There was a time in my life when I would spend hours in front of a cheap full-length mirror, debating which generic black tank top I would wear to a night at the bar with friends. At the time, it was a legitimate source of stress for me. No matter which shirt I landed on, my night always played out the same way. The tank tops, the bars, the friends, everything became predictable, no matter how much I stressed about it beforehand.
Each night, and all of its redundancies, molded the metaphorical sitcom that was my college experience. And although my apartments were nothing like the shabby chic loft that Monica and Rachel shared and my coffee shops had Wi-Fi, my story lines were similar but with frizzier hair and more frequent hangovers. I was only beginning to figure things out. I had yet to decide whether I would be chasing careers, chasing jam bands or eventually chasing babies. Hell, I was still just trying to pick a major.
Though at that time my responsibilities were minimal and my biggest concerns revolved around my psychology midterms, I was still stressed the hell out because I had no clue what the heck I was supposed to be doing with my life. What is it about an open-ended future that horrifies us in our early 20s? Not knowing exactly where I was going or what I was going to do when I got there rendered me riddled with anxiety.
Looking back at those days that I considered so daunting, I can’t help but to laugh. I was completely clueless. That’s not to say that I’m not stressed now. I am. I have many premature gray hairs to show for it. My stress just centers around a different axis now, an axis that is much more even-keeled and contains minimal melodrama. Now the only things that scare me are Justin Bieber, Snapchat and carbohydrates. And Donald Trump, for obvious reasons.
At some point in a woman’s life, we feel an inevitable shift, a shift that brings us a heightened sense of self-awareness and an overall contentedness ourselves. Eventually, we reach a point where we’ve got our lives for the most part figured out and are perfectly at ease with the remaining mysteries the future might bring.
Now the mother of two kids, the payer of many bills and the preparer of average meals, I find myself more content than ever. I have learned to accept that I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I have accepted that perhaps my metabolism has slowed down a bit and that my bras are now an essential piece of equipment that better my overall well-being. I have now realized that going to bed at a reasonable hour is so much more satisfying than painting the town red, and it involves fewer dark circles and headaches.
I understand the value of fiber and SPF 50. I appreciate a little elasticity in my jeans and am tickled pink at the sight of a flea market. I am now programmed to know the most up-to-date information on the housing market and could recommend an outstanding realtor. I appreciate above-average gas mileage, double-paned windows, and buy one, get one free coupons.
I’m happy where I’m at in life, even if it may bore others to tears. I don’t need some d-bag in an Ed Hardy shirt to think I’m cool. I don’t need a bunch of millennial hipsters to think I’m fun. I have a burgeoning career, a beautifully dysfunctional family and the ability to mix a margarita like a boss.
I’m pretty okay with myself, all that I am and all that I am not.
If I could teleport myself back in time to that little studio apartment, I would tell that girl standing in front of the mirror stressing over her wardrobe to just pick something that doesn’t make her look like a Spice Girl and take a deep breath.
No one will remember which blank tank top you wore to which bar. No one will care how many times you changed your major, or how you so philosophically justified your love of Hootie and the Blowfish.
I wish I could tell her that the stress of those midterms will pale in comparison to the stress of manipulating a child to eat vegetables. I wish I could tell her to stop trying to make everyone else happy, to stop agonizing over irrelevant opinions.
I would tell her that it’s okay to assert herself, and it’s okay to be unapologetic about doing so. I would tell her that she’s never going to have every single aspect of her life figured out and to stop searching for the answers in the narratives of Grey’s Anatomy.
I wish I could tell her that her life would turn out nothing like she thought it would. It would be better. So much better.