Help, I’m Stuck in My 20s

by Alisha Tillery

I’ve always reveled in the fact that I’m young, always doing the hottest, trendiest things created by other young people. No longer able to answer the age question with “twenty-something,” I’m 31, well past the age of being a bona fide adult, but I don’t feel like it, whatever that feeling is supposed to be.

Yes, by society’s standards, I am an adult. I work; I own a home and pay all of my bills independently. I take my trash out every week, contribute to charities, have two savings accounts and an IRA, and help old ladies cross the street.

But in my mind, sometimes I’m still that oblivious 23-year-old looking for the next good time. Sure, I do all those responsible things I listed above, but I also eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I want; laugh at dumb, crass jokes until I cry; text until my thumbs are numb; and make the same mistakes in relationships — sometimes with the same people — as I did in my early 20s. My phone conversations with my girlfriends are cackle fests, and, occasionally, I shop at Forever 21, which I’ve conveniently re-named Forever 31 when I’m there.

Some days I’m perfectly OK with that, and some days I’m not. Lately, I’ve been struggling to find this balance between the “kid me” and the “adult me,” even though I’ve been said adult for a while. It’s like I’m experiencing some weird life crisis that hasn’t been identified yet.

Perhaps, I feel this way because my only responsibility is myself, and most times, I wing it. I’m not a mother and I’m not in some “fulfilling” relationship in which I have someone to consider or take care of. When I was 19 or even 25, I never imagined that this is how “grownups” live. They seemed so serious, dressed in their monochromatic cardigans, talking about their projects at work, daycare woes, and whatnot. I can have intelligent conversations about work and politics, and I have a few cardigans in my closet, too, but I don’t think I’m serious at all.

Nothing has made me know that I’m not as young as I used to be more than having my younger cousin live with me. She is a fresh out of the plastic 18-year-old with shiny sew-in and shiny stilettos to match. Every time she and her friends saunter past me in their Marilyn Monroe graphic tees and bedazzled sunglasses on the way to the mall, I realize she is young, and I am not. Her biggest responsibility is college and getting the maximum number of hours on her part-time job’s schedule. Mine are keeping a home in order, gas in the tank, and my debt to income ratio as low as possible. I’d love to blow my money on designer handbags and heels I can only wear for 2.5 hours, but I need a healthy retirement fund and food to eat.

Is 31 old? Like, Cryptkeeper old? No. In fact, I laugh at those who make such as a big to-do about exiting their 20s. I once unsuccessfully pitched a story about the big 3-0 to a popular women’s magazine. The editor was right. Once I crossed that threshold, it was no big deal and no one really cared but me.

I’m sure when I’m 40, I’ll long for these days in my 30s. The objective, though, is to be comfortable, content, and satisfied with where I am at any age. Do good things, do fun things, and have experiences with good people.

So while I sometimes envy the freedom these younger girls have, I wouldn’t trade with them. There will be many tears, blank stares, and “I don’t knows” to come for them. I can look back, laugh, and even wince over those years. There is something incredibly sexy and alluring about being able to think and act independently with no regrets, yet willing to accept the consequences, and in turn, use them to grow. More than an age, that is what being an adult is all about. It can suck sometimes, but it damn sure has its perks.

  • Mademoiselle

    Just like acting black, there is no such thing as acting 20 or 30. You can only be yourself. Being trendy and fun loving isn’t specific to any age. As you grow older, your tastes in fashion, jokes, activities, etc may evolve, but there are very few things in life that can only be done by a specific age group. You still feel full of life. That’s great. That’s how you should feel at any age. That’s why I always cringe when I hear people declaring “30 is the new 20,” “40 is the new 30,” etc. Thirty and 40 haven’t become new anything. Just because we thought they were old when we were younger doesn’t mean it was ever true. Don’t force yourself to feel or act like the idea of an age. Just be yourself, your age won’t mind.

