Since 2012, I had plans for my 22nd birthday. I did not know what, exactly, I was going to do or who I was going to do it with (though I hoped it would be something with someone), but I knew at some point I had to listen to Taylor Swift’s song “22” and revel in how relatable it finally was. I would make “breakfast at midnight,” “fall in love with strangers” and, of course, be “happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way.” Taylor promised.
Until a few months before my 22nd birthday, my plans remained intact. Then they were tentatively still set. Then they unraveled completely a couple weeks before Dec. 5, when I decided to take time off of school to get a handle on my moderate-to-severe (depending on which therapist, psychiatrist or BuzzFeed quiz I consulted) depression.
I knew my life would be different from Taylor Swift’s when I turned 22 because the only thing we’ve ever had in common is stockbroker dads. Nonetheless, it was difficult to reconcile just how sharply her rosy, romantic vision of age 22 contrasted with my depressed reality.
But as I reminded myself several times on Dec. 5 and afterward, Taylor Swift led a very different life than me in her early 20s. She left her scarf at Jake Gyllenhaal’s apartment, and I left my good Chapstick at the Sammy house. She was accused of smuggling herself out of her apartment in a suitcase just to work out unphotographed, and I could rarely summon the drive to take the elevator down to my apartment building’s gym.
Comparing your life to celebrities’ is not as damaging as comparing it to your peers’. I didn’t really expect my life to be like that of a 10-time Grammy winner and close friend of Selena Gomez’s, so while I was not devastated that my version of age 22 didn’t line up with Swift’s, I was deeply troubled by the fact that it was different than most of my friends’.
Four of my close friends also turned 22 in the mid-Scorpio to early-Sagittarius time frame. Another turned 21. They all had their own issues, of course, but none were so depressed that they could no longer manage fifteen credit hours on top of their own mental health. I felt guilty driving back to my house in Cleveland the first week of November, like I had failed not only myself but my friends, family and professors.
It’s taken me two months to accept that taking time off of school was the right decision for me, and graduating a year later than I originally planned is not the end of the world. Rather than motivate me, as I thought it would, comparing my life to my friends’ and my pre-college expectations just made me miserable.
When I was a kid, I thought I’d grow up to be tall and blonde. I can’t tell you why, except maybe because I had a tall, blonde babysitter. Imagine my surprise when I became a thick-eyebrowed woman of average height with dark, sort of frizzy hair.
In first grade, I thought I’d always have the same friends, and now I don’t even still talk to the girl from freshman year who vowed to make me her maid of honor someday. I was dead-set on being a fashion designer up through my “Kirby Couture”-themed bat mitzvah, and I’m clearly not one.
But I’ve learned to embrace the unibrow, and I have other friends. I’m a journalism major and I love it. During my time off school, I’ve read a lot of books, stayed in touch with those other friends and, most importantly, have worked on feeling better and succeeded for the first time since maybe middle school.
Taylor Swift repeatedly sings in “22” that “everything will be all right, if we just keep dancing like we’re 22.” This may not be the case for everyone, and certainly hasn’t been for me. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say “everything will be all right” for everyone aged 22 because that is unrealistic.
But I do think, at this point, that changes in your early 20s’ life plans don’t have to be life-ruining, or even overtly negative. As my adviser once told me, “Shit happens and you deal with it.” And as Taylor Swift once sang, “Heartbreakers gonna break/And the fakers gonna fake/Baby, I’m just gonna shake/I shake it off,” which roughly translates to, “Things will suck sometimes, but for the most part we will probably be fine.”