Why 22 is your most important birthday

My 28th birthday is coming up (August 17th!) and I feel really comfortable with “getting older,” however, it was not always that way. On my 22nd birthday, I had a complete meltdown about “getting older,” and never getting married, dying alone, etc. It is incredibly silly to me now, but when I was 22, I really felt that the end was near. I would love to tell that story and reflect on how I know so much better about how great aging really is.

I turned 22 years old on August 17, 2009. I turned 22 years old exactly two months after I graduated from my beloved university. I turned 22 years old four years after I graduated from my extra beloved high school. I turned 22 years old a few months after my best friend and I had our first real “dilemma.” Our first situation that tore us apart. It wasn’t our last, but it was our first, and I had never dealt with anything quite like it before.

I had never really dated anyone. At least looking back, I feel like I had never dated anyone. Yes, I had had my first kiss. I had had my second kiss. I had had my third kiss, and my first official Boyfriend, and I had slept at his house, and I had had things happen in my life that felt very “adult.” I had quit my seemingly adult job at a grocery store to work for a giant coffee corporation. It was the right choice. So was breaking up with my First Official Boyfriend. I felt very comfortable in my life. I was exactly where I should be. I was a college graduate. I had let boys I liked kiss me. I had jobs—even ones that I had decided to quit. I lost 50 pounds the year prior. My hair was kind of cute. I felt extra confident. Single because I wanted to be. Smart because I could prove it. Strong because I always was.

I was never much of a person who consumed alcohol. Yeah, I was 22 years old, but it wasn’t something I snuck before, and it was never something I was super interested after my legality. But sure, birthdays happen, and card games are played, and I was convinced that everything was really fun if you had a beverage or two.

I turned 22 years old at the stroke of midnight when I was with my two cousins and two best friends in a city a few hours from my hometown. The trip was going to be really fun. I had no qualms about the fact that my car had broken down nine hours before the trip. My friend had had her baby 11 hours before the trip. My very, very best friend had gotten engaged that same night—the night I celebrated my big 22.

Turning 22 is like turning 10. Everyone freaks out when you turn 10. Everyone thinks it is a big deal when you turn “THE BIG DOUBLE DIGITS.” 22 is like that because you’re not 21 anymore. Everyone loves 21 because you can legally buy alcohol, and because you are officially “out of” your teens. We don’t take 20 or 21 seriously, but 22 is different. 22? You are no longer defined by your age. You are not even close to your teenage years. You are 22. You are an adult. You can get married and have kids without it being an issue. You can get your dream job without it being an issue. You can re-enroll in school without it being an issue. You can be a barista at Starbucks for the next four years without it being an issue. 22, no matter what anyone says, is huge.

Looking back, as I often do, 22 sounds very, very young. I have friends that seem like little sisters that are about to turn 22. I have a brother that is about to turn 22. I know actual, real, living human beings that are 22, but it still sounds young. When I turned 22, I had my first bonafide, uncontrollable meltdown. I did not cry, I did not get mad, but I had a meltdown. I stared at a wall for a very long time. I spoke my fears aloud; my fears all consumed with “I am going to die alone” mantras. I stopped wanting to have fun and started wanting to freak out about my life. Without giving the entire story away, I will let you know that I voiced aloud the idea that, “I should know the person I am going to marry right now and I don’t know anyone.” Very much like Rachel Green on her birthday but without being ANYWHERE NEAR TURNING 30.

It was a mess. I was a complete mess. I freaked my friends out, I made other people question their own personal relationships, and I kind of ruined my own birthday party. Eventually, I calmed down. The next morning, we drove the three hours back home, stopping at a Red Robin in Seattle to get milkshakes and pretend that everything wasn’t really, really awkward. It took me a long time to recover from those feelings of dread.

I turn 28 on August 17th of this year. I have never panicked about a birthday again. As I creep closer to 30–still single, still not working my dream job, still without a savings account worth writing home about–I have calmed down considerably. The days of staring at a blank wall, panicking about being alone, falling asleep holding my best guy friend’s hand, stressing out about the inventory of a coffee shop have calmed down. I have calmed down. Getting older is great. I never thought I would say that, and I am not saying that now as a way to console young people. What I am saying is that now, as a sorta-almost-30-year-old, I have chilled out. I have found my chill, as the youths say. Yeah, I am single. Yeah, I might die single. Yeah, I am always a little bit struggling with job issues and financial issues and body issues and what-to-watch-on-Netflix issues, but you know what?

We are all human. None of that goes away. It is life, and life is always full of “WHAT’S GONNA HAPPENS?!?!” I feel more human now, at basically 28 years old, than I ever did at 22. It gets better. It really does get better. And I wish I knew that then.

[Image via author]