sober.
- I learned to love my body, at any time, at any size, no matter what. I find that this mindset is objectively better than any of the alternatives, and suggest you try it out.
- I decided to go to grad school. And got so ready for it! Then realized I have to wait over a year before I finish my BA, even though I’m so over it. (Senioritis is real)
- I decided I really needed a husband, then decided I never wanted a husband, then decided that actually I kind of want a husband. What can I say? Maybe some fishes just want a bicycle.
- I called myself a feminist for the first time and things are going GREAT. Grrrl power, women’s rights are human rights, smash the patriarchy, etc. etc.
- I voted. Not much more to say there.
- I made some new friends. I love them. They make this world a better place.
- I became comfortable having conversations with actual grown adults. I have no idea where this superpower came from, but it’s real and I’m just going to go with it.
- I rode a bike on the beach in the sun with my hair flapping in the wind.
- I grew that hair out and stopped using soap-based shampoos and turned into a dirty hippy with fabulous product-free hair.
- I got a new job helping people write stuff. Turns out, I greatly prefer this to helping people eat stuff.
- I got on Instagram.
- I stayed up all night writing a paper after finishing a 17-hour day on campus during which I completed a 4-hour shift at work, a research paper, and a three-hour test, then worked another morning shift and somehow spoke coherently at a final presentation that didn’t finish until 3pm. I think this counts as winning college.
- I read lots of books.
- I established a book club in which to discuss said books, and to my great surprise, people are actually showing up.
- I decided I would unapologetically make Mormonism work for me. Still trying, will always still be trying, but I’m generally happy church-wise, even when church is hard.
- I wrote some essays and realized that I really like writing essays. If writing essays was a person, I’d choose him as my bicycle.
- I watched lots of John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Trevor Noah, because for some reason the best American political commentary these days comes straight from the Commonwealth. I try not to think too hard about that.
- I planned my second trip to the Commonwealth, specifically the British part, and CANNOT WAIT to hike 200 miles and write some things in that green and pleasant land. It can be hard to be in America these days. God save the Queen.
My birthday this year was actually great. I was happy. No one dropped cookie dough on my face. I fled to St. George and spent a relaxing weekend with people I love. We ate cupcakes and I Skyped with my family, cat included. I felt very loved. The next day we drove to Vegas mostly for the food and change of scenery (we’re not big on strippers), and ended up seeing several topless showgirls on the streets anyway. I tried goat for the first time, ate a giant slice of pizza, got kicked out of a bar, and watched a massive praying mantis sculpture shoot flames. On Sunday we hiked in the red rocks and did sun salutations on a mountain BECAUSE THE SUN WAS ACTUALLY THERE. It was all wonderfully surprising and surprisingly wonderful.
So far, given that it’s definitely February and my brain still can’t quite decide how it wants to feel, 22 is looking pretty good.