I Settled Down In My 20s, And I'm Regretting It In My 30s

by Karen Schneider
Matt and Tish

In the movie "13 Going on 30," Jennifer Garner's character, Jenna, desperately wishes to grow up and work for her favorite magazine, Poise, and to be "thirty, flirty and thriving."

This verbiage is an excerpt taken from between the fictional magazine's pages, shown beside a beautiful model, purporting the supposed success and happiness Jenna yearns for.

I have a lot in common with Jenna Rink. She has fantastic taste in music ("Love Is A Battlefield" is one of my anthems), big aspirations and my boobs fill out a dress pretty damn well, too.

However, what I relate to most is she found herself in a position where she had achieved many things, but realized she lost a lot of years and people in the process.

She wished she could have done things differently, and so do I.

Much like Jenna transformed from 13 to 30, I sometimes feel as though I lost my 20s and I wish I could claim that time back. File this one under "hindsight and regrets," but not in a sad way, rather in an enlightened way, one in which you can only appreciate something after it's gone and too late to get it back.

There are many days I look in the mirror, and I'm not sure how I ended up here. "Here" defined as being able to classify myself as someone in her mid-30s (the horror!), paired with feeling like I have not accomplished what I imagined I would have by this age.

(When older people tell you clichéd statements of how you'll blink and you'll basically be middle-aged, they are not shitting you.)

I started dating my now ex-husband when I was almost 22. Love is such a whirlwind, isn't it? It's amazing how euphoria can cloud your judgment and make a sane person make decisions they normally wouldn't make otherwise.

My ex and I moved fast. Within two weeks of dating, we were uttering "I love you." And within a month, I moved in with him, just an hour away from my family and friends.

I was 22 years old, and he was 23. We were discussing forever, and it was something we had no business doing, not with each other and especially not at that age.

I told myself this must be how it's supposed to turn out, even though I always had to quiet the voice in the back of my head telling me otherwise.

When I turned 25, I experienced my quarter-life crisis. My ex and I were now engaged. There were some red flags, and we had experienced some rocky patches, but we had settled into our relationship and routine (read it again: we settled).

I had a job I enjoyed, was making good money and for all intents and purposes, I was happy. (Or, I believed I was.)

My friends were at the height of their 20s, partying and living it up, and I was sitting at home with him, as though I was already an old, married woman. Before my birthday, I started going out more and thinking about our relationship (and the fact that I was about to be 25). Did I really want to get married?

I wasn't sure, but I quickly solved that problem by getting pregnant (while celebrating my birthday, I might add), so I ended up adulting — really adulting — sooner than I expected or was really prepared for.

My son (who will be 10 in a few short weeks) is the best thing that has ever happened to me. All the sappy things you hear people say are one million percent true. You really just can't appreciate it until you become a parent yourself. Years passed, and my husband and I divorced. And I learned a lot through mistakes we made, both as a pair and individually.

So, what happened to my 20s, or more appropriately, my youth? I grew up the hard way. Sometimes, like Jenna, it feels like I went directly from my 20th birthday party, then woke up to being 30 years old.

The truth is, I just never appreciated how young I was, which is ironic for someone who was always very conscious of aging. I was unintentionally careless with that period of time, which is when major life events and personal developments really occur and transform you into the person you are going to be.

Yet, I can't help but believe that my mistakes were a blessing in disguise.

I am a kinder person because I know how it feels to have someone be unkind. I respect all people. I try to always put myself in someone else's shoes before I speak or judge because I know how it feels to be judged by those who thought they knew my story.

I am a kinder person because I know how it feels to have someone be unkind.

I am now more selective in the people I associate with, both on a friendship and romantic level. As a result, I am surrounded by positive, amazing people who enrich my life and bring out my best self.

My mistakes gave me the opportunity to step back, assess myself and recognize in what areas I lacked and was capable of growth. I continue working every day to become the best person I can be, and have learned how to really love and appreciate who I am and who I have become.

If I had any advice to offer to those in their 20s, it would be this:

1. Don't give a fuck what others think about you. You can take their opinions into consideration, but at the end of the day, remember you can't make everyone happy. So, focus on making YOU happy.

2. Only you have to live with the decisions you make, so choose wisely.

Only you have to live with the decisions you make, so choose wisely.

3. When something seems hard, don't give up just because you have to try. The effort is what makes attaining the goal so damn worthwhile.

4. You're probably going to make a lot of mistakes. This is OK, and this is the time to make them. Plus, you'll be amazed at how much you learn from fucking up.

5. Do not even think about getting married unless you've dated for a year. Also, have these conversations first.

6. Look around you right now, and appreciate everything you have: Your life, your family, your friends and especially your youth.

Sometimes I wish it had been different... I even imagine how it would have turned out had I made every decision in my 20s differently.

But I've realized everything happens for a reason, and I'm the strong woman I am today because of my experiences. I won't pretend I have no regrets, but I can't trade what those years taught me, for those lessons are priceless.

Though it is indeed another cliché, it is only time, experience and hindsight that can give you this sort of bittersweet appreciation to recognize your growth.

I didn't lose anything. I gained everything because I learned who I was and what I'm capable of.