You Need Help: I Never Imagined I’d Live Past 20. Now What?

Q:

Hi! So during my teen years I have always been thinking about how being queer and different affected only my dating and social life, meaning I was fine waiting to have “normal teen milestones” until college. Only to have my freshman year come and go and I was still in the closet. I struggled with school for the first time ever, which was extremely hard for a former gifted child and high school valedictorian. On top of that, I never really cut ties with my toxic small town environment, returning there every week or so because my family acted really hurt and abandoned when I did not. My mental and physical health suffered because of the stress from school and being closeted, so I decided to make some changes, which resulted with me finally coming out junior year.

The problem is, being out for a year, I now feel like a whole nother person? Like I finally realize what makes me happy and what I want to pursue. I feel so excited at the endless possibilities of life but at the same time I feel like it is too late for me to have the experiences I want to have but did not have as a college student and/or teen? I have yet to experience dating of any kind and my first kiss and I have no idea where to even start since everyone my age already seems to have a serious relationship. I am about to graduate with a very specialized degree that has absolute zero value to me despite the enormous amount of effort I put into it, since I only finished it because of pressure from my family. I desperately want to study something else but feel like that is impossible in the current economic situation and the crisis we are about to enter. Also, pursuing further education at the same time as working would probably result in me not having fun and finally getting all the “normal” experience in dating that I have been missing out on.

Basically, I feel like a teen again but since I finally cut ties with my family and have no backup and safety net, I cannot really act like one or it feels really irresponsible to. So, how do I do this weird thing called life without following mainstream societal plan of college-corporate job-marriage-mortage-house-babies that I have been fed my whole life? On the top of that, this whole thing sounds really silly because we are in the middle of an actual apocalypse and people are dying. But I guess these are the times that make us think about stuff like that. I hope you all are as safe as possible and thanks for creating content in this times!


A:

It’s not too late. It’s not too late to have a first kiss or a first love. It’s not too late to embark on a path toward a career that is meaningful to you. It’s not too late to surround yourself with people who will nurture you and push you and love you as you keep growing up.

Babe, I promise you’re right on time. In 2020 I can’t be sure of hardly anything, but I am sure that you are good. You belong right where you are, and you get to do the messy work of finding out what’s next. I know that the how is complicated, but I want to ground us in the basic truth that who you are is enough, and you possess everything you need to make your way through whatever is next.

Your subject line was “How do you do this thing if you never thought you would make it past 20?”, and I felt it in my guts. When I was 17, I did not imagine a ridiculous, beautiful queer life or much of anything else. I could only think in terms of career, marriage, and stability, as prescribed, but *I* wasn’t really in the vision. I came out as bisexual in my last semester of college, and like you I felt like I had missed everything. I had lost the chance to have a queer community or have a girlfriend or become a fixture on the sofa at the Gender and Sexuality Center on campus. I was also in the process of accepting that I didn’t want to pursue a career as a news journalist, which I had spent the previous 3.5 years preparing to do. I felt completely unmoored. I wondered if this beautiful self-revelation mattered.

ADVERTISEMENT

Nothing could get me another chance to be out as queer in my teens and earliest 20s, but in the almost eight years since I did come out, I have gotten to live a queer adulthood that feels like nothing I ever could have imagined for myself when I was 17. So I say this with some confidence: you don’t have to redo your teen years. Instead, you get to live the years in front of you.

I don’t want to dismiss the choppy logistical and emotional waters before you, but I want to honor the hard work you’ve already done. You’ve come out and allowed yourself to experience longing. You’ve honored the way that you deserve to be treated and cut loose the people who can’t meet you there. You’ve realized what makes you happy! That alone is huge. Because you’ve already waded through so much, I have enormous faith that you will be able to embrace the challenges to come.

I can’t tell you whether you should seek another degree, but I bet you don’t have to do so in order to make a pivot into something that will better suit your interests and make you happier than the family-approved track you were on. Many jobs don’t require a specific degree, they just require a degree (which is often bullshit anyway, but it can only help you to have cleared that hurdle). If you are graduating in May, that means you have one semester left. In the coming spring and summer, I encourage you to do everything in your power to find a part time job, internship, or volunteer position that is related to a field that interests you more than what you’ve been studying. Take an elective course relevant to that field. Attend webinars or virtual networking events.

So many college seniors are reevaluating the things they took for granted about their futures, whether through self-discovery or due to the rapidly shifting economic realities of 2020. Now more than ever, no one will think it’s weird if you’re applying for jobs outside of what you majored in. Alternately, you can secure a job related to your degree, save money, explore your passions through other avenues, and reevaluate in a few years. Reading your letter, I get the sense that you feel like your world is shrinking. I hope that in the coming weeks and months, you will realize all the ways that the horizon is stretching out before you.

As far as dating and first kisses and love, if I had the answer I’d be rich. This, too, is more complicated now, though you can find some good pandemic dating and sex content on this very website here, here, here, and here, and honestly here’s the whole COVID-19 tag, my colleagues are geniuses so it is a gold mine. You are out of the closet, you are open to love, and you are exploring your own happiness — this is a pretty damn good start! I can’t promise the perfect relationship will fall into your lap, but I am certain that not everyone you know is already dating their monogamous and eternal life partner, not to mention all the possible loves of your life you haven’t even met yet.

Your questions aren’t silly, letter writer. You’re in the midst of internal and social upheaval, surviving a pandemic, and getting ready to graduate from college. Of course you are trying to figure out how to be a whole person. It sounds like the traditional, heteronormative capitalist roadmap isn’t the answer, so let it turn soggy in the gutter. You don’t need it. Keep asking questions, keep diving into this person you’re becoming, keep trusting what it feels like to be happy. That’s the whole thing, really. You’re doing great.

Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a divinity student at Vanderbilt University. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianwhitetx.

Adrian has written 151 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. I was looking for a whole other thing when I stumbled upon this article and I am very glad I did! I find myself in a somewhat similar position. I too have not had my first kiss though I’ve known I like girls for quite some time. I am really really glad I am gay but I also am insecure about it (like I am insecure about a lot of things) and this world we live in does not make it exactly easy to be very confident about being gay. I am studying and I also am not sure what I want to do with my degree once I have it but over the past year I have done internships and I kinda know more about what I want and what I don’t want. I really just wanted to say I loved your advice. I’m going to keep doing my thing and I hope the letter writer is doing their thing. It’s all there.

  2. “I get the sense that you feel like your world is shrinking. I hope that in the coming weeks and months, you will realize all the ways that the horizon is stretching out before you.” I love the way you phrased this!

  3. I just wanna tell the letter writer that you’re not alone in feeling this way. I’ve been there, and sometimes still feel distant or like I’m not on the right track personal growth wise or professionally. I like the answer, there’s no “right timing.” I’m wishing you joy in your journey. I think one of the best things about being queer is getting to evaluate how you’re doing by your own standard, not the ones society gives us. That freedom feels really empowering and yet also overwhelming sometimes. Take good care!

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!