Spring comes early to global warming-era Tennessee, and with it come the attendant social functions: baby showers for blossoming life, wedding showers for blossoming love, outdoor brunches for blossoming ... blossoms. Such is this season in the South. In the past month, I've had one of each of the aforementioned celebrations, and they've brought some interesting things to light about life in your 20s.
First up was a bridal shower for a friend and former neighbor. A selection of young professional lady friends arrived at her beautifully decorated nuptial apartment bearing beautifully wrapped gifts of lingerie and floral-scented lotions. The bride to be is sleek and accomplished, wearing stilettos to work, traveling to Europe with her fiancé and generally living the life. One of the guests attending had great news—her handmade goods will soon be featured on the Anthropologie website.
I felt like I was on a television show, where apartments are Pinteresting, women are fashionable and hot chocolate comes with delicately flavored marshmallows. I love my awkward life more and more each day, but I also love wandering into this beautiful world. It felt like a relaxed, Southern version of "Sex and the City," where everyone and everything is more put together than my haphazard life. I'm lucky to find my car keys and two shoes that match on any given morning.
Soon after, I had a baby shower to attend. It was surreal to be stirring up mocktails and painting onesies—onesies that would soon contain an actual human baby; onesies that confirmed just how simultaneously small and large actual human babies are (small for people, large for where they come out of); onesies that would not only hold an actual human baby, but one that is coming out of a friend of mine who is my age and already married and who owns a house and a KitchenAid mixer.
In attendance was another friend my age who is expecting her baby early this summer. They nervously talked about trimester sizes, back pain and their parents' slightly overbearing attempts to help with their pregnancies. The rest of us, unmarried and poor, nervously calculated how many days it would be until we expected our next period. We were all happy to be together, decorating tiny baby clothes and celebrating this strange, wonderful and unfamiliar thing. If you have to venture into the unknown, it's best to do it with friends.
The night after the baby shower brunch, I went out with my friends. We ate cheap Mexican food and then retired to my buddy's music studio to drink cheap beer until it seemed appropriate to dance to Robyn and M.I.A. Through a combination of the soundtrack and the activities, it felt like an episode of "Girls." I felt suddenly out of place—too old and suddenly unsure how to drink beer and dance to pop music about breakups and car sex.
I was reminded that it had been weeks or even months since I had seen some of these friends. I thought about those I knew who were getting married or soon to go into labor. I thought about work and how I needed to go to bed early so that I would be fresh the next day. I thought about all the things in my apartment I needed to bleach. I thought about how I felt guilty to feel so disconnected.
It was a relief then when my friend, the bride-to-be, emailed me the next morning and happened to describe exactly why all these social encounters had felt so strange and incongruous. She wondered if I had considered writing a column on what she called the phenomena of "friends but not peers." She described, much as I have here, friends with houses and boats and marriages and dubiously spotless couches you can barely stand to sit down on.
"The gap between us looms large!" she wrote of the difference between 25 and 30 or even 25 and 35. "I think we are at such an interesting age, where all of a sudden half our friends are stuck in a post-college funk and the other half have turned into 'real' adults with kids and mortgages. There's a sweet spot in the middle that we seem to be sitting in. But then, I think this spot is sweet to me, but I bet all my friends (but not peers) feel the same about their lives."
I think back to middle school, when my girlfriends and I were all hitting puberty. Some girls in my class got their periods in fifth grade and talked about it furtively on the playground only with the others who'd been similarly blessed. I hadn't gotten mine and was left to overhear and wonder. Some of my friends were a year older and a class ahead and got their breasts first. They teased me for my flat chest. They read books with sex scenes, flirted with boys and knew what third base was. These gaps between us loomed large. Now, that gap seems small, at least in comparison to the gaps of your 20s.
At no other time since middle school have I been in such a different place from those around me. Like the haves and have-nots in the bra department, now there are the marrieds and the unmarrieds, the datings and the singles. There are the renters and the homeowners, the careers and the jobs, the students and the workers, the financially stable and the credit card dependent, the partying and the sober—the list could go on and on. The 20s are a period of riotous growth, and we all land in different places and different phases at remarkably different times.
Like getting your period or filling out your training bra, when these markers happen for you, they can feel really personal, like the universe judging you for your great timing. We all need to take it easier on ourselves. We need to remember that we've all been braless or jobless or single or in the midst of post-college confusion. We need to remember that, if we so choose, we can be somewhere different in a few years or even in a few months. We need to remember this is a process, not a race.
Choose your friends not on who is your peer because peerdom is in constant flux. Instead, choose to surround yourself with those people who genuinely interest you because of who they are, regardless of where they are in life. To borrow from the Harley Davidson vernacular, "Ride your own ride." Love your life, and be happy for your friends' ways of loving theirs. When in doubt, make brunch. There is very little that isn't equal over hollandaise and orange juice.
Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.