When you were a little girl, watching your mum spray perfume lightly on her wrists, adulthood seemed like a sophisticated utopia. You longed for the day you too would be a ‘grown up’. You would be elegant; you would have a credit card. You would have a job, and go on holidays. You would be successful.
The truth is, in your 20s, you are still lost. You expect to undergo a metamorphosis and emerge a mature, polished and elegant woman. Sadly, you’re still stressed and spotty. You still don’t get manicures. You are not an adult; you do not have a life plan.
You hate it, but those rom coms you watched filled your head with fluffy unfeasible expectations. Put simply, they lied. Nobody really lives in a penthouse in Manhattan in their 20s, dates hot shots from Wall Street, and writes for Vogue. You’re more likely to be in a grad scheme, doing a gap year, trying to work out if that guy actually likes you.
You don’t have your shit together just yet. But there are a few things you should know in your 20s that can make them a little easier.
1. The sizes in Zara are not an accurate representation of your size
Don’t cry if you slip on some jeans in the changing rooms and midway through pulling them up, realise you’ve cut off the circulation in the lower half of your body. You haven’t gained a couple of stone and swollen to oblivion. There’s no need to cut the carbs and sign up to every class the gym offers. We all know Zara haven’t got a clue what size their clothes are. Calm down.
2. You’re going to be exhausted
No matter how zen you think you are, how organised your diary looks, or how many gallons of chamomile tea you drink, you’re always going to be drained and exhausted. That’s just what it’s like. If you’re not at university pretending like you’re living the dream, you’re running around a city, getting lost on a Tube, hunting for jobs, and working every hour god sends to pay for that postage stamp you live in. You have the energy to make this work in your 20s – expend it while you still do.
3. Get your foundation matched
As a teen, a side fringe that covers your face, mahoosive eyebrows, and a foundation line along your jaw was fine. In fact, it was your look. In your 20s, this is no longer acceptable. Nip to your friends in Boots, and ask for some help to sort your face out. At least then, when everything else seems like it’s going badly, your skin won’t be 50 shades of mahogany.
4. Be interested in things
It’s okay to be nerdy in your 20s. Being cultured is cool; you don’t have to pretend you haven’t done your reading for fear that you’ll look like a full-blown loser. Being interested in things is actually quite interesting. Learn to speak a language, read some books, travel.
5. Some girls just have it all. Get over it.
You’ll spend some hours on Instagram stalking a girl from school who now carries a Prada bag, who appears to rise at dawn for yoga, who holidays in the Bahamas with her Oxbridge boyfriend. Don’t get caught up the contours of her contoured face because there’s no point. You do not know what’s real; and even if she really is as picture perfect as she seems, you are just as awesome. You’ll forget it sometimes, but you are.
6. Not everyone will like you. Get over it.
For a while, you’re in denial. You’re a nice girl, why doesn’t that person like you? It’s not one worth worrying about. By the time you reach your 20s, it’s time to just accept that everyone is a little weird and understanding anyone comprehensively is virtually impossible. It’s better to really know who your friends are than worry about being popular. Invest time in the people you love.
7. Know what sort of alcohol turns you into a psychopath
It’s taken me too long to realise that vodka is the one that pushes me over the edge. Cocktails get me drunk in a few seconds. Gin is safe. Wine is fine but not a good idea. Prosecco is always perfect but not necessarily wise. Oh, and rum? Just don’t even bother. Know your tipple and stick to it.*
*I fear this may be a lesson we have to revise until we’re in our 30s.
8. You should know how to do your own washing
Yes, even when we are gainfully employed, we still cram our suitcases full of dirty washing when we go home for the weekend in the hope that our parents will send us packing with a trunk full of perfectly pressed garments. They probably will but actually, knowing how to get wine, vomit, blood, and foundation out of your clothes is kind of essential. Gross, yet essential.
9. Admit you’re not over your ex. It’s cool.
Some people meet the love of their life aged 20, go on a string of beautiful holidays, fall in love with his family, and get engaged at 25. Some people have a few flings, realise they hated most of them, and continue to spend 18 months pretending to their friends they’re not still in love with that guy they always end up drunk texting on a night out.
Your friends know you well enough to know you’re still a little bit besotted with him. Just own it. As soon as you do, you’ll create the space to deal with what’s going on in your head.
10. Learn to make something other than pasta and pesto or a stir fry
Yes, everyone likes those two dishes but you can’t eat them forever. Nor can you just live on pitta and hummus. Accept you might want to have a dinner party at some point. It’s time to learn to stuff a chicken, or know how long it takes to boil some asparagus. Wrap it in prosciutto, serve it with some jus that you made from the succulent breast you just prepared like Nigella. Or not. But do learn how to make something. Your skin will look better.
11. Remember to take your pill
Jesus, woman: there’s an app for that now. You’re an active adult with an active body and a (sometimes) active sex life. You might not know how to do the perfect cat eye or manage to brush your hair every morning but at least remember to take your pill.
