I was sixteen going on seventeen when I became fascinated with the idea of ‘Coming of Age.’ How conveniently and painfully predictable. The concept consumed me, to the point where I based my high school English assignment around the idea, filling my already riddled mind with more tales and tribulations of teenagers easing into adulthood. Pause, easing probably isn’t the right word, sometimes you crash into it head first without any warning, maybe you glide wondering what all the fuss was about or what I have kind of gathered at twenty-four going on twenty-five, sometimes you don’t reach adulthood, even when you thought you had.
I’m going to make this quick, mainly to soothe my own soul as sometimes retracing my sixteen-year-old self can be torturous. I was an overachieving, compensator who made awkward jokes just to fill the silence. I was incredibly insecure, but to be fair, what sixteen-year-old teenager isn’t? I was a fairly “adventurous” teenager, with a few busy years under my not so chaste, chastity belt and I thought that was it, that must’ve been my coming of age, sweet, time to fast track. Classic overachiever mentality. I had expectations in place, and I wanted to start hitting them, so I did.
Boyfriend – check, fell in love with my best friend. Appearance – check, although teenage me would have never admitted it in a million years. School – check, overachieving was wildly accepted at school. Social life – check, unfortunately, or fortunately, whichever way you want to look at it, overachieving worked here too. Friends – every check under the god damn sun. I still have all my friends from high school, and they still continue to be my proudest achievement. I didn’t have to go through that awkward, coming of age, “who am I?” phase because I clocked it. Roll credits, I’m an adult. Unsurprisingly, no, building a picket fence didn’t mean I was an adult. It meant I knew how to put on a bloody good show.
What qualifies ‘Coming of Age’? On the surface, it tends to include a lot of firsts, the first time you drank alcohol, or the unbearable first time you got drunk, which no one likes remembering. Your first kiss or the first time you had sex, which no matter how much you try to glorify and romanticise it, it’s always going to be embarrassing. I don’t remember my first alcoholic drink, I do remember the first time I got drunk and would never want to relive it, I remember my first kiss, unfortunately, and I remember the first time I thought I had sex, followed by the first I actually had sex. Both instances with the same guy, I still don’t know if that makes things better or worse. But none of those instances, those tiny fleeting moments in my life, meant I was magically an adult, although we’re slightly led to believe otherwise.
Being a teenager is horrific at the best and worst of times. You appear to be fearless, when really you’re screaming inside, unsure of what you’re doing and how or why. Sometimes, you do things because everyone else is, and as much as you like to say you don’t, you still do. It’s all a bit scary, but there isn’t a finish line with a welcoming committee, ready and waiting to give you a score on how well you did on becoming an adult. There’s no end but only realisations along the way.
2016 was comically coined, the year of realising things thanks to a tragic and funny video of Kylie Jenner but, and I almost hate to say this, is it? Coming of age has been depicted to be one big realisation, where your mind is unlocked, and you’re granted access to adulthood. But for me, coming of age has been less of an “ah ha!” moment and more about “oh, right” moments. Realisations can be quiet, in the back of your mind when you don’t want to hear them. They can be unbelievably loud, screaming at you until you can hear and feel nothing else. A realisation can be gentle and soft like it’s something you always knew, and it can be rough, so incredibly rough that you can’t open your eyes, or stand up.
For me, part of truly coming of age begins when you starting doing things for yourself, versus everyone else. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. The only constant in life is change, right? Well, another constant that tends to rear it’s ugly head from time to time is expectations. They’re nearly impossible to avoid and sometimes they’re so powerful and overbearing that the expectations of others silence your own like they did for me. To a lot of people, it looked like I had a classic quarter-life crisis this year. On paper I had all my ducks in a row, other people’s expectations, I adopted as my own were met and somewhat exceeded and phase two of being an adult was in motion. There was one problem, I didn’t want any of it. The picket fence I built at sixteen had become a death sentence and I wanted out.
At sixteen I thought I was on my way to being an adult, at twenty-four I’m realising maybe that’s just begun.
Take care, and be kind.