There are things about getting older that no one prepares you for.
Like that first time you look at your face in the mirror and realize you’ve aged. You’ll have had your suspicions for a while--sort of squinting at your reflection in the mirror, wondering at the changes. Disassembling your face and attempting to add up the sum of the parts.
And then one morning you’ll wake, rinse water, look up, and it’ll hit you. I’ve aged. I’m older. And your face will reflect that. And it’s not a bad thing. It’s not an altogether bad thing. It’ll suit you. The age will settle in nicely around the eyes, pop your cheekbones just a bit. But there will be a certain youthfulness that is lost. A sweetness and roundness that is no longer yours to claim. And there will be a sadness to that small loss.
There is a loneliness to adulthood that is sometimes good and sometimes not. A loneliness to knowing that all of the firsts still ahead of you have long since passed for many you love so dearly—the people who came before you and readied the path. Their firsts are now shadows and ghosts and loss lurks in the wings, a persistent threat.
Your breasts may come in late. Like at 22. And you’ll think it has something to do with the added weight of that age. But when the weight is lost and the roundness of those curves remains, make peace with it. It is okay if they look nothing like your mother’s breasts. It’s okay if you do not have your mother’s body. This is not a betrayal. It is not a betrayal of your mother that you do not look like her. The look of a woman is a vast, boundless thing.
You will arrive at an age when what you develop this insatiable need for the conversations that come at the end of the day.
Oh, you’ll want the other stuff too—this kisses and the sex and the Sunday morning coffee runs. But there is a thing so particular about needing a person in which to empty secrets big and small. To tell the really banal stuff. And you’ll go on all these dates, so many dates. Bad dates and terrible dates and lonely dates and good ones too, but at the end of them you’ll just want to go home, crawl into bed, and tell your person just how hard and funny and ridiculous it all was. But they won’t be there. In fact, you’re only going on those dates to get to that person. And the irony of this is a sort of insult to injury. But that person—your person—will be born of these dates, both bad and good.
Or so you are told. And so you keep going.
The cost of some friendships is too high. And you must let them go. You may feel like a bad person because of this. You may feel disliked. And you may think it is because you are not bubbly enough or kind enough or palatable enough. And that may be true. But you know what else may be true? Sometimes you outgrow things. It is as simple and as complicated as that. You do not have to be liked by everyone. Let me say that again: YOU. DO. NOT. HAVE. TO. BE. LIKED. BY. EVERYONE. And you must be courageous enough to accept that. Not everyone grows up. Not everyone takes risks. So not everyone deserves what little time you have.
There will be men who hurt you. And there will be men who make a fool of you. And the second is somehow far worse than the first. Because it is disrespectful and unkind and stitched together by small, selfish lies. These men—the ones that take you for a fool—these are the men more concerned with being seen as the good guy, than actually being the good guy. These are the men who worship at the altar of cool and casual and isn’t-this-fun. The men who lack courage. Who say they are fearless when fear is their motivating factor.
Many of these men are really, really good and worthy people who have yet to figure out just how good and worthy they are. But they’re not there yet. And you don’t need to wait around for them to figure it out.
The great challenge of adulthood (other than figuring out just what the hell it is you are actually doing with your life) is learning to speak honestly and kindly. Finding where those two things live—which, I’m pretty sure, is in that sacred space where courage and self-worth meet.
The pursuit of honesty and kindness is much like standing small and vulnerable in the great, big ocean. Leaning into the waves as they crash over you. You might come up gasping for air, totally water-logged. But hell, if it doesn’t feel good. Scary and overwhelming, but vital. Like there’s more life in there—in that moment of impact. Because to go in pursuit of honesty and kindness takes fearlessness. It demands power and self-awareness and a heaping dose of humility. Honesty and kindness are not easy. They expose vulnerabilities and flaws and force us to admit our wrongdoings. But they are humanizing. Which is the only level on which any of us can ever really meet. Not too high, not too low.
Assertiveness is a hugely misunderstood and undervalued skill. You have to figure it out. That’s part of what growing up is. Read about it and practice it. And hold yourself accountable. Assertiveness is neither passive, nor aggressive (and most certainly isn’t that thing we call passive aggressive, which for the record is still aggressive). Be better.
Because some things don’t age well; anger is a really ugly thing in an adult.
There are certain words that will resonate differently as the years pass. For example, I am a woman possessed by the notion of home. Obsessed with its meaning and variations and color. I want to know what it tastes like and what it feels like and if I can hold it in my hands.
At the age of twenty-six, just months shy of my twenty-seventh birthday I moved to what I now declare is very-nearly-the-most-perfect-neighborhood-that-ever-was-and-ever-will-be. And a little bit of home was revealed to me in the mess and perfection and symphony of these tangled streets.
I travel away from it each day. Because I must. For work and for play and for all the things between. I take the subway to midtown Manhattan, which I hate. And I take the subway to Williamsburg or Park Slope or the West Village, which I love. But at the end of the day, I return home. Always, I return home. To this small pocket of green and brownstone. And my eyes soften and my chest unfurls as I come up and out of the train station onto Second Place. And I think: if the only value of this place is the joy I find in returning home to it, that is enough. Even if I didn’t have to leave, I would, just to experience the pleasure of the return.
I think maybe that notion applies to worth as well. Sometimes self-worth flags. Sometimes it is lost all together. But if the value of that happening is the journey back to it—the journey back to self-worth, which is maybe just the journey back to self...well, that alone is worth it. Therein lies the value. Because it’s a really good, really worthwhile, really satisfying journey back.
Home and its many gradations.
And I go in search of it. Again and again and again. Forged as much by what I find, as the search itself.