In the middle of a fast food chain’s events place, an 18-year-old me stands wearing a unicorn onesie with long hair and a skinnier waist. Looking around me, I marvel at my family and friends wearing colorful outfits as part of her rainbow-themed debut. I couldn’t stop smiling from the moment I stepped foot in the room. Everything was perfect from the pastel balloons to the most-awaited 18 candles. That was four years ago. I didn’t feel that time was moving—I still wish it never moved at all. If I had known it was the last time I would feel pure happiness, I wished I stayed 17 forever.
For the past few days, I’ve been replaying and overanalyzing Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridger’s "Nothing New." She starts with, “They tell you while you're young / ‘Girls, go out and have your fun’ / Then they hunt and slay the ones who actually do it.” When we were kids, we were often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Enthusiastically, I would say that I wanted to be an actress. But as we grow older, answering that question gets a little bit more complicated. Quite frankly, we become more jaded as time passes by. It’s the ultimate price of adulthood.
It’s true that experiences mature you, but they also terrify you to the point of pessimism. I’ve been shot down many times from rejections and cruel insults to heartbreaks and failures. Every mistake and disappointment stuck far longer than what I’ve done right. And to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety a few months after my debut surely brought me to rock bottom. It has been four years, and I still wonder if my mental illnesses will ever go away.
In the chorus, Taylor sings, “I've had too much to drink tonight / And I know it's sad, but this is what I think about / And I wake up in the middle of the night / It's like I can feel time moving / How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?” It’s funny because I didn’t celebrate my 18th birthday to sign up for a life of confusion and angst. I mean who does? Yet, here I am at 22, struggling to keep it together ever since I entered adulthood. Not in a way that I’m constantly having episodes, but it gets tiring to be in a cycle of healing and breakdowns.
Love isn’t that great either. You fall in love for the first time as a teen and it feels like you’re in a romcom or Disney movie. You picture a perfect love story and invest in it for months. Then, reality hits you, he never really liked you at all. That’s when you start hating men with “red flags” as their common denominator.
But now I realized that the pain was rather a wake-up call. Love is not and should not be a fairytale. Treating it as easily as Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky’s (from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) love story will only lead you to heartbreak. Not every guy would fall for you as Peter did for Lara. Hence why there are many kinds of love stories and tropes from movies to TV shows and books.
I thought I knew a lot at 18 but growing up only makes me feel like I’ve never learned anything at all. I thought I was ready for the world, but they never told me that adulting also requires constant healing. Apparently, maturing is letting yourself get checked by a psychiatrist and going to therapy at least once a month. Whether it’s your inner child or trauma, your 20s will be mostly dedicated to putting your life into perspective. Otherwise, your progress would be at a standstill until you understand the domino effect of your suppressed problems.
Looking back at my 17-year-old self, I felt a pang of guilt for all the hate I had for her. I underestimated my innocence and optimism. I was too busy growing up that I forgot how precious it was to still see the world in rose-colored glasses. Now, I know what Taylor and Phoebe meant by “I know someday I'm gonna meet her, it's a fever dream / The kind of radiance you only have at 17 / She'll know the way, and then she'll say she got the map from me.”