I turned 26 yesterday. My birthday feels like a time of reflection. Partly because it falls right after the New Year. Partly because getting older lends itself naturally to introspection.
I learned a lot from being a 25-year-old. Here are three of the big lessons that hit me last year.
FEAR IS SNEAKY.
Fear feels like sadness, like insecurity, like anxiety.
It isn't the paralyzing adrenaline rush that hit me mid-flip during diving practice at age 15. It isn't the shakes that come over me before surgery or the nerves I get when meeting someone new.
We need a different word for the other kind of fear, the fear that traps you in a lifestyle that you hate. The fear that turns into impostor syndrome and the fear that feels like you're just being resilient, because you're powering through something difficult and my, how admirable that is.
When, really, you're just scared to change your life. Because the devil you know, right?
It creeps up on you. You find moments of joy in stress and exhaustion and insecurity. You cling to those moments, but you don't really live.
Because you're scared to live. I was scared to live. A tough realization.
Most relationships, even deep and important ones, are ephemeral.
The sentiment of fleeting connection is often echoed in response to a breakup. But it applies to friendships, too. Something deep and meaningful can be important, but that doesn't mean it has longevity.
Not all relationships need to last.
That's a really difficult lesson. At 25, I grew apart from friendships that I will cherish forever but that didn't hold up to changing circumstance and priorities and personalities. I lost the only companionate love I'd ever known. I experienced whirlwind passion that felt exhilarating but could never last beyond a few weeks. I developed irresistible 'friendship crushes' that were infatuating but couldn't hold a candle to the bond I have with my soul sisters.
To those transient, important someones: It's different now. We aren't as close as we were a year ago, or five years ago, or six months ago. That doesn't mean you've lost a place in my heart. It doesn't mean I don't cherish you. I do. I cherish you all the more because we were impermanent.
Something that ends can still be something beautiful. Coming to terms with that again and again in different contexts was the hardest lesson of 25.
So often we say "I love you forever" and really mean "please, don't let this high go away."
Forever love is a choice. The high goes away. That part I knew.
I said I love you forever and meant I'll be there through it all. My ex-husband's I love you forever meant today we are happy and I want this happy to last. Same words, very different outcomes.
Because the happy high fades, it always will, and my "through it all" was met with his lack of belief in marriage as a concept when marriage was harder than not.
If a partner (or a friend) stops making the choice of forever love, the forever is gone. What I learned: that's always a possibility. The difference between a divorced couple and a one still together is sometimes hard to spot.
To new happy highs.