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It offends me that there are oodles of books about growing old gracefully and none of them are aimed at 20somethings. I turned 24 last week, and I’ve had a crick in my brain ever since.

Twenty-four seems old. I can’t help feeling it’s a milestone at which I should have more on my “done it” list than I do. (I suspect this reveals more about the enormous expectations put on my generation than it does about my personal achievements, but that doesn’t make it any better.)

You see, now it’s not really feasible for me to continue blowing around as a member of the “just out of college” group. Now I’m supposed to be gearing up for some kind of quarter-life crisis or a cocaine addiction or both.

But the scariest part about 24 is that it’s almost 25. And 25 holds a lot of weight for me. When I was a little girl, maybe 7 (at that point I would have just gotten out of my refuse-to-wear-pants stage), I envisioned 25 as the prime of life. I saw myself in a city, with lots of girlfriends who did things like lie on my bed with magazines and eat chocolate (we would magically look like we spent each day in constant movement, sculpting gorgeously lean bodies with hair, nails and teeth that showed we were spinach-eating, water-drinking health nuts).

I envisioned a happy job, saw myself walking past desks with a snappy joke for each coworker. I imagined getting nicknames from my boss and published in important magazines. A stunning success at such a young age!

There’d be a man in the picture, obviously. Not the one I’d marry, but someone I’d be with for two years or so. He’d be homey, handsome and a hardworker, and I would look back on my time with him fondly.

I don’t know where these visions originated.  My idea of my ideal self is equal parts Edith Wharton and Edith Piaf. With a pinch of Myrna Loy. I’ve always been susceptible to thinking perfection is possible, and I have decided to examine my old Martha Stewart magazines and Doris Day movies with a more critical eye. The point being, maybe my expectations were, well, off.

Whether it’s sensible or not, I’m still under a hell of a lot of pressure. My younger self is depending on me to fulfill those hopes, in New York, where people dash dreams about as often as they toast bagels.

I admit on my birthday-day, I let the momentous occasion overwhelm me. It was hard being away from my family and dearest friends, though they all did a magnificent job rallying round, electronically. I went to sleep feeling melancholy. (Or to personalize it– mollycholy.)

But I awoke happy. And it was the first time in months that the day’s starting emotion was joy. I don’t know if it was all the love and attention from the day before, or if my self-pity had worn off, but I felt good. And so far, it’s stuck.

Maybe I’m just getting older.

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