Growing up. No one ever said it was going to be easy. And while my own half-hearted experiences of it lie firmly in the 'First World Problems' camp, I can't help but think that being a relatively privileged twenty-something still comes with its own woes and perplexities, on top of the oft-told stories of mass unemployment, unpaid internships and student debt.
I very recently turned twenty-three and am already beginning to think of myself as in my mid-twenties; a truly terrifying No Woman's Land. Being in your early twenties suggests a carefree and legitimately student-like existence. On the other side of the abyss is the land of the late twenties, with expectations of a proper career and the potential of mortgages and pensions. It is also the home of twenty-eight, that age that I have long and naively associated with marriage and children. This is definitely indoctrination from the Bridget Jones School of Self-Loathing, but I sincerely doubt that I am the only young woman who expects her 'biological clock' (shudder) to start audibly ticking at the age of twenty-eight. Rationally, I find it highly unlikely that I will be anywhere close to beginning my own family until I've limped, horrified, into my thirties; but twenty-eight is still there, sneering away at me in a Cath Kidston pinny.
Still, for now I have five years of respite. And this is where the identity-crisis begins: what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Whether you are twenty-one or twenty-eight there is some sort of blueprint telling you how to behave. Twenty-one year olds are basically just overgrown adolescents. Of course, there are laudable individuals with kids, real jobs and responsibilities, but I think I'm correct in considering them the precocious minority. According to the media, life is meant to be a Skins-like haze of irresponsibility and excess. In reality it is probably just a lot of laziness and piles of unwashed laundry. Then you're meant to grow up and, maybe seven or eight years later, spend every Saturday at a wedding and every Sunday at Ikea. I for one have no idea how to make this leap into respectable maturity with any sort of grace or ease.
Showing my younger cousin around my new flat, one that I share with nice girls with proper jobs, she cheerfully declared 'It's such a student place!' Even a year ago I would have shrugged nonchalantly and said something about how living in filth is great for bonding with your housemates: just like Glastonbury, right? Instead I wanted to yell 'But we have throws and matching cushions! We vacuum, regularly! Haven't you seen the coffee table?!' It didn't matter that my cousin is still at school and is yet to experience the true horror of a student kitchen after the first term in halls (by comparison our flat is straight out of Grand Designs); couldn't she see we were trying to make a grown-up home!?And, this is the thing: how do you function as a respectable twenty-something without being an excruciating student wannabe or basically just becoming your parents, throws and all?
Symptomatic of this awkward transition is a phenomenon I've observed among a number of my friends. After years of listening to Radio One or something equally 'youth-orientated', they suddenly embrace Radio Two, local radio, or, in my own humiliating case, become zealous Radio Four converts. I am probably old before my time and, admittedly, the BBC have recently scolded Radio One for attracting too geriatric a following. But, if the bigwigs at the Beeb had their way, what exactly would us twenty-somethings listen to while we brushed our teeth? I feel excruciatingly old listening to Nick Grimshaw's new breakfast show, designed as it is to use ludicrous hair and obscure bands to attract the young'uns to Radio One. On the other hand, I feel like a positively embryonic nincompoop when I tune into the Today programme; will I ever have the self-confidence and poise of John Humphrys or Sarah Montague?
Ridiculous as it sounds, I am convinced that this gap between adolescence and irrefutable adulthood lacks the cultural signposts available to other age groups. It's unsurprising that writers and directors turn to the supposedly hedonistic seventeen to twenty-one year olds or the nest-building thirty-odds for much of their inspiration. It makes for better viewing than the work-weekend-work cycle experienced by me and my peers, especially if those weekends are often filled, for want of better things to do, with pleasant but unexciting pub trips and takeaways. I wouldn't be eighteen again if you paid me (or so they say, I actually had a lot of fun and I could do with the cash), and God knows what I'll be like when I'm older and have real problems to contend with. But still, for the next half a decade or so, the way ahead is not so clearly marked and spare time does not get filled without a little more imagination. There is a freedom to this, but a fair share of disconcerted terror too.