When I moved into my new apartment a few months ago, I had no clue that I moved four doors down from an NYU dorm. Nor did I recognize the irony. I didn’t know how I’d feel on nights like tonight, when I had nothing to do, and was feeling lonely, and decided to take my dog for a long walk. I didn’t know how I’d feel walking by said dorm and seeing 18 to 21 year olds exiting the double doors in packs. The guys in baseball hats and T-shirts, and the gals in jean shorts and sunglasses (even though the sun had set), laughing, their faces open with the possibility of what their night, and their future, had in store.
It makes me think about my ex-husband. Not the years of marriage, but the early years. In college, where we met; when we would visit each other in our dorms. He wore a baseball cap too, and had the same shining face as those NYU guys going out on the town with their girlfriends, or on their way to a bar, hook-up bound. It makes me think about the light years. Yes, it feels like light years ago, but I mean the unencumbered years. When falling in love, and thinking about your future, didn’t conjure up the same expectations (or fears) as it does when you’re in your thirties. Back then, the repercussions of our choices was not a consideration- it wasn’t even a reality yet.
As a Cougel, someone whose branded herself as being drawn to people in their twenties, you could say that I’m probably fixated on that time and age in general. I write about it, I joke about it, so I’m not going to sit here and adamantly refute the notion. It’s possible – given my history – that I have a fascination with that time, since it was, in a way, lost to me. I met my ex-husband when I was very young, and we stayed together through our twenties and into our thirties. Some of my friends say that I was frozen in time. That I leap-frogged over the experiences most “normal twenty-somethings” get to enjoy, endure… and learn from.
What was my reaction to all this? Twenties boot camp! Divorced at 34, I made up for lost time in an accelerated fashion. I tried to cram in a decade’s worth of missed experiences into two years. One night stands, backpacking in Europe (although at 35, that means paying for a hotel with your salary from your full time job), and in retrospect unbelievably stupid things like going home with a non-English speaking Parisian and then getting locked in the stairwell of his building at 4am (Mom, if you’ve read this far, I will explain later. Which means, I will tell you this blog is part fiction). If I had indeed been 22 at the time, which is how I felt (it’s all your fault vodka) such behavior would’ve made perfect sense. But at 34, it’s legitimate cause for concern. My friends were worried about me. They feared this “acting out” phase of mine would never end. That I was headed down a destructive path. People who met me for the first time during this period, probably thought I was wild and immature. They wouldn’t be wrong.
Thankfully, it was indeed just a phase. Or, not so thankfully. Because boy oh boy, was it fun. It was especially fun because I was allowed. I had an excuse. I was single for the first time in my life. I had missed out on my twenties. If I had children, I wouldn’t have been able to act out at all. I wouldn’t have been able to cram in some important lessons that most people get to learn in their twenties.
What are those lessons, you ask? I couldn’t tell you. I actually don’t think lessons crystallize until they’re called into effect, when you’re faced with a dilemma that requires an emergency visit with your gut. And your gut can only be shaped by past experiences. So I guess for me, the lesson so far is that if I hadn’t had the opportunity to enroll in twenties boot camp, I might be floundering just a little bit more. I might be spending a lot of time wondering what it feels like to be 22 and unattached, and ponder (and regret) the things I could have experienced – and learned from. So in a way, I’m glad I took the crash course. I think it was enough. In fact, it was plenty.
If anything, now I can look at the NYU students hanging out outside their dorm on a summer night, and be excited for them. I might feel pangs of nostalgia, but it’s far better than pangs of regret.