While many are panicking over the unforgivable sacrilege of being single on Valentine’s Day, I am panicking over turning 21 shortly thereafter. Luckily for me, my lack of self-awareness renders me incapable of perceiving my nonexistent significant other as a problem — which makes sense, considering I generally feel like a small child trapped in a young adult’s body.
It seems like yesterday I was spending the eve of my 19th birthday eating off colorful plates with a group of my first-year hallmates at Runk Dining Hall. I vented to them about my anxieties surrounding the next day.
“Why are you so afraid of turning 19?” someone asked me.
I responded, “Because I still don’t feel like I’ve done justice to being 18.”
It’s safe to say that sentiment followed me through my 20th birthday and never seemed to quit gnawing at me as the year passed. Now, in the face of a birthday universally seen as the epitome of “coming-of-age,” my worries about feeling too young to grow up are ten times more potent than they’d been in the past.
Less than a week from today, I will have unlocked the last set of doors to legal adulthood. Sure, it might feel liberating to sip on a microbrew at the Fralin Museum of Art on Final Fridays or order an unnaturally fluorescent cocktail with my dinner on the Downtown Mall, but how long could that sense of satisfaction really last?
The prospect of turning 21 feels a lot like how my six-year-old self felt playing dress-up in my mom’s high-heeled sandals, or how my three-year-old self felt sitting in the driver’s seat of my dad’s old, red ’86 BMW — as if the role I’m placed in is simply too large for me. And this time around, I can no longer relish in the comfort of being a naïve and societally-functionless juvenile. I have to trudge through the blisters of my own shoes and steer myself down the roadways of my own choice. Quite frankly, I don’t feel like I’m ready for that commitment yet.
I see my 21st birthday as a painful reminder of my dwindling time left at the University. I am one step closer to having to narrow down my options as to what I want to be and how I want to make my mark on the world. I don’t want to accept that by this point, it is expected of me to already have a solid grasp of who I am.
As my fourth year slowly creeps up on me, I still haven’t let go of my first-year desire to explore, grow and discover myself. There is still so much to learn and so many people to meet — I can’t possibly fathom my time here approaching its end.
More than likely, I will be spending my 21st birthday locked up in the library, cramming for the following day’s conveniently timed first midterm of the semester. While many people might find these plans disconcerting, I am thankful I don’t have to be spending this day lost in the obligation of crossing the line into “real” adulthood.
Admittedly, I do still have time left to keep learning — at the University and throughout the rest of my life. After all, no matter what my age is, all I really have the power to do is try my best to make the most out of every opportunity. I wonder, then, so long as I am not harming anyone — including myself — is there really a right or wrong way to be a grownup?
Vega’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.