Sad birthdays, epiphanies abroad bring onset of quarter-life crisis

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February 8, 2007

10:20 PM

As one who studied abroad for the first semester, I feel a bit cheated coming back to campus just as things are winding down. I missed out on the leaves turning, Homecoming and Yule Log — not to mention the equally important and traditional who dated, who broke up and who is back together with whom.

p. Still, everyone anticipates second semester as the better half of the year — the parties are better, the concerts are bigger and, certainly, spring blowout far exceeds the relative tameness of the fall. The relationships are freer as the last months deem any commitment completely and utterly unnecessary, foolish and ultimately hurtful to both of us … baby.

p. Unlike the dismal slide first semester takes into winter, second semester marches toward warmth, spring, carpools to Jamestown beach and a thousand Greek philanthropy excuses to drink in the sun. Why wouldn’t the student body be in a suspended state of jubilation? Are we being tricked into a false sense of secure happiness? Inevitably, and with much anticipation, graduation strikes, and it all seems like second semester, nay, the college experience, was the Fat Tuesday before the long arduous days of sober, bill-paying life.

p. But what on earth would a junior such as myself have to say about graduation? And why so soon into the semester are our thoughts put to May? While my fellow juniors are busy with GREs, MCATs and LSATs, these things are not what plague me. Though the seniors are hearing back from graduate schools and having job interviews, still this is not what brings me to thoughts of May 20. Once again, the sagacious words of my sister give life to my column.

p. While studying in Rome, I hit my first bout of homesickness on Sept. 25, my 20th birthday. Turns out turning 20 kind of sucks in any language. Even though after returning home I still wouldn’t be able to drink, I felt suddenly thrust into a new, more scarily autonomous decade. My thoughts became fixated on all of the ways I would have celebrated back at home … in Williamsburg. Having written about my disappointment (and don’t worry, subsequent __feste__) on my ubiquitous study-abroad blog, my sister wrote me the following e-mail with the subject “Sad Birthday Charlotte”:

p. “I forgot to mention that there’s a general consensus that your twenties suck. Up until that point, it’s fairly clear what you should be doing and how to succeed at that but, over the next decade, you get to look forward to a wide array of uncertainty and failure. A few people will quickly find a path and success, but those friends will only be there as a measure against which you’re failing. So, if your birthday wasn’t it’s best, it’s just a taste of things to come. Happy 20th! Love, Eden :)”

p. The smiley face of my smug, 30-year-old sister pierced through to my very core. As a general guideline, my sister’s caveats and rules of thumb are right. Needless to say, I felt screwed. I feared both failing as well as being the asshole friend that didn’t fail. Uncertainty abounded, fulfilling the first of my sister’s prophesies.

p. As for failure, the job hunt, the graduate school hunt, hell, even the relationship hunt are all full of miserable rejection (mostly for everyone’s eventual benefit). Even within my own group, the “M” word (marriage, duh) is used more than Paris Hilton uses the word “hot.” Here we are getting to that crazy scary commitment age just as our failure reaches its height. No wonder we’re doomed.

p. But to return to my story, the great part about getting an e-mail like this in Rome is the city’s fantastic way of making even the most unfocused student look like a business-clad power broker (or academia equivalent). As I made my way past the gypsies, drunks and punks I knew that in the grand scheme of things, I was successful, both by virtue of traveling to Rome at all, and also by my standards of personal hygiene.

p. Whether or not my sister is right about the ubiquitous failings of her 20-somethings, I’m pretty sure when the coming decade is over, everyone comes out for the better and maybe a little better groomed. Having spent these four years in the warm incubator of the College we have to hatch out and scramble for the next 10 years to regain the same stability enjoyed in there, hopefully with fewer hangovers, a cleaner bathroom and a bigger bed.
So whatever stage of the process you are in, keep in mind that during the next few months we are all participating in the seniors’ big send-off and as lame as what may lie on the other side of Confusion Corner, at least we suffer together, and at least we partied while we could.

__Charlotte Savino is a Confusion Corner columnist for The Flat Hat. She drops in Italian.__

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