Given that I just turned 28 and-a-half, I guess I'm grown up enough to write with some authority about the crazy decade that is your 20s. (And also probably grown up enough to stop counting half birthdays, but whatever.) Now that I'm rapidly approaching the end of my 20s, I feel like I have some perspective on this phase of life — and that includes a new appreciation for all the things I still don't have figured out.
The most humbling thing about aging has been realizing how the older you get, the more you realize just how much you don't know. That said, I have done a lot of hard work to try to get to know myself a little better over this decade, and many of the things on this list are actually questions I contemplate regularly. But, unlike in my early 20s, I no longer believe I "have" to know the answer to any of them — nor that even if I thought I did, that said answer would stick.
One of the coolest things about having more time on my side is a feeling of trusting in life more and more. Because I have more data with which to contextualize my life, it's a little easier not to get so anxious about figuring it all out, and to trust instead that I will keep growing in ways I can feel good about, so long as I keep moving forward and asking the big questions. There is no need to have it all figured out — not in your 20s, and not ever. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be inquisitive about these questions, but rather, that you should never be too rigid in your answers.
1. When/Whether You Want To Get Married
One of the biggest pressures that gets put on women in their 20s is to begin the process of finding The One so that we can complete the fairytale. I felt it too, like I had to get on figuring out the "happy ending" of my life. But now that I've actually met someone I can imagine spending the rest of my life with, I feel less of a need to know whether, or exactly when, I'll get married. The fairytale is now, and I'm just enjoying things as they are. What's the rush?
Putting pressure on yourself to get married or know when you're going to get married is, in my opinion, a huge waste of time and energy when the question you should really be asking in your 20s is, What do I want in a partner, and out of my life? How can I go after it and stop worrying what anyone else thinks?
2. ... And What You'd Want Your Wedding To Be Like
When I was in my early 20s, I was sure I wanted to get married some day, and that I would want some artsy, intimate wedding where everyone chilled in the backyard, playing music and smoking weed. (I might have watched Rachel Getting Married a few too many times.) These days, I imagine if my partner and I did get hitched, we'd definitely elope — though I know that my idea of what I want might change again.
I get that for some people it's fun to plan these things in advance, but it can feel like you're limiting yourself (and your future partner's input) if you have too fixed an idea of something so circumstantial in advance. Why not spend that energy dreaming up the perfect birthday party you'll have next month?
3. Whether You Want To Have Kids
When I was still a kid myself, I always imagined that I'd "definitely" want kids. Now, the older I get, the less sure I am. Sure, I want to squeeze babies' cheeks as much or more than the next person, but when I think about the midnight feedings, the surrendering of freedom, the complete and total responsibility ... well, it becomes clear to me I'm nowhere near ready. And perhaps I never will be.
That is perfectly fine for me — and it is for you, too. Resist anyone who tries to scare you about your biological clock (hi mom), and know that there are also other options, anyway. Which brings me to...
4. Whether You'd Adopt
I used to think that adoption was noble, but that I could "never" adopt. I just imagined I'd have too much FOMO, wondering what it was like to be pregnant, push a baby out, and have a genetic mix of me and my partner.
I'm happy to report that in the last year, that's changed. Ever since I became a vegan, it seems my heart has been opening up in all kinds of new ways that surprise me. When I contemplate the immense suffering of my fellow humans, the overpopulation on our planet, and just how much I could change one already-existing life by making the less self-centered choice, adoption actually makes a lot of sense to me. I trust more and more in my capacity to love, and I know, in large part from all the children I nannied in my early 20s, that I could absolutely love an adopted child as much as my own genetic material.
You might be surprised by just how relieved you feel about your future once you stop viewing yourself as a ticking time bomb of fertility. Obviously, it's OK if you decide adoption's not for you; just consider it an option before you assume it's not.
5. How Old You'll Be When/If You Have Kids
I once heard a woman say she knew she "had" to have her first kid by the time she turned 30. She wasn't basic, either — she was a PhD student at the time, and the statement seemed to be a product of her goal-oriented nature. Still, it struck me as a very limiting restriction to place on herself, especially considering she was 28 and wasn't even married (another goal of hers) . Yes, there are certain biological limitations, but if you open yourself up to the idea of adoption, you can change that. Setting an arbitrary number in your mind strikes me as a potentially dangerous way to make what is perhaps life's biggest decision.
6. Exactly How Attracted You Are To Certain Genders
For most of us, sexuality is always evolving. While of course it's definitely important to examine who you're attracted to, you might find, like I have, that you're more queer in certain times of your life than others. I once thought I had to "figure out" whether I was bi; now I know that I'm sometimes sexually attracted to women, but tend to mostly form romantic attachments to men. I have full faith that should the right woman come along, that would not necessarily continue to be the case. Labels only matter if you find them useful, and you don't have to discover everything about your sexuality in one decade.
