Self-acceptance and solidification: the difference between turning twenty and turning thirty
Everyone I’ve spoken to says your twenties are better than your thirties. Until very recently, I didn’t believe them. I didn’t see how settling down could possibly be better than partying the night away to thrumming baselines while knocking back cocktails. I thought getting older was a bad thing, that my life was at its peak and the passing of time could only make it worse. Much has changed since then. I’ve done a lot of maturing, so much so that that version of me might as well be a different person.
I remember turning twenty so clearly. I remember because I was newly single, freed from a relationship I never really wanted to be in, and which had turned decidedly sour towards the end. I was so relieved to be rid of him, so excited to the prospect of a sparkling new decade in which to start over. The timing of it felt symbolic. It was a double whammy of clean slates, and I was right to be excited.
It’s been an eventful decade. For every soaring high there was also a crushing low, with many a life lesson learned along the way. There have been monumental changes to both my outlook and personality. But as the end of my twenties draws closer, I am becoming aware of a series of smaller, subtler changes.
Just a few weeks ago I told my best friend that I feel much more firmly like myself than I did in my early twenties. It’s as though I’ve solidified into myself, like plaster poured into a mould. I see it in the little everyday things, like the fact I no longer hide my hobbies and interests from people. I used to, for fear of being perceived as strange or nerdy. Nowadays I don’t care. I’ll happily recommend books to people or tell them about the latest poem I’ve written. I make no secret of the fact I listen to four different Harry Potter podcasts, or that my taste in PlayStation games hasn’t changed since the late nineties. In short, I no longer feel compelled to pretend that I’m cool or that I only have mainstream hobbies. I’m a huge nerd. I always was, and I don’t mind people knowing that.
There are other signs. Other little increases in confidence that weren’t there a decade ago. I now correct people when they call me Laura. At university I allowed one of my tutors to call me by the wrong name for six months because it was easier than correcting her in front of the class. I used to walk on the edges of pavements; now I strut straight down the middle. In isolation these things don’t mean anything, but together they point to a dramatic transformation that I didn’t even notice was happening. They’re proof that my sense of self-worth has increased. People should get my name right, and I do have the right to take up space.
These increases in confidence are a fairly recent development. While the first half of my twenties was spent learning who I was, the second half has been spent accepting it. The last year or so has been particularly significant in that it has forced me to make peace with some of the uglier aspects of my personality. The jealousy, the pettiness, the spite, the inability to ever really let go of the past. I’ve embraced them all. They are me and I am them. To pretend otherwise would be a denial of the truth. Now, on the threshold of my thirties, I finally feel like I own every aspect of my personality. I’m no longer trying to suppress anything or pretend those things aren’t part of me. They are, and acknowledging that has been incredibly liberating.
There are two distinct aspects of my personality with which I have recently made peace. The first is my neuroticism. One of my main fears about putting my writing out into the world was that those who read it would think I was neurotic. A woman fixated on the past and bogged down by negative emotions. What I have recently come to realise is that, at least according to some definitions, I do have a certain degree of neuroticism going on. While I wouldn’t say my personality falls squarely into that bracket, I do have some undeniably neurotic traits. I do have a tendency to fixate on the past, and I would say that the negative experiences of my life have shaped me more than the positive ones. But neurotic traits are not a bad thing in and of themselves. Not only they have yielded some of my best writing, but they also mean I learn from past mistakes. Mulling over my experiences and picking them apart during the writing process doesn’t just help me come to terms with what happened. It helps me to see exactly where I fell down previously, and if I know where the pitfalls are, I can avoid them in the future. One of the great things about being a chronic overthinker is that I never fall down the same hole twice.
The second aspect of my personality with which I have finally made peace is my ‘touch of the psychopath,’ as my friend Jess lovingly puts it. When I mentioned this to another friend recently, she nodded and said, ‘Yeah…it’s definitely there.’ Much as I would like to pretend otherwise, they’re both right. I don’t mean in the clinical sense, more the informal sense of someone who can be aggressive and unstable. Psycho Lauren spends most of her time safely locked away, but she surfaces every now and again, usually when I feel I have been slighted. Psycho Lauren holds onto grudges better than anyone. She stores up past hurts the way squirrels store nuts for the winter. She feeds on them, they fuel her anger, which she then directs towards people who she knows deep down don’t deserve it: her exes’ current partners, people who beat her to a job, women who are naturally slim. Even inanimate objects can be the target of her scorn if they happen to remind her of one of these people. Psycho Lauren has me muttering insane things like, ‘Tresemme can fuck off,’ when I spy it in the shampoo aisle. She’s the small part of me that is secretly glad when things don’t work out for people who hurt me. I’m not proud of her, and she is only a small fraction of overall me, but she’s a fraction nonetheless.
Realising all of this-and not just realising, but accepting it-has stood me in good stead for this new decade that is almost upon me. Everything was so uncertain last time. Nineteen-year-old Lauren had no idea who she was, where life would take her or what she really wanted. Twenty-nine-year old me knows all those things, as much as they can be known at this point in my life. I feel so much more grounded, so much more certain, so much more me. Certainty is what’s needed for a decade that will involve marriage and hopefully motherhood. I’ve done my faffing about. Now I’m ready to settle down, but I wouldn’t have been ready without the myriad of changes, both big and small, that my twenties has entailed. I may have solidified into myself, but I can tell I’m not fully set yet. I suspect that will happen over the course of this next decade, but as they say, only time will tell.