Sometimes I look in the mirror and tell myself, “Yes, Louise. You are 31. You are in your thirties now. You are an adult.”
Then I usually round it off by mouthing,
“You are a bad-ass mother who don’t take no crap off anyone,” and go try and find a Bobsled Team to hang out with.
I’m not sure what I expected 31 to look like. Probably a lot more wrinkles — holla for Irish skin and SPF 50 — but, oddly enough, I feel much less concerned about ageing now than I did in my twenties.
When I turned 20, I had an existential crisis and sent a long email to everyone in my contact list — this was before blogs existed, really, and before I gained enough self-awareness to figure out that people would literally rather watch paint dry than read my inane musings — asking some of life’s Big Questions.
Namely, where were my shoulder pads? Where were my adoring man-slaves? Why wasn’t my life an outtake from Knots Landing already?
I’m not going to lie to you: My twenties were chaotic and messy.
I was unsure of myself and what I wanted from life but was afraid of admitting that I needed help, constantly repeating that everything was ‘fine’ when it really was not.
So now, to help younger women navigate their own twenties, I would like to share some of my more idiotic experiences. Please learn from my mistakes.
1. Carry condoms at all time. After a few drinks, an ‘Ah sure, what’s the worst that could happen?’ attitude sets in, but it’ll be you making the lonely trip for the morning-after pill and Canesten the next day. That particular combination always makes the pharmacist wince and give you an intense, “What are you doing with your life?” chat. So I’ve heard. (Hi Mom!)
2. When he didn’t call or text, I said it was because he was “scared.” He was scared all right. Scared of having to see my face ever again in case I dropped to one knee and ask him to make a honest woman out of me.
3. Don’t pack while you’re drunk or you will, as I did, end up on your J1 with a large suitcase containing ten pairs of jeans, one bra, and a t-shirt.
4. I kept buying keyrings upon which I wrote my full name and address and then proceeded to lose them. With house key attached. This happened six times. My dad still doesn’t know because he would have insisted on getting the locks changed. (Hi Dad!)
5. I lost four phones in three weeks.
6. I lost my passport three times in the space of six weeks and received an official letter from the government saying that they thought I was selling passports and could I please maybe stop.
7. My passport was ‘stolen’ in Peru (moving on) and when I arrived back in Ireland there were issues at passport control and sometimes late at night I worry that there’s another “Louise O’ Neill” out there, and she’s going to steal my identity. Like Sandra Bullock in The Net except less attractive.
8. I had a month to write a 5,000-word essay and kept putting it off because there were drinks to be had and men who had no interest in me to be obsessed over. (Hi Redacted!) It was Sunday night. The essay was due on Monday morning. I wrote it in eight hours. I would like to tell you that it was a work of staggering genius but, no. It was not. Sample comment from my professor: Is this supposed to be English?
9. I barely made it to any of my lectures, prompting more than one person to ask “Wait, do you still go here? I thought you had dropped out?”
10. I kept ringing this guy, who I had a crush on, when I was drunk and then texting him the next morning saying, “Oh yeah, that was my friends.” No one was fooled.
11. I went to my interview at ELLE in New York so jetlagged that I sent a blank thank you card afterwards. Realising it was blank two seconds after I mailed it, I persuaded my friend Vicky to write another one in her handwriting so they wouldn’t notice. I spent the entire year of my internship afraid my boss would somehow pick up on the fact my handwriting was totally different.
12. After a night out with friends, I fell asleep on the Q train for approximately two hours between 3am and 5am and woke to find a barefoot man with no teeth urinating on the floor next to me. Ah, New York. I miss you so much.
13. On my first day at ELLE it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to turn on a Mac so I tried to pretend Ireland didn’t have computers.
14. When a friend of mine and I were too hungover to make it to work, we decided to ring in sick for one another. She rang my boss, made up a story about a stomach bug, and all was well. I rang her boss, panicked, and said that Emma had been knocked down by a car. Bit awkward when she arrived into work the next day, limbs intact.
There are other examples — most of which I can’t mention here for fear of legal action — but my abiding memories of my twenties and indeed my teens, was that I pretended way too much and too often.
I didn’t say what I was really feeling because I wanted to seem cool and more interesting and more together than I actually was.
And it was exhausting.
It’s such trite advice to say — be yourself. Speak your truth.
Be honest about what you need.
But I promise you, it’s the only way to live. You are who you are and that’s good enough.
(And stay away from ‘bad boys’ and drugs. Neither end well.)
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