I’ve never been a big birthday person. Don’t get me wrong, having a whole day solely devoted to you, getting presents and having all of your loved ones wish you well, isn’t a bad feeling at all. But birthdays always remind me of the time that has gone, and the expectations that are soon to come with the new year that’s approaching.
A couple weeks ago, I turned the big 21. *Enter the popping bottles, wild party, girl having the time of her life scene.* Yeah you get to drink legally, it’s basically the only age that matters in your 20s and you’re officially able to do just about anything you want. But when you get past all of the that, turning 21 is so much more transformative. Even though I’m just two weeks into the age, I’ve learned a lot about what it feels like to be a 21 year-old college student.
My 21st birthday crept up on me before I could even fully process what was happening. Let me be honest, I’m not a big drinker or partier. So when this birthday came around, I felt like I had to put up this front that this day was going to be epic. I’m talking Project X, I’m-not-going-home-until-the-sun-comes-up epic. Alas, that’s not how it went down because that’s not what I like to do.
This was my first lesson as a 21-year-old: I don’t have to pretend like I’m something I’m not just to be accepted by other people. I know I sound like a Hallmark card, but it’s definitely easier said than done. When you’re in college, you’re expected to be a certain way and when your 21st birthday rolls around, being hammered 50 to 75 percent of the day is definitely a qualification. When I told people about my plans for a nice dinner with some friends, they looked at me like I was turning 80.
Aside from overcoming people’s expectations of what it’s like to turn 21, there comes the actual self-acceptance of what 21 is to you. Throughout that day, I had these ontological moments of clarity. What the hell, I’m 21? I can hop on a plane, go to Vegas, gamble my heart away and not get questioned about my age. I’ll soon be out of college and starting a life in the real world. Uh-oh…I’m almost 30.
These emotions ran through my head throughout the day in waves of happiness and complete fear. When you turn 21, there’s so much more expected of you. Sure, you can depend on your parents for this or that, but isn’t this the age where, if things haven’t changed yet, they should?
When I got over the whole concept of turning 21, I came to realize the only thing that mattered was the fact that it was my birthday. As much as I say I’m not a birthday person (see above), I can’t lie, the attention gives you a high that you can only reach on this special day. From your friends and family to people you haven’t spoken to in years, everyone is reaching out to let you know that they care.
You have the unabashed permission to post as many birthday selfies, memes and #transformationbirthdays pictures that you want on your Instagram. Wearing makeup and a cute outfit is actually plausible on a college campus because you were born today and looking cute is actually worth something for a change. This is your day, and that is something that you should be legally allowed to brag about.
So you ask, what does it feel like to turn 21? To me, it feels like my life had been moving 200 mph and as soon as my 21st birthday hit, the brakes skiiiiired to a rough stop. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I’ve reached this age so fast; it feels like just yesterday I was a 15-year-old nerd, and now I’m a 21-year-old nerd.
Twenty-one feels like a celebration. It’s not your typical birthday, so every person you talk to, every drink you have and every item you buy, feels like a monumental moment of your life. I may be a newbie to this whole 21 thing, but it’s a completely weird and exhilarating feeling. I say embrace it because when 30 rolls around, I have a feeling we’re going to be wishing we were 21 again.