Surprise – growing up is hard to do.
16 is a wonderfully terrible age.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been waiting to be 16. It’s not even an exaggeration, because 16 is such an ubiquitous age in our culture. Obviously, you can drive for the first time, a huge deal in itself, but I never thought of that when I was younger. Mostly, it was all the “firsts” that quirky teenage protagonists in movies and on TV (Gilmore Girls, 16 Candles, Easy A, a bevy of Disney Channel made-for-TV movies, and even the Princess Diaries) were experiencing when they were 16 – from Tiffany charm bracelets, to kisses, to new best friends, to crushes-turned-boyfriends, all things I longed to have. To me, 16 seemed like the beginning of the rest of my life, the time when my life would stop being ordinary, and start becoming fabulous.
However, so far, that prediction is looking very un-fabulously false. Nothing earth-shattering or major has happened in my two months of being 16. There was no giant sweet 16 party, no three-layer cake, and no orgasm-inducing presents. I can’t drive yet, because I procrastinated taking my drive test. There is no bad-yet-sensitive Jess Mariano or adorkable-nerd Michael Moscovitz suddenly apparating into my life, Harry Potter-style.
The one major thing that has unfortunately happened is, for the first time, I’m becoming aware of the the mounting pressure of The Future. It might seem like a silly thing to be worrying about after a mere 6,000 or so days on Earth, but when you turn 16, you become acutely aware that the things you do – the grades you earn, the friends you spend time with, the memories you with – have become more than just a passing blur in the autobiographical film Sofia Coppola will eventually (hopefully) make of your vaguely imagined yet fabulous, incredible life. They become painfully important.
Before 16, you are still a kid. The things you do can be chalked up to being young, or not having enough agency to determine otherwise. You have SO MANY excuses. But after 16, the rug is pulled out from under you. You can make your own life choices now, and now there’s no “I was a stupid middle schooler” excuse to use. For the first time, you can start making changes and choices in your own life, which could potentially set it on infinite different courses, and despite common sense telling you otherwise, you feel the immense pressure that this, this right here very moment, is your only chance to get it right – with your college major, with your future partner, even with your forever memorialized (lucky us) social media profile.
The moral of the story is that it’s freaking hard being 16. So many things in my life that I don’t want to change are changing – higher stress, higher expectations, general anxiety about the future – and the things that should be changing, according to the CW’s teen dramas, are resolutely remaining the same.
So, what’s going to be my plan for navigating this? I don’t know. I think for now, I’m just going to be myself, and let my future, whatever marvelous and terrible plans it has in store for me, follow. It worked for everyone else, right?