(If you don’t take the pill, what’s your excuse? Brush your hair!)
12. Have a go to sad playlist on Spotify
It’s a mopey setlist of Taylor Swift circa 2008 and weepy Bon Iver that reminds you of that guy you once thought really liked you. You’re a walking, talking, chocolate-gobbling cliche some nights but, sometimes, just sometimes, accepting that and tuning into your sad playlist is allowed.
Wallowing for no reason is not a crime. Embrace it.
13. Pick a signature scent and stick with it
I’m a firm believer that you’ll be remembered for how good you smell. You probably can’t quite justify buying Chanel yet but look at it as an investment. Yes, it’s a bit Carrie Bradshaw but – side not – you don’t have to hate everything she said just because someone has tried to make you feel small or stupid about her.
14. Don’t get caught up in the drama
Some of your friends will be breaking up and getting back together left, right, and centre. There will be drama, and tears, celebrations, and fearful, whispered conversations on nights out. And by the time you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to realise that 99.9 per cent of the things you’re worrying about won’t be important in five years time.
Sure, it’s all relative so, by all means, meet up with your friends and cry over cocktails. But remember, you’re probably not actually having a quarter life crisis. Remind yourself that actually, in the long run, things are likely to be okay. If you’re not so sure they will be, accept it and ask for help. That’s allowed too.
15. Invest in a really good bra and know what size you are
Even if it costs you a week’s rent, a decent bra will take you far. There are some things in life you can skimp on, but an ill-fitting bra will do you no favours.
16. Only do yoga if you really enjoy it
So you want to improve your ‘karma’; you seek a clean and wholesome life. That’s excellent. What you don’t have to do is become a vegan, ohm at dawn and chant feel-good ‘mantras’.
Only do these things if you want to do them, not because you think it will look good on your Instagram feed. If you didn’t ‘find yourself’ doing the warrior position on a beach in Bali, you’re unlikely to do so in your lunchtime Power Pilates class.
17. But find a sport that you do like
Finding a sport or activity that you can actually do and enjoy is always a good idea. Not only will it keep you fit but it will lift your mood. On the other hand, don’t become obsessed. That’s not healthy either. Balance.
18. Learn to sew
Learn to sew a button on. It seems basic (and some would say regressive) but that one little button could keep you covered or protect your dignity on a night out.
19. Sometimes, they JUST DON’T FANCY YOU. Accept it.
You really, really want to think they like you. And certainly, you haven’t conjured it out of absolutely nothing. Yes, they do reply to your texts. Yes, they did kiss you at that party. Yes, you slept together some times.
But if they’re not replying, not trying, not pushing for something more, they’re just not interested. You can talk them up for hours; you can provide excuses until you are blue in the face (as well as in mood). But people who like you don’t leave you wondering. They aren’t ambiguous. They make it happen. If they aren’t pushing it – they don’t fancy you and it’s time to move on.
You’ll be heartbroken for a while but in the long run, it’s for the best.
20. Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work *Rihanna voice*
Your 20s are for long days, early starts, and weekend shifts. Why? Because you are loaded with drive and ambition. Now is the time to graft and put in the hours.
21. You should change your bed sheets more often
Yes, you used to change them but once a term at university. That’s not OK any more. My wise auntie once told me you should have three sets of sheets as that way you can sleep in one set, wash another, and have a set in the drawer. Genius.
22. Chances are, nothing good will happen after 3am
Thought process: “I don’t want to accept that the party is coming to an end. Maybe we could just carry on partying? Yes, let’s carry on partying!!” Yes, you can carry on partying, drinking, and smoking. You’re an adult, nobody can stop you. Plus, it’s kind of fun. Remember though, your head will hurt tomorrow, you’ll probably make choices you’ll regret, and you might even send a text you wish you could forget. You might not, but you probably will.
23. Find a pair of heels that don’t kill you
Dress codes are hard. Having one go-to pair of heels makes many life events easier to deal with. Especially if they’re nude heels and match everything. Family wedding? No stress. You’re comfy. Job interview? Bring it on. You’re walking pain free. Black tie? I’m going to dance through that bad boy.
24. Vote, vote, vote
Some other women threw themselves in front of horses and went on hunger strike so you can put your little cross in the box. So make sure you exercise your vote. You don’t have to donate to Corbyn, or stick a Tory poster in your window to be political. Just do as Pankhurst would wish and use what your mamas won for you.
25. Talking of your mama, accept that you’re going to turn into her eventually
You vowed, somewhere, that you wouldn’t let it happen but some things in life are just beyond our control. When you’re comforting a friend, you hear your mother in your voice. When you invite someone for dinner, you try to remember her little touches that make her dinner parties excellent. You could be very different in lots of ways but do accept that eventually, you’re just going to turn into some version of your mum. And that’s cool, because she’s a rock star. It just took you a while to realise.
How do I know this? Because I’m 99.9 per cent sure everything I’ve said is something my mother has told me at some point.