Being 20 is a gift: with so many life choices ahead of you, you can do anything and be anything. And there are so many first times: first time living away from your parents; first proper job; first serious relationship (in my case at least!). However, on balance I prefer being in my thirties – I feel more settled, both in life and in my own skin. Although there are some things I’ll miss from that more carefree decade, I’m happy to leave quite a few of its practices in the past. Here are seven habits from my twenties that, for better or for worse, I can’t imagine I’ll ever do again…
1. Indulge a hangover.
As a carefree twenty-something, a hangover used to be a badge of honour. At university, collective hangovers were a social event – we’d drag ourselves down to the local greasy spoon for a group brunch and piece together the events of the previous evening, before trudging back to our shared house for a trash-TV marathon (usually The O.C.). Evenings would be spent with a blanket over my knees and a cup of tea and a pile of chocolate biscuits within reach. Nowadays, weeknight excess is out of the question, while weekends are just too precious to give over to slack-jawed sloth.
2. Wake up still wearing my contact lenses.
I can’t begin to count the number of times that, as a student, I woke up with a dry mouth, spinning head and that strange burning sensation behind my eyelids that signified that I’d crashed out wearing my contact lenses and would presently have to prise from my red-raw, oxygen-starved eyeballs. I was so used to this state of affairs that one morning-after-the-night-before I was convinced I’d left my contact lenses in overnight, only to discover I was actually clawing at my naked eyeballs… Blagh. I just cannot imagine a situation in my current life that would lead to me forgetting to take out my lenses. It must be true what they say – older, wiser.
3. Run without worrying about wetting myself.
(OK, this one is more to do with having had a baby than any decade-specific watershed, but still.) Although my post-natal body fared better than I expected in most respects, my pelvic floor was annihilated by childbirth. For the first few weeks of Oscar’s life, I all-but lost the sensation of needing the loo, meaning I was very grateful to those MASSIVE maternity pads new mums have to wear for soaking up quite a lot of stray wee. Nobody talks about this, I’ve found. I spent months trying to relocate those muscles and coax them back into action, and thankfully I did manage to regain control of my bladder fairly quickly. But I’ll never again run in that carefree way beloved of sanitary-towel adverts (something I’m not sure I ever did anyway…).
4. Turn up at somebody’s house empty-handed.
I used to roll up to friends’ homes with nothing but an Oyster card and the clothes on my back, drink the booze or eat the meal they had prepared for me, then thank them and leave. Unless I was specifically asked to bring wine, the thought of contributing anything to the evening never crossed my mind; I knew I would repay the favour next time. These days, I can’t believe the gall I had to turn up without some sort of token – even just a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates, or a bottle of some sort. Rachel is the queen of these little details – rare is the occasion that she arrives at my flat without some pretty flowers or a Tupperware filled with homemade cakes. I loved receiving these treats so much that I finally started bringing them along to other people’s homes.
5. Get fooled by the fakers.
I used to be bowled over by those people who seem to have it all figured out – the people who had an important-sounding job title, a pulled-together look, an extensive and super-cool social harem and a ballsy answer to everything – and I would give myself a hard time about falling short in comparison. By the time I reached my late twenties, however, I had realised that most people are winging it through a combination of bluff and bravado, and nothing is ever quite as it seems. So I relaxed a bit. The older I get, the more I am able to value my own worth and stop comparing myself to other people. It’s nice to be able to give myself a break.
6. Follow fashion.
I used to be experimental with my clothes and hair. I’m not saying my look was ever edgy, fashion-forward or even fashionable. And I was never alternative enough for my clothes to be classed as a certain sub-genre. However, I did buy all sorts of ill-advised garments – from a brown-velvet floppy hat, to frayed, baggy, patchwork jeans, to neon-pink tights, to Uggs (ugh). In my thirties, I know more or less what suits me. I’ve also already started fearing looking like mutton dressed as lamb, which is why I remind myself to stick to classic pieces as much as possible, and why I’m spending less time than ever in Topshop.
7. Work for free.
I did my fair share of internships in my twenties. I spent weeks and months getting experience on local and national newspapers – including one particularly morale-busting five-day stretch filled with calls to all the local authorities in England AND Wales to enquire about their definition of a pothole… I did odd writing jobs that I thought might lead somewhere, but more often than not led nowhere. And I helped friends out in the spirit of career karma (a great way to do some softly-softly networking). Despite the fact that this blog sees me producing a hell of a lot of words for nothing every week (we’ll call it a hobby and move swiftly on…), when it comes to work proper, I’m valuing my time and my experience and saying no to any offers that include the words, ‘Although we can’t pay you…’. I will still work for next to nothing (I am a journalist, after all), but I draw the line at working for absolutely zilch.
What changed for you when you hit 30? What do you miss from your twenties, and what are you relieved to have left behind?