Hey, fellow young ladies of a certain ilk. Is it just me, or are we all kind of a mess? Are we all rambling around our lives, spending too much and making bad dating decisions and working at jobs we hate, because we’re honestly struggling to get somewhere? Or are we doing this because we think it’s romantic?
I think I had an epiphany of sorts last year, while squoozing blackheads out of my face in front of a mirror (I know you do it too, don’t even). I was doing this even though I knew for a fact that I would regret doing so, just as I always do. Suddenly, the following thought zoomed through my mind: “Being a mess doesn’t make you cute. It just makes you a mess.” And I looked at myself in the mirror in shock, struck by the realization that I was not only picking at my face against my better judgment, but I had been doing just about everything else against my better judgment too. Every circumstantial excuse I’d built up to explain myself out of responsibility for the last few seemingly unlucky years of my life melted away like they were nothing. There I stood, in my jammies, my face red with irritation, newly aware that my unhappiness and disorder was actually of my own choosing.
Between manic pixie dream girls and slacker dude culture, I think our generation somehow got the idea that it’s charming to be a hot mess. HBO’s Girls seems to be the culmination of this. I’m not knocking the show. I think it’s a well-written, well-acted show, and I’m glad to have it on television (ladies making art represent, what what!). However, I do worry that as the viewer, we’re idealizing this kind of life, rather than looking into it as a mirror and recognizing our parallel mistakes. Are we romanticizing our twenties as being the time when we should all be complete disasters as people? If the Beat Generation had the wandering artist ideal and the Me Generation had the power greed ideal, is our generational ideal to be broke and having terrible sex and hating ourselves?
Mike’s piece about having a great, fulfilling year, while saving too, is the perfect counterbalance to this. Mike isn’t different from us, he’s just aware. Spending smarter and saving is a choice—one every single person can make. Are we not doing it because we are genuinely incapable, or are we not doing it so that we have relatable, charmingly self-deprecating tweets for people to star? I think once I was truly over the hump of being broke and unable to pay rent, I continued to live most of my twenties as if I was in some kind of movie montage. Here’s me drinking too much at a bar with my friends and rolling around in the street at 4 a.m.! Here’s me eating dinner in my underwear on my mattress on the floor of my otherwise empty studio apartment! Here’s me sleeping with a 40-something-year old dude who doesn’t treat me well! Here’s me overdrawing my bank account because I want to go rollerskating! Whee! I’m such an adorable 26-year-old mess!
However, after the zippy montage is edited together, there remains all the real life stuff on the cutting room floor. Here’s me choosing to go out drinking, instead of writing and getting better at what I really want to do. Here’s the part where I have to wake up at 6 a.m. to go to the job I hate, hungover from drinking the night before. Here’s me never wanting to have friends over because my studio apartment doesn’t have any furniture, so I sit in isolation, my neurotic inner monologue eating away at my confidence. Here’s me getting home after unfulfilling sex, wondering why I keep actively participating in something that makes me unhappy. Here’s me without the option to quit my job and pursue my goals, because I have no money saved.
There will undoubtedly be those who read this and just think I’m an asshole. And I probably am. I am an asshole for having known what I should have been doing and embracing the fuck-up instead. But maybe it is relatable. Maybe it is generational. Maybe it was growing up on slacker movies like Clerks, Reality Bites, or even Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. Maybe it was the dozens of rom-coms with meet-cutes and grand gestures and manic pixie dream girls and sexual mistakes. Or maybe it was something more organic, something within our culture and politics and changing world at large. Perhaps it was watching some of our parents, who thought they had amassed everything they wanted in the ’80s and ’90s, suddenly get to the ’00s and ’10s and feel they’d been robbed of something essential, like the game changed on them. Or perhaps we feel like the game changed on us, and if the goal posts are that much farther back than they were before, we don’t want to play. I don’t know. All I know is I can feel it around me, this sense that we all want to be young and dumb forever. I have a suspicion that we think being a mess equals being young equals being vital.
And I’m done with it.
Here’s to working like a boss, saving like a champ, and getting to the next level. I’m gonna Beyonce this shit from now on. Who run the world? Girls. But probably not until we start thinking of ourselves as women.