The 26-year itch.


The raving 20s. Not that wild decade where Paris was the literati center of the world and Shanghai that of expatriate decadence—no, I’m talking about that stage of life that is like no other in terms of how different the mindset you have entering it is from that which you attain before moving into your thirties.

For many, marriage happens, babies happen, taking out a loan and moving into a house happens as well as settling into a comfortable job. And then, hopefully, you live the rest of your life happily ever after trying to avoid divorce and late payments.

When I was younger, I remember being told after a bad break up “Don’t worry, if he’s the right one, your paths will meet again. If you don’t, it just wasn’t meant to be”. Destiny, what a nice concept. We’re made to believe that bricks just fall into place along that path of life that we follow, but they don’t. Consciously or unconsciously, we pick every one.

We are basically the sum of our choices and whatever that sum is before 26, there is still loads of time to change the variables. Actually, life is probably amazing during that time because it seems to do the math for you. When you’re in college or stepping into your first job, the cards never seem to be completely in your hands. 26 seems to be around the time you realize that they are: you are dealing them and the way you do will determine whether you win or lose. You must start thinking strategy and worse, predicting  and accommodating the future.

I have always followed a mixture of gut feeling and pragmatism, with the former often taking over unless the latter came up with a damn good reason not to. Trying new things, flying to new places, hooking up with people because why not, everything is an experience. If you fail at something, that’s the way you learn. The now is my playground and I enjoy my non future-proof life.

But 26 seems to be the turning point for that attitude. Of course we continue to learn from our mistakes until the end of our lives, but we cannot fly into choices anymore with the same amount of thought we gave them when we were 20. Everything from our retirement plan to our wrinkles need to be calculated.

I suck at weighing choices, it cripples me. My gut feeling has always been my guiding hand and although spontaneity is often associated with a sort of foolhardiness and recklessness, it is what makes me feel most alive and I believe we are able to mix in a sufficient dose of rationality and know where the line is. As I come to terms with the fact that I must begin to shoulder more responsibility at the expense of my carefree spirit, I already feel nostalgic for the spontaneity thats results from a short-lived meandering between possibilities.

26 seems to inject you with a heavy dose of maturity. Everybody around you seems to be keeping you in check with what you should be worried about. But I don’t want to have to think about my life in 5 years time in order to make decisions for its course today. I don’t want to stick to a job because it means something to employers to have over 2 years experience with a same company. I don’t want to start thinking about the money I should put aside every month so that I don’t find myself miserable and poor in my old age. I don’t want to start slapping creams on my face because if I don’t it will fall off in ten years. And I don’t want to enter my romantic relationships thinking of how well we will grow old together and what life we can give our (argh!) offsprings before I even know his last name.

I get it, we need to become more pragmatic because our choices will affect our future more strongly. Everything must start moving in a straight line and upwards because if at 30-35 you’re still an unsettled jack-of-all-trades, you’ll probably go onto a list of undesirables on the job market (and let’s not even talk about that other list of undesirables you’re afraid of landing on when you’ve crossed the 30 mark.)

What is the solution then if you simply want the adventure to continue and not let this maturity requisition hit you like a warp? I don’t want to have to settle on a trade yet. I like what I do but it’s not about what I do, it’s about what I don’t do. It’s about the grass is always greener somewhere else and wanting to jump the fence even if you know you might jump straight back. But I’ll never be basking in the sun in this backyard if I haven’t seen for myself that there are no better backyards elsewhere to bask in!

I do like security, but only of a steady income. Yet I now need to consider whether my 35-year old self will be happy with my 26-year old decisions.

There is no “meant to be” and the path I walk down is a path I lay for myself. Somehow the full meaning of this hits home only now. The irreversibility maybe?

One way or another, life is telling me I must learn to weigh my options with more consideration for the future and I will do so, whilst making sure to leave the door open for the impromptu.

There you have it, my 26-year itch. The realization that another life is starting: the one where the future is always present and not as a mere inherent existence, but rather as a looming consequence. Bloody Blake’s Innocence turning to Experience.

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