  • K

    WOW i feel this exact same way!! i thought it was just me. Im by myself so responsibilities (so to speak) and most of the time I wing it too. I dont have any young cousins around but it does take an 18 year old or hell even a 25 year old i may come across and im like wow im not young anymore…but at the same time i dont feel super serious old either. The only difference for me is that i do long to be that age sometimes. Life was soo much simpler, I didnt really have those “20 something problems” that people so often speak of. My 20s were great, carefree and all about enjoying myself but responsibly i have no regrets. que se ra at any rate great article sometimes its just good to know you are not alone in your thinking so thanks

  • Candy 1

    Good comment!

  • Amber

    Yeah there is no rule to being an adult. Your tastes will inevitably mature but who cares if you still eat “kid” cereal (cap n crunch forever) or laugh at stupid jokes?? Thats called life. Live it. You know you aren’t 20 so thats as far as the thought needs to go.

  • my_reply

    ^^^What the heck?

  • Brit

    umm…jaded much?

  • lola_z

    *_* @ cinnammon toast crunch! Love eating ‘em right out the box.
    But yeah, at times I find myself stuck wondering what the 30s should feel like. And then when I look back at bills, relationships, kids and everything else i wish i could run back to the nest @ times. But for the most part and most days, I love my age and wouldn’t go back to that time for anything in the world.

  • London

    “Perhaps, I feel this way because my only responsibility is myself, and most times, I wing it. I’m not a mother and I’m not in some “fulfilling” relationship in which I have someone to consider or take care of.”

    No, that’s not it because I am 30, married, with a baby girl and I still watch cartoons religiously (i.e.: Fairly Odd parents is the sh*t!!!). Wrestle and crack jokes with my hubby like were fifteen, tease and smack around my older brother like when we were little, and still call my mama for every little thing.

    I understand what the author is saying. I didn’t think my adult life would consist of me feeling so young. I remember early this year bringing my high school class on a trip Marist College for a day. I can recall looking at the college kids eating in the cafeteria, lounging, smoking weed :), and playing volleyball on the the big lawn the overlooked the Hudson River and thinking “I could be that person again. I am not that old.” But then I shrugged and wobbled by pregnant butt back to the bus.

  • Kim

    Yes! Umm… I feel the exact same way! I went to grad school later, because i worked after college, so when i graduated, most of my classmates were younger. Now that i’ve graduated and live in NYC (i’m 34), i hang out with a lot of my younger classmates–i mean, bars, clubs, etc, and even my own single friends my own age, that’s what we do when we hang out. I wonder–when is it too old to go to a club? do i have to go to an old people’s club? As for dressing– yeah, i haven’t gotten the dress older message as yet. I’m even thinking about getting a tattoo and my friend (who’s my age) asked me if i was going through a mid-life crisis…sigh. I think because i’m single and have no kids, it’s just what I do. But I agree–it’s very hard.

  • Apple

    I don’t want to grow old I wana be young forever .

  • Candy 1

    When I look back at 20 year old me, I remember nothing worth missing. Sure, I had no people to feed, or bills to pay, and could party life away, but life was so confusing, I was always unhappy and full of angst. My self-esteem was low. I didn’t know who I was or where I was headed in life. Life didn’t start to get much better until I turned 26 (and that was only 2 yrs. ago), and it only seems better each year. Plus, I still like many of the things I did as a younger 20-something and don’t feel silly for it, either.

  • Nobody Not Really

    I feel as if I am stuck in my teenage years.

  • Gigi Young

    Same age, and me too!

  • Emanon

    I feel the same and while I do think about the 20′s i dont want to be 20 but I’m not letting go of my cereal, corny sense of humor and never my fairly odd parents lol oh well I guess I’ll never mature lol
    Single! childless! Free! Yeah!

  • Emanon

    love it on my way to New York also maybe I’ll see u in the club! Lol

  • Emanon

    This! Definitely this lol

  • Emanon

    Now listening to you sound awesome about ur marriage gives me a new thought to worry over :( will I still have this type of fun in my marriage if I chose to marry later in life???? Thx lol lol

  • Golden Silence

    I don’t miss being a teenager, nor do I miss being in my 20s. And when I see people those ages, I think, dag, they seem young.

