Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon, where she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2017.
Like many preteen girls from the suburbs, my favorite place in the world when I was growing up was the mall. Specifically, I liked hanging out at Claire’s — the store, not the girl — where I got my ear cartilage pierced on three separate occasions and regularly purchased vanilla frosting Lip Smackers. It was also the place where I would buy matching friendship necklaces — cheap metal trinkets in the shape of half-broken hearts that made your skin turn green. “Best Friends” would be written on one half-heart, “Forever” on the other. My friends and I would wear the necklaces hidden under our shirts, kept private like a secret.
When you’re 12, “forever” means infinity. It means optimism, like a permanent Sharpie star doodled on your sneaker. But it’s also a promise that despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, you and your friends know one thing to be true: There’s no one else you’d rather hang out with at the mall on a Friday night. When I was 16 and driving to school, “forever” was listening to my brother’s Brand New CD and singing the words, “I’m gonna stay 18 forever,” even though in reality I couldn’t wait to be 28. “Forever” was tattoos, names carved into tree trunks, and people exchanging wedding vows. But as I’ve gotten older, the meaning of "forever" has changed. It has evolved into a placeholder for the terrified feeling of moving from one life phase to the next.
It’s the reason why we say, “I wish I could stay in college forever,” or why that nostalgic moment hits when you’re visiting your hometown as an adult and find yourself thinking, I could stay here forever, before you head back to the city, to your job, to your responsibilities. Now I find myself grasping for these moments of “forever.” I have moments when I hate being in my twenties, but I want to freeze these years every time I see a new crease on my forehead reflected back at me in the mirror. My best friend and I used to sleep in her bed together some nights, even though my own bedroom was literally 3 feet from hers in our shared Brooklyn apartment. “One day we’ll be married and we won’t be able to do this forever,” I’d say to her in the dark. When I go on Facebook and see someone who ran a half-marathon or scored a book deal, I don’t necessarily feel envious — I’m just reminded of all the things I haven’t done yet that at one point I thought I had forever to do. It makes me feel panicked.
A few months ago, I was on a walk with a colleague turned close friend when we started talking about The Future. He mentioned that we — referring to people who we currently work with — probably wouldn’t all be friends forever, largely because we all wouldn’t work at the same place forever. When he first said it, I was a little offended. What do you mean we won’t be friends forever? But then I realized that what he was saying wasn’t offensive at all — it was just the truth. We were all friends for multiple reasons, but the common denominator that first threaded our lives together is the fact that we work at the same place. And once the common denominator disappears, that thread becomes thinner. My friend was just more comfortable with saying it out loud than I was.
I’m not sure what the opposite of “forever” is — brevity? Temporality? Endings? — but there’s a certain discomfort in thinking about it. And while I could choose to push it into a small corner of my brain, it’s naive to pretend that it doesn’t exist. I was recently reminded of this during the latest episode of Girls, when the four women, who in the first season were so close that they had gone to Planned Parenthood together in support of one's abortion, finally admitted how truly terrible they were at being good friends to each other. And while the reasons for the breakup of the friendship were sad (a lot of it can be traced back to personal selfishness), it was also a relief to see it come undone. It was a scene that made me so uncomfortable to watch, yet ultimately became comforting in that it gave permission to embrace the idea that maybe relationships aren’t meant to last forever.
I used to think of “forever” as one giant, infinite universe where nothing changes. There’s safety and comfort in that, but you’re also setting yourself up for disappointment. Now I choose to accept that there are both long-term and short-term forevers, which can all have expiration dates. But even if those forevers don’t last as long as you think they will, it doesn’t make them any less meaningful. And when I think about it that way, it doesn’t sound as scary.