Tuesday, 25 August 2015

'A teenage dream's so hard to beat'

Teenagers. Everything is so apocalyptic.

Teenage years are the worst, everyone says so, especially when you’re a teenager. They patronise you about hormones and ‘changes’ and promise you it gets better. But I want to talk about whether it ever really does. Last week, friends and I were talking about our teenage years: what we remember, what they meant to us, how they shaped us. The conclusion was unequivocal: being a teenager wasn’t that bad at all. Not compared to your twenties.

Let me take you back to my teenage years…

My most treasured memories are of my friends, lots of them, different ones at different times. I think I had 6 best friends (bffs, bezzie m8s, bmfls, bffls & 4EVA) in my teenage years and, apart from 2, I’ve lost touch with them all – but I am infinitely grateful to each of them for making being a teenager so happy, so fun, and so manageable. My best friends were the ones that spent Saturdays walking around Brighton with me, trying on clothes our pocket money would never afford, and leaving with a packet of sweets, a discounted CD from HMV and a tummy full of Nando’s that our parents had given us lunch money for. We stayed up all night at sleepovers, eating popcorn, watching shit films and discussing the hilarities of school, all the girls we both hated that week, and pretend we had serious and urgent boy woes. We chatted on MSN, on the phone, by text, on Skype, Facebook chat, Bebo ALL THE TIME because sometimes there is just so much to talk about, and the 8 hours spent together at school does not suffice. We did our homework together, got dressed up for parties together, babysat together, cooked together, did all the embarrassing things that we hope no one will ever know about, together. We helped make each other the people we are today.

Friends are the good bit, though. There were also bad bits: new worries, bigger worries, one that we thought were totally insurmountable…

It was almost like the day I turned 13 that spots appeared, and not just one of them; they were all over my forehead, sometimes my chin, sometimes even my nose or cheeks. The only conceivable option seemed to be to hide them (and all my shameful sensitivity about them) beneath a long, sweepy emo fringe. One that would ultimately make my skin even greasier. It was at this time I discovered how absolutely necessary some concealer, powder, mascara and an awful lot of eyeliner was to my general well-being. I needed it to cover up my spots, mostly. I also needed it to appear suitably cool and grown up: what teenage boy doesn’t love a mysterious, fringe-heavy girl with a nice thick helping of eyeliner? And with spots came periods. I’d anticipated it, but I’d anticipated it making me feel like a woman: sophisticated, worldy, can get out of PE if necessary. It made me feel gross. All girls, women, have battled with the total horror and embarrassment of someone discovering we’re on; with the confusing masterpieces that are tampons; and the horrendous stomach cramps, vomiting and hot flushes experienced every time it feels like your ovaries are simultaneously trying to eat themselves and burst through your stomach (and/or back).

Next was school: the best and worst days of your life. Retrospectively, school was great. At the time, it was utterly ridiculous. Why did I have all that homework? Why did my hair scrunchie need to be navy blue? Why was my blazer so itchy? Was it really necessary to have a bag bigger and heavier than me to carry all my books and folders? What if GCSEs made me die of stress? Why did THAT teacher do THAT really annoying thing ALL THE TIME? How do they always know when I’ve rolled my skirt up? WHERE DID I PUT MY LOCKER KEYS?

And parties. Your first real party, with boys, a barbeque not cooked by a dad and alcohol (a hearty selection of Bacardi Breezers, WKDs and maybe a cheeky Smirnoff Ice) makes you feel like you’re unstoppable. You’ve left the house with a skirt over the top of your really short dress, which you promptly remove to make sure you look bangin’. You’re having THE BEST TIME. This is nuts, this is the new you, you might even try a cigarette or take a drag of a spliff. All fun and games until you’re sick, and it’s blue WKD, and you’re so relieved you said you’d stay the night because you cannot go home like this. Eventually you crash in a tent, amongst some hay bales, in the back of your car.

Boys. Being at a girls’ school I was fairly protected, oblivious. But there was still the first real crush which, at the time, was MAD ADORATION: year 8, I know he looks like a shark, but he has a 6 pack and that’s really cool (but secretly freaks me out). It’s a shame he doesn’t love me back and I have to send him emo texts to get him to notice me and maybe sympathy fancy me. Then there’s the rebellion: the one you secretly want your parents to know about because it’d really piss them off, but you’re also repulsed by the repercussions. This doesn’t stop you flaunting him to your friends and doing dramatic readings of the texts he sends you. There’s the MSN boyfriend who tells you he loves you, that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him…but is completely terrified of you in person. The boy you ‘brb’ and never return. The unrequited love you still wonder about today. The boy at the party who agreed to make out with you even though you had braces. The first kiss, messy, the first time you had sex, even messier.

It’s a beautiful, horrible, confusing, exhilarating, upsetting and overwhelming experience. But is it anything on your twenties? 

