Lessons yet to learn

So I haven’t blogged in a few weeks. You all know how that goes. Anyway, here’s a quick summary of what’s been on my mind:

I belong to a small group at my church through the Just Faith program. The nine of us share the desire to become more compassionate, help others, find more meaning in life, and strengthen our faith. I never would have joined a group like this while I was in school, because I always felt I was too busy. I never really thought about personal growth; I was too focused on classes, swim team, and my peers. Which is not a bad thing. But my outlook has changed a lot over the last several months, and I’m grateful that I was inspired and available to join this group.

I still struggle to do the right thing, because the right thing doesn’t always present itself in black-and-white. While I want to give money every time a cashier asks me “Would you like to donate to such-and-such today?”, I have to say no because at my age, it’s important that I save the little money I make to secure my own future. When people I know make ignorant and incompassionate comments about those less fortunate than us, I bite my tongue because starting a debate won’t solve anything. And though being nice to everyone seems like the right thing to do, it often backfires. Especially for me, because men tend to mistake politeness for flirting, and I end up dealing with unwanted attention from all the wrong guys.

But I’m working on it. Sometimes I wish I had a life coach telling me exactly what the right thing to do is. Not just for others, but for myself. Figuring it out on my own is the best way though. While browsing at Barnes and Nobles one day, I read the first chapter of the memoir “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake”, in which Anna Quindlen writes about this idea:

I would tell my twenty-two-year-old self that what lasts are things so ordinary she may not even see them: family dinners, fair fights, phone calls, friends. But of course the young woman I once was cannot hear me, not just because of time and space, but because of the language, and the lessons, she has yet to learn. It’s a miracle: somehow over time she learned them all just the same, by trial and error.


“Describe the perfect man,”

said my health teacher on our last day of class as she handed us each an index card. I was silently celebrating the end of the most awkward class of my high-school career: sex ed. Our teacher was a spunky, tell-it-like-it-is kind of lady. And we were a bunch of Catholic-school girls in blazers and plaid skirts (some shorter than others, a measurement which was directly correlated with social status). The assignment was to list traits we wanted in a future husband. “You need to start thinking about what’s important to you. You need to set standards,” she lectured. The little cogs in my under-developed brain began turning. And my 15-year-old self concocted the following list, word-for-word (prefaced by the statement “I want to be an independent woman! But if that doesn’t work out, my man has to be…):

  • tall
  • handsome
  • pale
  • black hair
  • conservative
  • well-educated
  • not a slob
  • funny
  • laundry-doing
  • non-jerk
  • likes animals
  • polite
  • loving
  • no drugs
  • no more than 7 years older than me

Okay, okay. So some of these items are negotiable–like, I’m not sure why I thought paleness was an important trait; maybe because the Twilight series had me in a vampire craze? However, I like my list and I’m sticking to it! (Er, for the most part.)

Since I wrote that list, I’ve been on a few dates here and there and I’ve had one long-term relationship. But none of those guys quite fit this description. At the age of 22, I’m starting to see many of my peers get married, and–I’m not going to lie–it’s putting me in a mild panic. While I’m sitting around waiting for Prince Charming/Edward Cullen to come along, all the guys my age are getting snatched up. My pool from which to choose is dwindling.

I know, I know, I’m being a little melodramatic. But dating can be a daunting thing for today’s young adult. Many young people are already divorced. Many already have children. Even in their 20s, singles come with baggage that complicates their relationships. Furthermore, in our increasingly promiscuous society, people have varying ideas of what a relationship entails. Finding a gentleman who isn’t already taken or emotionally unavailable is not easy. And where to find them? I don’t go to bars to meet guys, because I don’t want the kind of guy who hangs out at bars. Nice guys have the same problem with meeting people. I can only imagine they struggle to find a girl who isn’t catty, spoiled, gold-digging, or “plastic.”

It’s taken a while, but I think the lesson my health teacher taught us that day has finally sunk in. We shouldn’t settle for someone who doesn’t meet our standards, even if it seems like that ideal person will never come along. As you mature, dating becomes more than just a fun game; it’s the journey to finding your life companion. Everyone you date will have flaws. You have to consciously think about which flaws you’re willing to live with (it’s okay if Prince Charming/Edward Cullen doesn’t have black hair, but doing drugs is a deal-breaker). I believe the trick is finding someone whose flaws only make you love them more.

The best is yet to come

I went through something of a quarter-life crisis when I turned 21. I realized that after this birthday, there would be no more big (or at least no exciting) milestones. It had always been “13, finally a teenager!” or “16, finally a licensed driver!” or “18, finally an adult!” Then it happened. The birthday I’d always anticipated: 21, when everything becomes legal (except renting a car–why is that?). After that birthday, I had no other birthdays to look forward to. From this point forward, I was simply aging.

You may think I’m crazy for thinking like this, but hear me out–I noticed a marked difference in my birthday messages when I opened my cards on my 22nd birthday. They all read something along the lines of, “Happy birthday! Hope you have many more!” Or in other words, “Have a good day, try not to die this year!” Of course I’m over analyzing, but check your birthday cards and tell me that I’m not right!

I eventually got over my quarter-life crisis with the help of four amazing ladies: Blanche, Sophia, Rose, and Dorothy. The Golden Girls gives a positive perspective on aging in this youth-obsessed culture. These ladies show us that life can still be fun, new, and exciting, even after 80. Just look at all the adventures Sophia gets into. She’s still dating and going to parties. And check out Blanche—proof that you can still look great when you’re over-the-hill. The quarter-life crisis phenomena is real (I didn’t just make this up), and characterized by the feeling that life is over because you’re no longer a teenager or even a college kid, but a full-fledged adult. Of course, I am nostalgic for those high school days. And I’d love to stay in college forever. But the Golden Girls inspire me. I feel like there are more adventures and great friendships yet to come. If anyone else is dreading leaving college behind or turning another year older or going through some life transition, I strongly encourage you to sit down with America’s sweethearts and try not to worry about it. In my personal experience, I’ve found life gets better as it progresses.