7. How Turned On You Are By [Insert Kink Here]
I never had a threesome until this year, and was pleased to find I do enjoy it — something I couldn't have been sure of until I tried it. Similarly, there are times when I've been more into the idea of exploring BDSM than others, and I still don't feel like I have fully. It's all on the Bucket To-Do List, but I trust more that there is time to figure out what I truly want to explore, and that I don't need to know everything about "what I'm into" just because I'm an adult now.
8. Whether You'll "Always" or "Never" Come That Way
Think you can only come on top? Or only from oral? Or that you can never come? Well, don't doom yourself to thinking that just because you've been having sex one way for a little while that those things might not change. Your hormones, body, partners, confidence — all of it affects the conditions in which you come, and as difficult as I know it is, you shouldn't think your body will always respond a certain way just because it has in the past.
9. Whether Monogamy Is For You In The Longterm
It's only in my current relationship that I've begun to explore ethical nonmonogamy with my partner. It's been an exciting adventure, and one that has totally challenged many beliefs I didn't even know I had about commitment, my self-worth, and love. We view ethical nonmonogamy as an ongoing conversation — or rather, the right to have the conversation about what is right for us in the first place. What is "right" is always changing, and I imagine that should we stay together forever the way we both hope, how monogamous or nonmonogamous our relationship is will also be allowed to shift with our circumstances.
My advice? Don't be so rigid that you never even entertain the conversation. Monogamy should be a choice; not a default rule.
10. Where You'll End Up
You don't need to know where you'll end up settling down in your 20s. You might never settle down, move for work, or meet someone who changes everything for you anyway. Sure, it's good to consider your five and ten year plans, but why limit yourself by deciding something so definitive in advance?
11. Whether You Want To Buy A House Someday
I thought I'd never buy a house, because I have commitment issues. Now, not only am I a co-owner of my mom's house, but I'm considering buying a place someday with my partner, too. It's good to save money, but this just isn't the kind of thing you "have" to know in your 20s, or really, ever.
12. Exactly How Your Childhood Affected You
Anyone who's ever been in therapy can tell you that this one is a question that never fully gets answered. Definitely start trying to untangle it in your 20s — but don't think you'll figure it all out right away, or ever.
13. What Your Ideal Form Of Exercise Is
I've jumped from jogging to yoga to rock climbing to walking to ... you name it. Do what makes your body feel good and strong. Sure, it's nice to become more skilled in something, but it's not some requirement of adulthood that you do.
14. Whether Your Relationship To Substances Will Always Be The Same
Maybe you love to drink, and think you always will. Maybe weed makes you paranoid now and you think you can never enjoy it. That may be true, but whatever it is, your relationship to substances is likely to change as you age, and that's a good thing. Stay in tune with what your body's telling you is healthy, rather than what you think you already know based on how you were in college.
15. What Your Definitive Style Is
I don't know about you, but my style has changed a lot. In my early 20s, I thought I needed to figure out my adult style ASAP; now, I realize that's pretty much a losing (and expensive) battle. Your style is allowed to change, along with the rest of you. There is no turning point in which you magically find your perfect wardrobe.
16. All The Places You Want To Travel
Again, it's good to have goals, but you don't need to figure out all the places you want to go in your life in your 20s. Start with where you'd like to go this year, and take it from there.
17. ... And All The Other Items On Your Bucket List
As important as it is to live with these dreams and experiences in mind, if you think you have to have it all sorted out in your 20s, you're going to exhaust yourself trying to tick items off the list, and miss the whole ride. (Trust me; I've tried.)
18. How You Feel About Aging
As those first grey hairs and wrinkles pop up in your 20s, you might try to guess how you'll feel about your body aging in the future. While that's a very worthy thing to examine and prepare yourself for, you're also kidding yourself if you think that your relationship to aging can be figured out this young. Think you'll "never" dye your hair, or be tempted by plastic surgery? Think you'll be "so relieved" once you go through menopause and don't get your period anymore? Yeah, don't be so sure till you get there.
19. How You Feel About Death
Similarly, it's hard to know how you'll feel about dying until you actually face it. While I think it's key to begin confronting the realities of our mortality early so that we can live with an appreciation for the finite nature of life, it's also a bit arrogant to think you know how you'll feel about old age or death until you're actually there. Be open and curious — examine how you feel about it now, and hopefully, you'll be able to compare as you age throughout your long, interesting life.
20. What You're Going To Do With The Rest Of Your Life
I've had success professionally since my early 20s, I have what I and many other people would consider a dream job ... and I still don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. While it's important to have goals, I think that the Millennial trait of switching from career to career can be undervalued; the older adults I know who seem most professionally fulfilled are the ones who've had the most varied careers.
Instead of obsessing about what you're going to be when you grow up, I think a lot of us would do better to consider who we want to be as we move through the world, today.
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