Columnist Paula Bekkerus reflects on her 21st birthday. 

I turned 21 a little over a week ago, on Oct. 9. I don’t feel much older physically or mentally. I still feel like a college kid, now on the older side of this age group, though. I still have the knees of an 80-year-old, and I can’t eat junk food without expecting to feel it in the morning. I’m still young and impulsive and sometimes make bad decisions. But in some ways, it feels like so much has changed.

In America, 21 is a big age. You can go to a casino and gamble; you can book a hotel room; you can buy and drink alcohol. And I even turned old enough to buy tobacco products, which has happened to me twice now. To quote Dr. Doofenshmirtz of “Phineas and Ferb,” “If I had a nickel for every time I [turned old enough to buy tobacco products], I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice, right?”

I feel wise and older in a way, even though I know future me is going to reread this someday and laugh because I’m really not old at all; “I was practically a baby,” I would say. I can already hear it.

Turning 21 has led to people asking me questions that I hadn’t even asked myself yet. Do things go downhill from here? Will I stop getting excited for birthdays now that such a big milestone has passed? I can’t even imagine dreading birthdays, but I know some people definitely do. I guess we all want time to slow down, but in my opinion, time won’t stop, so I might as well celebrate.

To me, birthdays are all about the people who you spend them with. This year, I spent my birthday with my boyfriend; with my roommates/best friends; with other friends, old and new; and I also got to see my family. A whole weekend packed with fun really set up a perfect tone for what I’m hoping to get out of my 21st year.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t see my entire life out of rose-colored glasses. Maybe when I’m writing I do, but in daily life, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is that we all have up days and down days. Bones days and no-bones days, if you will. But on those no-bones days, it’s up to us to decide how we want to spend our limited time. Personally, I like to take a break from high-energy activities and take time to focus on myself. I spend these days reviewing my own personal health checklist:

  1. Physical — Have you moved (exercised) recently? Have you eaten yet? Have you showered? 

  2. Emotional — Have you checked in on your emotions recently? Have you cleaned your space? Have you made time to journal and reflect away from screens?

  3. Social — Have you seen another person recently? Have you spent time with a pet?

Once I accomplish this checklist, I move on to other things, like work, homework and other things that create that itchy, nagging feeling in the back of my mind. But my favorite part of that checklist is the part when I spend time with the people I love.

As time seems to move faster and faster every year, it may feel like you’re behind or not where you’re supposed to be, or maybe you just feel restless, like you haven’t done anything. I’m here to tell you that you are exactly where you need to be, and what matters most is the connections you have made with other people.

We all have our own accomplishments. We all have our own interests, hobbies, goals and desires. But for me, at least, all of those things fade to the background when something as significant and beautifully fragile as relationships are my focus. The people around me are what made my 21st birthday so special, not the fact that I can drink alcohol or rent a car. It’s about who you surround yourself with.

I hope you enjoy the people around you.

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(1) comment

Seymour Trout

Turning 21 is the peak birthday, after which birthdays plateau. Thirty is a big birthday for women because they expect to be married with kids. If they are not, they go crazy.

I recommend you get married by 28, which is when your brain is fully formed. Most of the good mates are snapped up by then. If you wait past thirty, you’ll be dating divorced people and the never married. Divorced people are damaged. You’ll always be dealing with the ghost of their divorced partner. Never married people are usually never married for a reason, usually a bad reason.

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