    I agree with those above who said that there’s no certain way of acting a specific age. Just live your life and enjoy it!

  • Chrissy

    I pretty much feel this same way. Turning Twenty six I finally woke up and began to mature a little.. I refuse to make some of the same mistakes in my latter 20s and 30s.. but still plan on having the same amount of fun.. I have no problem with having a blast in your adult hood but you shouldnt be making the same mistakes and not learning from them…

  • Nicole

    PLEASE enjoy your life. Live it to the fullest. There is no norm when it comes to doing you.

  • Tami

    I’m 50 yrs old & I read Clutch! and I love it…I have a six year old grand-daughter, who loves to run & I love to walk, but that keeps me young, trying to keep up with her. I love fashionable clothing, reading good books & conversations. What I miss about my 20s is that I didn’t need as much sleep as I do now!!! And though I am attractive, not as pretty as I used to be and have to fight to keep the weight off, and there’s less time to reach some of the goals I have set….But any age is good…Really it is…Just depends on your mindset…

  • shanet

    just hit 30 and feel some of the same mixed feelings at times, though I always looked forward to turning 30 and had goals of how life would be (possible marriage and baby, great career, home) so when I see how unexpected turns have changed those goals, I take retrospect of my more carefree 20′s. But I’m happy to be at this age and ready to keep trying to be the best me I can. and still do silly things

  • London

    THIS and soooooo much more!

  • London

    I loved my college years, but I hated my twenties once I got out into the “real world.” I remember being so unhappy that everyday after work I went to the bars to drink my troubles away then stumbled onto an uptown subway train to head home ALONE. So dangerous. WTH was I thinking?? I was thinking that I was so lonely and miserable that I didn’t care anymore.

    I wasted years away in clubs and lounges looking for something…that fantasy, glamorous single life like on television that would inevitably lead to me to find my Mr. Big. NEVER HAPPENED. I made one bad choice after another when it came to men and finances. But I was young, dumb, and insecure. I thought drinking, partying, shopping, and serial dating was what I was supposed to do because I am a twenty something professional making money.

    Saying all this to say that It wasn’t until I let go of all the expectations that others placed on me (and went celibate) that I found peace and happiness. Years later I met my husband at a gas station, and now my weekends consist of mommy and me yoga classes and trips to Target. So un-glamorous, but an awesome life.

  • http://[email protected] Leonard Smalls

    Interesting article; however, allow me to add the following:

    i) please grow up as the community already has too many immature so-called adults;

    ii) wear clothing defitting of your age; and

    iii) apply (ii) to hair styles and nails.

  • Harper

    You must be boring.

  • Harper

    I am so happy that I am not alone!

  • Pseudonym

    I think many don’t feel like “real adults” until they’re the parent of a child who can speak in full sentences.
    Or at least, that’s what I think will probably happen to me.

    (*and I know not everyone wants to/will have kids, I’m just speaking for myself and empathizing with the author)

  • Really?

    @ Harper


  • Really?

    I swear this writer is in my head! I’m 27, and I often can’t believe how I still feel like I’m 18 or even younger some days. Age is truly just a number.

  • FrostBiteMe

    I’m reading this article like “get out of my head!” LOL. This is so on point for me down to the fact that I’m 31 as well and cannot quite let go of F21. Overall, I’m enjoying my 30′s sooo much and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

  • OSHH

    ITA with the comment by Mademoiselle.

  • Wendy A

    You have a young spirit! You are I are very similar except that I’m 35 and a Mom. It wasn’t until after i became a mom that I decided to slightly revamp my closet because I could still fit my college clothes. I figured that just because I can still fit that outfit, it looks like an out fit that a 25 yr old should wear, not a 35 year old. So I say embrace it and the best years are yet to come. The simple pleasures I find as I continue through my 30′s is that i can still fit my Parasuco’s from 1998 (I just try them on from time to time to see if they still fit lol) and that the twenty somethings still are approaching me. So enjoy!

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