Today marks my 618th day into my twenties, and it has already been much more difficult and confusing than any of my teenage years. The friends are the constant, but suddenly you find yourself spread out at unis or doing jobs all over the country. You are no longer the only thing going on in your friends' lives, and neither are they in yours. You make new friends, lots of them; but it's not quite like school where you spend 8 hours with them every day, where you all live down the road from each other, and where you can't chat them for 2 hours every night because you pay your own phone bill now. You'll still see lots of some friends, but some you'll lose touch with, some you'll catch for a coffee or lunch a couple of times a year, some you'll always make plans with and never end up seeing. It's more work, it's not as easy.  

Your spots are mostly gone, but they come back when you least expect them and when you're least equipped to deal with them. Having spots makes you angry because you're not a hormonal teenager anymore, no one expects you to have spots now; it isn't fair, in fact, it's a damn right injustice. You are better at make up now though, and you can afford concealer that isn't made by Miss Sporty. Periods go from being a tummy ache and a day off school to trying every contraceptive pill available in the hope of finding one that doesn't make you sick/grumpy/fat/rashy/pregnant...and still settling for one that gives you disgusting, painful periods half the time anyway. It means buying your own tampons and being horrified at how expensive they are - then buying them in bulk when they're on offer in Tesco and avoiding eye contact with the boy at the check outs who must think you're having the most aggressive period in the world. It means worrying about when it's late, why it's late, why it's different, whether you're pregnant, how on earth you get an abortion if god forbid you are which you almost certainly aren't. It means secretly looking forward to the menopause so you never have to endure this monthly warfare again. 

School becomes uni, which is harder and more responsibility. You're required to make more choices: no longer is it 'pick 10 subjects you vaguely like and are interested in' but 'pick one to study for three years, make sure that you really like it, but also make sure that you're going to be able to get a job at the end of. Oh, and make sure you pick the right place to do it: the right course, the right location. Can you afford it? Do you want to live there?' Suddenly you have to make plans, set your own routine, work out what you're going to do with your 36 working hours a week that you're not at uni. And then, at some point, you're supposed to work out what you want to do with your life. When you're a teenager it's fine not to know, but when you're 21, 10 months away from graduation, somehow it feels concerning not to have any idea. You haven't got your life sorted out, and everyone else seems to, and that feels problematic. Very quickly you realise no one knows what they're doing either, whether they're at their desk in their uni house, in their classroom, or in their office. 

And parties become clubs. It's not ok to get smashed on WKDs anymore, and that's a sad realisation we all must come to. Feeling fab in your friend's garden with the shortest skirt you've ever worn aged 16 isn't as fun when you're being touched up by a middle aged, high, Iranian man in a club in Shoreditch who, every time you try to escape, shouts 'you fuck me' at you. You have hangovers when there's nothing in the fridge. No longer do you just have a cheeky kiss in a disused caravan with a friend of a friend; in your twenties it translates into the idea that you could have a one night stand with a guy you've just met - a notion that simultaneously terrifies, intrigues and repulses you. You realise you got the night bus back with friends, but none of you remembers any of it. You drive to your friends, then realise you're too drunk to drive home, and instead find yourself sitting in a pub, surrounded by old men on a Saturday night, waiting for someone to come and get you. You're expected to be an adult when all you want to be is a teenager. 

Boys are still boys, you think they're going to be men now, but they're still boys most of the time. The end of your 6 week relationship with the boy you only really spoke to online, a week before your Maths GCSE which seemed like THE END OF THE WORLD doesn't compare to the unrivalled guilt (and relief) of ending a 2 year relationship. You've now realised that all those things that you thought were making you appear really sexy really weren't, and you're now just a bit confused about what it is that makes you attractive to other people. You try be chatty and not too weird, put on some liquid eyeliner and hope for the best. You're still not really sure if they're flirting with you, but 17 year olds have stopped sending you unwanted dick pics now so that's good. It's not long before your Facebook newsfeed is full of engagements and wedding pictures. When you realise that your friend from year 8 is now married with 2 kids and a dog, and you and your boyfriend can't even work out what to watch on Netflix, you wonder what's going on. You start thinking about commitment: what it means to be in a 'long term' relationship, what would happen if it all ended tomorrow, what it is you want, and whether this is it. It's exciting when it is; it's awful when it isn't. It's lots of time, worry, contemplation, feelings. It's not just dumping a 13 year old boy because he wouldn't hold hands with you yet. 

Being a teenager was hard sometimes. But being a twenty-something is harder. You're expected to grown up for yourself and make decisions for yourself. But did they lie when they said it got better? I don't think so. It's got harder, much harder, but also more fun and more free. The bad times suck even harder but the good times are awesomer. I've decided it's ok to miss being a teenager, but it's also important to enjoy being a twenty-something. I figure thirty-somethings are going to be marriage and babies and mortgages and jobs, and that definitely sounds worse. 


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