How to recapture your 20s
April 2, 2012 7:55 PM   Subscribe

For practically everyone I know, myself included, their 20s contained the best times of their lives and many experiences that likely will not be repeated or enjoyed as thoroughly as they get older. What is the secret for me - or anyone else - to recapture the magic of youth as life goes on and responsibilities grow? More details, including snowflakes, inside.

Let's take Age 26 as an example of happiness. For me, that was about half of 2006 and half of 2007. I had a job that didn't pay too well but was challenging, enjoyable, and allowed me to watch Major League Baseball for free 81 times/year. (I worked for an MLB team.) The people at my job were some of my best friends; we went out a lot to bars or movies or to eat or play basketball, made great memories, and keep in touch. I was living in Florida, which allowed me to swim almost year-round and go to the beach whenever I wanted. Out-of-state friends and family visited fairly regularly, which, again, allowed for great times and great memories. I got married to an amazing woman and had arguably the best day of my life - our wedding day. I visited Hawaii and travelled a few times (but not too often to be annoying) for work. Life was simple and life was good, filled with fun and joy.

Fast forward about five years. My wife and I moved back to our home state (for a variety of reasons, which are somewhat relevant here but rather lengthy), bought a wonderful house (for cheap) in a fine school district, and just had our first baby (he's healthy and wonderful). My wife gets to see her family more, we get to see our close friends consistently, and I have reconnected with my alma mater. We make enough money to live comfortably, give to charity and often volunteer. We're both healthy. I exercise regularly, am part of a book club, don't overwork, and see my two best friends almost every week, usually more often than once a week. I host poker tournaments about once a month at my house. I avoid excessive television and internet usage. all feels sort of...hollow. I think I made my bed, settled, grew up...whatever you want to call it, and it's really not sitting well with me.

Thus, back to the to recapture the magic of 26 (not to mention 21 and 22) did you do it? (Bear in mind: While as appealing as stopping it all and moving to a beach in Hawaii (for example) sounds great in theory, I do view it as unrealistic.)
posted by st starseed to Human Relations (51 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
You're a dad now, it's time to recapture the magic by seeing everything through the eyes of your child.

That's my plan, anyway.
posted by davey_darling at 8:01 PM on April 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

Consider the poissibility that you just stumbled into a really great situation at age 26, and your age wasn't the proximate cause of your happiness.
posted by phrontist at 8:01 PM on April 2, 2012 [35 favorites]

Your life sounds pretty awesome. Start spending some time volunteering with those who aren't as well off as you. You won't be recapturing your young, wild times, but your life will almost certainly start to feel less hollow.

And, to counter your opening statement: what I have heard most often is that people enjoy their 40s-60s much, much more than their 20s (because the relative stability and child-having happy times make up for any excitement they may miss from their youth).
posted by phunniemee at 8:05 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need to immediately go out and meet some senior citizens living life to the fullest and get readjusted!

Nothing to do with age - everything to do with attitude. What's unrealistic about moving to Hawaii if you want to?
posted by gomichild at 8:06 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

When you were 26, were you trying to recapture anything? It sounds like, no, you weren't. So the first step must be to forget about living in the past. If your current life is unsatisfying, the solution to that is going to be in changing it into something else, at which time, you will actually be older, not younger.
posted by thelonius at 8:07 PM on April 2, 2012 [18 favorites]

Did you settle down and have a kid because you really wanted to settle down and have a kid, or out of simple inertia? Because having a kid is great, but only if you really want to have a kid.
posted by bardic at 8:10 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stop recapturing and just capture. Or don't. Enjoy each moment. Your life sounds awesome.
posted by mannequito at 8:10 PM on April 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

The magic will change and the memories will stay. For me it was age 27 and I haven't been able to recapture it because the situation has completely changed. I am no longer single, I make loads more money and I have to make decisions considering the others around me who are affected by these. BUT, there are really cool moments that have come in to replace the great times I had in my 20's. I am financially much more comfortable. I watch in amazement as my daughter dances on stage and grows into one of the neatest teens I've ever seen. We get to go away and travel and stay in places that aren't total shitholes (mind you I didn't mind the shitholes when I was 20 something).

I no longer have to worry about the boyfriend I am with cheating on me or looking for a boyfriend for that matter. I know the rubbish will go out every week because my husband does that. So maybe some of the adventure and adrenalin is gone but it has been replaced by something a little different. When I see my friends from the times when I was 20 something it is a great reunion. I like seeing how we all have changed but being able to hold on to the friendship and the memories - seeing how our kids have grown.

I make sure we travel every year and I have made a list of all the places I didn't make it to when I was traveling in my 20's - either because I ran out of money or because life put me some place else. The traveling is a little different now but equally enjoyable and maybe even more so in some ways because I don't have to eat pot noodles every nice.

Sure, you can watch all kinds of movies that make post university years look oh so glamourous but don't forget to thing about the angst that also came along with those years. For me some of those years were really lonely and difficult as I was trying to figure out just exactly where I was going with my life. Now I sort of know what I'm doing or at least I don't worry about it so much as I have a career path behind me.

I'm kind of loving this time in my life as it seems to be the perfect balance of having kids that still love me and want to travel with us, being comfortable physically and financially and just not having to think so hard about "stuff" all the time.

I'm afraid of the part where I start getting too old or where my kids don't want to be around any more or where they start costing too much money because they hang around with idiots and go out and blow more money than they earn.

