When I was in my early 20s, I spent way too much time worrying about the future. How would I know when I’d arrived at My Adult Life, and what if I was doing it wrong, like a choose your own adventure book that could result in — gasp!— spinsterdom? It took a few years, but I slowly realized that fear was based on a fallacy. Life is not some mountain you climb and then plant a flag on. It’s more like a continual hike up and down many hills — one which ends by falling off a cliff into an unknown abyss, at that.
Some of the best advice I can give for your 20s and beyond: Beware the words “should,” “need,” “never,” and “always.” Life is too complicated to limit yourself to other people’s expectations — or to your own preconceived notions of the future.
Here are my picks for 20 things you don’t actually have to have figured out in your 20s. You shouldn’t avoid thinking about them altogether, but give yourself permission to lack a definitive answer.
1. Whether You Want To Get Married
You don’t need to figure out who you’re going to marry or whether you even want to get married. I don’t care how many Facebook photos and weddings you have to endure — marriage is way too personal a decision to be peer pressured into by a certain time.
2. Whether You Want To Have Kids
In my early 20s, I thought I’d “definitely” want kids. In my mid-20s I thought I’d “probably want them one day.” In my late 20s I thought “I might adopt.” As soon as I turned 30, the idea seemed less appealing than ever. While I don’t say I’d “never” have kids, I remain agnostic.
If you shed some of the biological clock pressure, you don’t have to set an egg timer on your life in an attempt to figure out this question. Which brings me to our next item…
3. Whether You’d Adopt
I used to think I could never adopt, but once I entered my late 20s, I realized that if I do have kids I would decide to adopt (overpopulation and kids that need homes and all). Once that ovary-based pressure lifted, I was freed up to realize I didn’t really want them at the moment at all.
Even if you never imagined adopting, it’s helpful to remember that the reasons to parent should be to selflessly give love to someone who needs it — and you don’t need a biological child to do that.
4. Whether You Always Want To Be Monogamous
I didn’t enter into a non-monogamous relationship until my late 20s, and at 30, I’m still not sure it will always be for me. That said, I’m really glad I wasn’t closed off to the idea. Trying out a non-monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you’ll have to identify that way forever — every relationship is different, and you might not know if monogamy is really going to be for you until you’ve tried another route (or until, say, you’ve been alive and dating much longer). Either way, avoid being too rigid about what you “always” want until you’ve tried more of the menu.
5. Whether You Believe in God
Pretty sure this doesn’t have to be decided in your 20s, or ever.
6. How To Tie a Tie
You’d think it was mandatory, but my 38-year-old partner seems to have gotten through life just fine without ever mastering this one, and so have I. Whatever.
7. How You Want To Label Your Sexuality or Gender
I’ve gone from straight to bi to queer to pansexual to fluid — you’re the one who gets to try on the labels that work for you, and sexuality doesn’t have to be any more fixed than how you might prefer to identify.
8. What Your Definitive Kinks Are
This too can evolve. Ideally, I’d like to be that octogenarian lady who’s just found out she’s into naughty cosplay.
9. Where/Whether/When You Want To Pick a Place To “Settle Down”
Does anyone even do that anymore? This is 2018 — you don’t need to pick one place to live and buy a home in your 20s. You probably can’t afford to anyway.
10. Whether You Will Never/Always Orgasm That Way
Can’t come from oral or that position? Beware the words “never” and “always,” perhaps especially as they pertain to sex. Bodies and libidos change, and mental blocks are made to be broken (or created or displaced).
11. How You’ll Feel About Aging
When I first started getting grays, I plucked each one. Now, I pluck some, but not all. Your relationship to aging will adapt as you age, so no need to predict whether you’d “never” get botox or anything else. That said, you are going to want to start thinking about the fact that you are indeed growing older and that life is finite. Just sayin’.
12. How You Feel About Death
By all means, contemplate death and do death meditations — the less you avoid this reality the better, but don’t expect yourself to come to any conclusions.
13. Whether Someone Is “The One”
First, there is no One. There are several ones. I know that letting go of the fear that you’re going to end up with the wrong person or play your hand wrong is huge — I certainly still feel it. But if you stop buying into the “relationship escalator” mentality (first comes moving in, then marriage, then home, then baby, then Arrival at Life), you can take this pressure off. Sure, be conscious about your long-term desires, but simply remember that you likely have many soulmates out there, and that placing pressure and expectation on love rarely breeds anything happy.
14. What Your Definitive Style Is
I still haven’t figured that out. And it’s bound to change, anyway.
15. Whether You Can Pull Off That Haircut
I waited until I was 30 to cut my hair short because I was scared I couldn’t pull it off. There’s no time like the present to take a chance on what you want, but you also don’t have to take all your stylistic chances in your 20s, or decide on that tattoo or piercing while you’re “still young.”
16. Whether You’ll Always Eat That (Or Not Eat That)
Your diet and tastes will likely evolve as you age. I went vegan in my late 20s, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Before that, I used to say stuff like “I could never be vegan.” That’s some ignorant absolutist young person speak if I ever heard it. Cutting out dairy also proved to make my “always” needing to avoid wheat for digestive issues less crucial. Things change.
17. How Much You Need To Save For Retirement
I still haven’t figured it out. If you manage to open up a 401K in your 20s, you’re doing great in my book. Saving is still important, but if you don’t know your “magic number” for retirement just yet, don’t beat yourself up about it — just try to ask some people a little older or more financially responsible for some advice so that you can at least start thinking about making a plan.
18. Your Forever Relationship With Substances/Medications/Birth Control
Just like any relationship, how you feel about drinking, antidepressants, your form of birth control, weed, whatever — is all subject to evolve and change, right along with your life and body. Stay curious about what your intuition is telling you, and remember that what and how much you put in your body will evolve as you age.
19. How The Hell You’ll Pay Off Your Loans
My friend couldn’t figure this out … so she stopped paying them. She paid off her federal loans (those you can get in really big trouble for defaulting on), but after enduring years of collections calls from the private loans, they seemed to just give up. Even weirder, her credit wasn’t affected. I’m not suggesting you try this same strategy — all those robo calls seemed like a true nightmare — I’m just saying that I guess sometimes putting things off you can’t possibly do right now anyway works out better than you might expect.
If you have no idea how to pay off your loans and it’s weighing on you (how couldn’t it), consider that you don’t need to figure it all out immediately — and vote for a new president that advocates student loan forgiveness. Hey, we can dream.
20. What You Want To “Do” With The Rest of Your Life
Almost no one has one job, or even one career, anymore. So instead of thinking in such permanent terms, think about how you’d like to spend your time now, and maybe your goals for the next six months, year, and three years. Trying to plan anything much more than that is usually just pure speculation anyway. Hopefully, you’re going to continue to grow too much to make any outcome so easily mappable.