If literary tradition is anything to go by, 21 year old young women are generally expected to have blossomed into physical beauty, adopted open-minds and have an attractive aura of conviction. However, I still get mistaken for a runaway cast member from Outnumbered, don't feel like I know the world well enough to open much more than my jaw to it and as a rule of thumb have no idea what I'm doing. 21 therefore is a pretty unimaginative adjective for me, which pushes me to agree that ages are stigmas clutching to numbers like straws.
It is true that younger generations can feel as teased by magic numbers as the veterans of this world. 18 might have been the age that your parents fell in love, 20 might be the age you thought you'd be working in New York by, but people, problems and possibility are far more capable of shaping you than shorthand for the number of days during which you've necked oxygen. There is a reason Taylor Swift's '22' is a pop song rather than a proverb; it has fictional flair. 'Miserable and magical' is not what 22 feels like for everyone, sometimes it's just 'corking' or 'crazily mediocre'; hence why it makes far more sense to collate people by means of their interests and aspirations than it does by their mutual sharing of the year of the monkey two decades ago.
This isn't about promoting a world in which paedophilia could be justified, twenty-five year olds could retire or wisdom counts for nothing, but more about not worrying about conforming to the idylls of your own age and letting our hair down a little instead There are some cultures which don't view time to be a linear pattern; days of the week and hours of the day don't exist. The Pirahã Tribe in the Amazon rainforest, for example, have no past tense because they live only in the present; something's got to be said for a culture which doesn't define itself by what it has done already or hasn't done yet, but by what it's doing now; a temporality in which there is no cumbersome burden of comparison. You couldn't be made to feel like a silly 16 year old girl or an under-achieving man in his 30's because the notions simply don't exist. Instead, you assess life moment by moment with regret and anticipation abolished.
Nevertheless, there is something to be said for remembering how we personally felt at a certain age. It helps us remember that we're both capable of change whilst also able to totally elude it and evolve into the same stubborn individual. The best way to capture our own evolution is by writing. Our embarrassing 15 year old diary entries will let us know, rather than second guess, what it was like to be a teenager. Yes, you might not want to remember the 'are we actually a couple?' speech you made to Jimmy 'definitely not you crazy lady' Milton, but it's better than bottling your memories into a jarred stereotype. Writing, and writing for yourself, is the best time capsule available.
Whilst sometimes it feels at 21 like you should resist experiencing modest comforts such as handstands and hours laughing at boxsets and instead enjoy bigger pleasures such as promotions, the love of your life and thing that would translate well into film scripts, this is a misplaced niggle. For me those small things have given light and shade to a slightly crazy year, when there have been experiences which, although valuable to me in the long term, I'd rather distract myself from in the short. The unequivocal naffness of heartbreak, the leg-jellying fear of what growing up means and the hurt of losing family which you weren't ready to let go of are all blows which can be helpfully softened every now and then by living off of the fumes of sitcoms. You can't always ride the high, even at 21. Sometimes, of course, you can...you still have plenty of time to have a whale of a time with friends and laugh at your insane quest to become adults, the prospect of travel is wide open and exhilarating and the last few bits of university are some of the best. Every year has its ups and downs though and none of these need to be age specific. I happened to graduate when I was 21, but some people will have a merry time doing something else entirely, and others have a ball doing it when they're 60.
Because here's another thing, similarities in character can skip across generations like hopscotch. I realised that blood is thicker than clocks when I found a kindred spirit in one of my grandparents. As well as our love of literature, matching sense of humour and adoration of Richard Armitage, my grandmother and I unknowingly holidayed in the same Somerset village, with our best friends, 70 years apart. Although not ground breaking similarities, the cognate relationship I had with my grandmother isn't one I have shared with anyone else. Finding someone similar enough to indulge in mutual feeling, but with enough distance in decades to topple your perspective every now and then is simply great fun, and far more telling of your own traits than any age could be. Walling possibility between an unrepeatable 365 days isn't a way to look at life; you don't need to find your sweetheart at 16, your maturity at 18 or your calling at 21. Resist expectation and resign yourself to a mash-up; life isn't always comprised of tangible experiences or pin point moments, but more likely ways of looking at the world which, sat in a living room in an unremarkable town and hearing a 92 year old woman have giggling empathy with, percolate their way through generations. They certainly have done through the women of my family.
Far from an attempt at being profound, this is a small realisation I had when I lost my Nana earlier this year. She defied age expectation of her generation by getting married at 34, having my Mum at 41 and starting university in her 70's. This is a woman who was born in 1921. She created her experiences rather than fulfilling anticipated criteria, and that's pretty darn clever.