Rites of passage: The five years where you ‘come of age’

There are five ages pretty much everyone on the planet looks forward to: Ten, thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one. Only those five. Sure, every birthday is important, and there are day-to-day things that are considered milestones to some, but the birthdays that get everyone hyped — the ones we plan big parties for and invite everyone we know — those are a Big Deal.

People can say they’re excited for this birthday or that birthday, but these ages are, in many ways, the most important ones because they’re benchmarks and milestones that we all recognize. They’re the ones that indicate just how far you’ve come, and make you evaluate everything your capital-L Life in a big way. Get ready for nostalgia and excitement, depending on which of these ages you’ve already passed and which are still ahead of you.

Ten: Congratulations, you’ve hit double digits! When you’re older this won’t mean as much as it does now, but ten really means something, because you only hit double digits once in your life. This means you get “responsibilities” (like added chores and higher expectations from your parents and teachers). You got this age. Day-to-day, everything is basically the same, but the feeling of responsibility leaves you feeling even more adult than ever before. This age means you can ride your bike farther away from your dad, and maybe some unsupervised time outside, because you’re a big kid now. After all — you’re ten!

But as big a deal as ten can feel like, it’s nothing like the impact of the next age on this list…

Thirteen: Do you even know what 13 means? THIS IS WHEN YOU’RE FINALLY A “TEEN.” No more tween, no more kid. You’re a full fledged teen. Now, when your mom says you can only stay out until seven, you can counter with, “Mom, I’m a teenager now, I’m not a little kid.!” But with that extra freedom (or, at least, that feeling that you’re entitled to extra freedom) come a lot of less-appealing stuff too. You get hit by hormones, crushes, grueling math classes and more friend drama than tween you thought was possible. Being a teen is hard work, but you wouldn’t go back for anything in the world. You’ve been waiting for years to say you’re a teen and now you’ve arrived. Buckle up because the teen years are packed with coming-of-age milestone birthdays. 

Sixteen: This is the age where the adult responsibilities you’re not really prepared for start piling up. When before you were only expected to balanced eight classes’ worth of work, now you’re expected to get a job, and make enough money to pay for the important things like Prom and Grad Night, and still balance the eight classes’ worth of work. It’s also a good bet that you have to try and juggle chores in your limited time, too. This is the age that you start to feel real sorry for yourself and you start to hate everything around you, but you also try to convince yourself you’re not a bad person for the constant cranky arguments. Don’t worry, you’re not a bad person. There’s too much on your plate and your mouth is already full.

At this age, you can stay out until nine or ten, and your parents constantly say they trust you, which you don’t really believe (if they really trusted you, wouldn’t they get rid of the curfew all together?), but you accept this newfound trust without complain. Non-acceptance means no social life, after all, and you’re 16; you need your social life.

Eighteen: At this age, you’re officially “free.” Legally speaking, you could move out of your parents’ house and no longer have to ask permission to do anything. Of course, many 18 year olds are still enjoying the benefits of parental oversight (like no rent and free food and a ride to the movies when your car is out of gas), so they forfeit the total freedom that technically accompanies this birthday. But, if you’re 18 and living alone or in a dorm, you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself, and that’s beautiful. You’re an adult, but you don’t feel like one yet. Your body hasn’t started creaking with every step you take, and your mind can recover pretty quickly from late nights and no sleep.

Unfortunately, you’re also paying for this room and dorm and college tuition if that’s your thing, and so you’ve started to tackle the tough parts of adulthood that no one can ever really prepare you for. So good luck with this age, because it’s a killer. But not really, because it’s also this weird limbo stage, where you’re expected to do things, but if you can’t and you panic and call home, no one blames you because, after all, you’re only 18.

Twenty One: This is the age of alternating bliss and panic. You’re blissed because there’s a buzz that you can now legally have, and you’re panicked because you can’t afford to go out anyway. Not to worry, because hopefully you’re almost done with your degree and can be paid more. Or, if you opted to just start working, you’ve gotten a better paying position due to your longevity with the company, and the end result is the same. This is the age where people expect a big blowout, followed by some serious soul searching. Whether you finally settle on a career and start your work life, or you take a gap year to find your own self, this is the year people expect it all to happen.

Twenty-one is also the age where you have no hope of any financial help; you’re starting to feel too old to ask your parents to support you, but you’re still not sure you have this “adult” thing figured out well enough to support yourself. You might be broke a lot (or, you know, all the time), but you’re having a blast anyway. This birthday is probably the weirdest of the milestones listed here, because there are no more excuses for you. You’re not 10, 13, 16, or 18. You’re 21, and you’re supposed to have it all together. After this last hurrah, your body starts to betray you in ways you didn’t know, and the Murtaugh list from How I Met Your Mother becomes so much more relevant, and hello, Murtaugh, you’re calling to agree that no, you can’t sleep on a futon for a week straight and come away still the same person.

Twenty-one is also a weird age in that, while you may not have your life together, some of your friends will. Instead of seeing 21 as the peak, they see it as the beginning of better days. Days when you can say, “Yes, I will drink the entire bottle of wine during dinner,” but also days where you’re perfectly fine curling up on your bed to sleep at 7 p.m. like an old person.

Though they all carry their own weights and burdens, these are the ages where all the great stories happen. A ten-year-old Ash Ketchum embarking on his mission to catch ‘em all. Sixteen-year-old Claire Danvers going to college in a town with a terrible secret. Eighteen-year-old anyone trying to make it happen. 21-year-old everyone looking for that thing to make life amazing. We’re all diverse in so many ways, and yet we’re all connected. It’s the amiable feeling between two people as one tilts their hat in commemoration to the other from across a restaurant. It’s the excited chatter between eighth grade girls as they start sharing lip gloss and nail polish. No matter where we come from, we all understand — there’s a coming of age story in us all, we just have to live long enough to see it happen.

Jackie Rodriguez is a seventeen-year-old senior who just wants the french fry smell on her clothes to disappear and hopes to become famous enough so that her best friend can eat the fancy bread they always have at award dinners.

(Image via Shutterstock.)