A while ago, Darcey messaged Lily to wish her a happy birthday. Within that conversation, she asked her how it felt to be 21, as Darcey had felt glamorous when it had happened to her in December. Lily replied with her resolutions as a new 21-year-old; they were on the topics of cake, the politics of essay prep, waking up to birdsong and the greatness of friends. Regardless, from that one Instagram conversation, Lily and Darcey chose to ask 21 of their friends how they felt about turning what is known as the Big Age.
21 is a big age for many across the pond, but over in the UK we sometimes question why that is. That's because we have access to all the ‘naughty’ things like alcohol, pubs and chainsaws at 16 and 18, so why celebrate 3 years on? Asking this questions to our friends, we realised that the age of 21 is seen as a metaphorical foot in the door of our twenties.
Jade: “I’m now undeniably in my twenties, where making plans for the future seems more realistic and less juvenile.”
Tess: “Birthdays are about having everyone you love all in one place and watching those relationships take place outside of you.”
Ali: “18 was flirting with childhood, 21 is more into adulthood.”
Julia: “The day before my birthday, I cleaned my flat at 4am after a get together, pulled on a pair of clean white jeans and a new jacket and headed to the airport to meet my parents in Italy that same day. I felt sooo chic and mature.”
Sofia: “When you turn 21 you are officially an adult everywhere in the world, so that’s peak.”
Anna: “Never forget your 21st birthday because of unusual circumstances. People put in more effort to make it very special. It was nice to have family orientated day.”
Not everyone agrees. Fleur: “I think American culture got me way more excited than was necessary, since there are no changes or benefits to turning 21 in this country.”
In the celebration of a 21st birthday there is a great influence of American culture, but also the idea that this age is the age friendship's power and of becoming “more mature”. But what do people wish to know before 21? There was a range of topics that cropped up during this conversation, from self-reflection on character development, to lacking and seeking representation as a teenager and even cooking.
Zehra: “I wouldn’t have become the person I am now without the experience I’ve had. However I hate the idea of young me and other young brown or girls of colour with harsh beauty standards. If I could go back in time, I would say to myself ‘it’s fine, you'll see someone who looks like you soon’.”
Philly: “If your world gets turned upside down and you can't see a bright future, you’re wrong, it will get better. You've got to ride the wave before you get on the beach."
Dispensing advices to younger people, Lisanne said: “Don’t really think that much.” And Eliza continued: “Don’t take people’s shit.” The emphasis was mostly on encouraging self-love, as, all in all, our friends have a good set of goals set for themselves.
Jade: “Usually I’m trying my best and I don’t need to be angry at myself for doing what I can to get where I want to be.”
Elliot: “Spend more time being someone that I respect.”
Martha: “Most of what you regret is the stuff you don’t do - if you go to the party and have a bad time, you can go home but you won’t know at all if you don’t go. Do the stuff you can do now because when you’re 45 and have kids you won’t be able to. I believe Ferris Bueller said it best with: ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’”
Our next question included an eclectic mix as we asked our peers about their influences thus far. It’s unsurprising that there were multiple mentions of Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. Alderton’s memoir was reviewed in our circles as teaching “the value of friendship that enriches your life” as well as “free therapy”. In line with Dolly, our interviewees also stressed the importance of friendships as Eddie chatted to us about the significance of stable friendships that “really reflect the values I hold and the person that I am. They think cool things, do cool things and motivate me”.
The significance of family influence also featured heavily in this segment, as Maz says: “I’ve been aware of how hard my relatives had to work in order to build a comfortable life in England from Bangladesh. The notion of having to work twice as hard as my white English peers to be noticed, respected or congratulated for my work in school and university has always been prevalent”. Similarly, Abi recognises the impact that her great grandma has had on her life: “She was the kindest woman and would never discriminate. She did degrees for fun, spoke 5 languages and was an overall amazing woman! Massive boots to fill!” On the other side of the age spectrum, Gabby puts it down to our generation: “We are really living in such an exciting perios with so many influential peers and so many people to look up to and take a leaf out of their book”.
How do these youngsters see themselves in 21 years' time? Aside from happy, healthy and successful, our friends used this time to express their own interests (or slightly off-piste individual predictions for themselves). Although there were vague mentions of marriage and children, there were even more responses related to future career prospects, the strive for work-life balance and personal growth. Despite the fact that our friends were slightly freaked out about the concept of turning 42, they still had a lot to say on the topic.
Gabby: “I’m going to have big kid syndrome. I want to never have to answer from anyone else except my boss.”
Ali: “I’m probably going to look the same as I do now.”
Zehra: “I’d like to have had a life in which I lived by the values I deem most important - maintaining community and relationships and existing in a way that’s vaguely useful and not detrimental.”
Lisanne: “What is the point of life if you can’t enjoy it?”
Martha: “I feel like I’ve been pretty “fully cooked” for the last 3 or so years - maybe I’ve hit a plateau. Also, I don’t want to be right-wing. If I’m a Tory at 42, I swear to God.”
Millie: “Hopefully I will wake up one morning or every morning and realise that I was quite alright as I was”
So there you have it. We seem to have it all sussed out for now, but keep in mind we’re in our 20s, so over confident and being under experienced is literally our strapline. Tune in in 21 years’ time to see the results. Thank you to our interviewees and here’s to many more age-related celebrations in the future.