The Twenty-Something in the Mirror

On Saturday morning, my husband and I went out to run errands– nothing exciting, just walking to the grocery store and a couple of other places in our neighborhood, normal weekend stuff for a married couple in their thirties.  I had zero interest in making myself look nice for something so mundane, so I skipped taking a shower, skipped putting on makeup, threw my hair up and tied a thin scarf like a headband around my head, put on rolled-up jeans and a zip-up hoodie and a pair of Birkenstocks, and we headed out.

There is a full-length mirror in the front foyer of our apartment building, and I often pause there for one last look before leaving, making sure nothing is out of place.  I did the same on Saturday and stopped, surprised by what I saw: I looked like me.

What I mean was, I looked like a younger version of myself.  Not because my skin magically smoothed out overnight or the gray hairs growing out of my temples disappeared, but because that outfit was identical to the outfits I wore for years in college and throughout the first half of my twenties.  I looked comfortable.  I looked natural.  And with that realization came a strong burst of nostalgia for my younger self.

I don’t dress like that much anymore; I make more of an effort to look nice when I go out now.  I wear pretty scarves and lipstick.  I have to dress professionally at work, even though I abhor it.  There’s nothing stopping me from tying my hair up in colorful headbands and wearing hoodies during my free time, I just don’t think of it as much.

Biking the National Seashore on Cape Cod, 2011

I miss her sometimes, the twenty-something I saw in the mirror.  I think my twenties were well-spent and I wouldn’t change any of my decisions, but you can only live them once; there’s no going back.  And there are a million things I love about my life now.  I love being married and having a partner to spend my life with; it’s so easy, so much less exhausting than dating was.  I’m excited for our future.  I still travel and have adventures and learn new things; that’s something that I hope will always be part of my life and that I don’t think will disappear with age.

But there are some undeniable truths about getting older.  Decisions have more weight to them; if you mess up, there’s less chance for correction.  I worry a lot more.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how long it’s going to take me to pay off my student loans, about whether or not I’m making the right choices for my future, whether or not my career will ever advance or if I’ll just be doing the same thing thirty years from now, like a dog running in its sleep, legs churning but getting nowhere.  I still travel and have adventures, but I’m more cautious about it; I’m less likely to walk around cities by myself at night, less likely to be as confident when traveling by myself.  As someone who spends a lot of time in airports and on airplanes, I worry about terrorism and the possibility of my plane crashing, something that never crossed my mind when I was younger; I used to think turbulence was exciting.  I was also undeniably more outdoorsy in those days– hiking made me happy so I did it often, but it’s difficult to get far enough out of Istanbul to reach any real nature.

Probably the biggest difference is that, in my early and mid twenties, I really felt like anything was possible.  I still have goals, but it seems more of a marathon slog rather than a glory sprint to the finish line.  (Seems? Is.)

I know this is a case of rose-tinted glasses.  When I really think back to those times, I might not have worried about student loans or about whether or not my career was advancing, but I worried about other things, things that seem kind of silly now but definitely did not seem silly then.  I wasn’t happier then than I am now.  It’s just that hopeful feeling of youth that lasts for such a short period and then leaves before you even realize it’s there– that’s what I saw in the mirror, even if it was just for a second.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota, 2009