How your 20s IRL are different than on TV

My idea of what my twenties would be like were largely shaped by the shows and movies I grew up watching. Now, at 28, approaching the tail end of my twenties, I’m in a position to look back at those shows and movies and laugh. Why? Because the idea that I did or will ever look like Jennifer Aniston on Friends is absurd. She was 25 when that show started. When I was 25, I wore ill-fitting bowling shirts and sometimes brushed my hair. Though my twenties have not turned out quite like I imagined, I’ve realized that’s totally normal. Here’s how your twenties are on television versus how they are in real life.

On television: All your friends will live in the same place.

IRL: When I graduated high school, my friends and I all went in different directions and I got scared. I didn’t know how we would all remain friends if we weren’t living in the same city. In Dawson’s Creek, Joey, Pacey, Jen and Dawson (and Jack) all end up in Boston for college because that’s what friends do. But also because they are part of an ensemble cast that must stick together for ratings.

In real life, no one’s tuning in each week to watch you hang out with your friends. There’s no expectation. That means you have to work at maintaining a long-distance friendship that could be out of town, out of state or out of the country. It is possible, it’s just going to require all of you make time to check-in and catch each other up on life. Send a Snapchat, text an emoji, or hangout on Google. You can have an adventure in your twenties that takes you far away from home, but you can still stay close with the people you grew up with.

On television: The person you’re with in high school is the person you’ll be with forever.

IRL: The world is big, and at 18 your adventure has just begun. So whether you broke up with your first love in high school or never dated at all, you are going to be OK. When you’ve lived in the same town your whole life, surrounded by the same group of people, it’s hard to imagine finding someone new or anyone at all who gets you. But you will. Such a small percentage of us will have a storybook romance like that of Corey and Topanga in Boy Meets World. We won’t marry the person we shared a sandbox with as kids. But today, more than ever, there is not one traditional path you need to follow to find a partner.

On television: College is only there for parties

Reality: If you only watch television you might think college is a no-limits, all-the-time crazy party. Studying what? Thankfully, I was pleased to find out that college does have rules and you have free will. College is a time for exploration but you can, and should, keep your moral compass. Push yourself to try new experiences but feel ok to say no if you don’t feel comfortable. Just like in high school, make friends with people who accept you for who you are and you’ll enjoy your four years much more.

On television/in movies: Through a wacky series of events you’ll wind up dating Matthew McConaughey (Plus you’ll work a dream job, have a killer wardrobe, and afford to live in New York City.)

Reality: Remember Kate Hudson in 2003’s How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days? She was, in her early 20s, playing the role of magazine column writer, Andie Anderson. I can’t tell you how that’s possible but it is. At 24, I was also living a city, but that’s where the similarities between Andie and I end.

24 is so young in retrospect. If you think you should have your life figured out by then, you don’t need to. If you haven’t landed your dream job three years out of college, that’s perfectly normal. If you find yourself in a quarter-life crisis remember this quote from Mary Schmich’s famous essay to the graduating class of 1999, “The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

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