Enjoy - this is the good part. Just pick a few things you want to achieve each year that will raise your energy and expectations - have something to look forward too - not a bucket list so much as a life list.
posted by YukonQuirm at 8:13 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

For practically everyone I know, myself included, their 20s contained the best times of their lives
Gee, I sure wouldn't relive my 20s for all the tea in China. I feel about 10,000 times more adventurous and daring and zestful now that I did then.
You've got a long road ahead, esp. with a little kid, and I'd keep facing forward. Every day is a totally new adventure for him--he has no preconceived notions about what the day will bring. A heart for any fate, so to speak.
Maybe you need something a tich less predictable than monthly poker and your old pals--learn a language, an instrument, do something out of character and out of your comfort zone.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:16 PM on April 2, 2012 [25 favorites]

I think you need to figure out why you're dissatisfied today and apparently weren't in your 20s. Find out what's missing. The best time of my life was when I was living abroad. It didn't have much to do with my age. It was related to my environment (foreign culture! learning everyday! yay!) but mostly my friends and coworkers, who were like family to me. I felt a sense of community unlike any other time in my life. I enjoyed going to work, not just because I liked the work but also because I liked the people, and I knew that they liked me. We all fit together. That, to me, is what makes life complete, and it's what I try to recreate. It's harder because the people I worked with abroad were a special group, and my job situation now isn't as conducive to that. It takes a lot more work here, but overall I'm happy, and that's what's important.
posted by smorange at 8:16 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My early 20s sucked so hard.
My late 20s are kinda scary, 'cause that's almost 30 and all, but they are so righteously, outrageously better than my early 20s that I figure that the next decade is going to be spectacular.

So. I disagree with your underlying premise.

That said, I've noticed that nothing in your early 20s is ever boring, because everything is new. Dude, I just listened in on a group of rather young men geeking out over their peanut butter preferences. Seriously. Like, when you're 19 and 20 and living outside of the home for the first time, you have to learn how to buy peanut butter, do laundry, figure out the post office, etcetera. And since it's ALL new, you are NEVER bored.

Naturally, I am less enthused by PB (though I prefer the 100% natural, smooth kind, in case you were wondering). So, I guess you could say that more aspects of my life are now more boring, though they are more comfortable and efficient. I guess one answer to this conundrum would to go out and do new things. It's not like you can't learn and be adventurous, now that you're no longer 21. Have you thought about learning a new language? Picking up a new hobby? Trying to bake for the first time without setting the house on fire?

Plus, when you're older you get to do the stuff you actually couldn't dream of doing when you were 20 and broke. So - trip to Spain? On the list. Starting that research consultant gig? On the list. Throwing raucous parties at a home I actually own? Done and done.

posted by vivid postcard at 8:18 PM on April 2, 2012 [24 favorites]

Or what YukonQuirm and Ideefixe said.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:20 PM on April 2, 2012

I am 37. The best years of my life were not my 20s - although they did represent a nice balance between youthful, uninhibited energy and some more maturity than I had in high school.

Anyway, you will change as you get older. That's OK, it's part of life. I think life just keeps getting better, actually.
posted by latkes at 8:53 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

As you get older what you consider a good day changes.

Getting OK with the idea of this is difficult. Part of you wants to remain the 25 year old, forever, part of you wants to do new things. It feels really weird.

For me, it came down to decided that it didn't really matter what other people thought about my idea of fun, all that mattered was mine (and my wife...). So I started doing the kinds of things I wanted to do or that felt right to me. From playing Magic the Gathering when it came out to brewing beer to doing cosplay with my daughters at conventions, I gave up giving a shit about what others thought.

It's that I don't enjoy doing typical things from my 20s. I'm 44 now and just this weekend I went with a buddy to ride bikes around downtown LA and drink through the 'beerathon'. But I also refilled the bird feeders in the back yard and spent a half hour watching birds from the back porch. On Sunday I spent the morning teaching people to ride bikes in a group and then went for mimosas.

My advice is stop looking back at the 20s and trying to recreate that feel. That feeling was stumbling through life and being surprised. Look forward and think about what you want to do now. Weekend of fun with the wife in Vegas? Plan it, go do it. Ill-planned road trip to NASCAR/NHL/NFL game? Don't plan it, go do it. River rafting trip with buddies? Plan it, go do it. Weekend sitting in a hammock reading a book? Plan it, go do it.
posted by Argyle at 8:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Let's take Age 26 as an example of happiness.

Jesus, let's not, at least not in my case. But seriously, your "right now" is a lot like my "mid-to-late 20s" thus far so I would reiterate other people's suggestions that it sounds like something else has changed besides just your age. My work and living situation weren't treating me so well over the last few years, but I didn't realize how much it was affecting me until it started to change. A lot of things I thought were just "getting old" I now think were probably these (largely situational) feelings of isolation and being "stuck."

The thing that jumps out at me is that you seem maybe a little lonely -- you had what sounds like a rich, varied social life and now I get the sense it's more limited, poker notwithstanding. You may also have a little cabin fever. I also think ideefixe is onto something with the casual spontaneity. Obviously some of these changes may be natural, given kids, etc., but I know other people with young kids who nevertheless still enjoy having people over and going out to do stuff, so I think it's maybe less inevitable than it seems. Maybe think about some ways to reintroduce that into your life.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

So much of what made my 20s giddy and exciting was a certain cluelessness about the way the world worked, a sense that a lot of things were possible, when, in fact, a lot of those things weren't even remotely likely. Potential energy versus kinetic, or maybe the serenity of remaining still, that I'm really enjoying at 32, which is about the same age as you.

You've filled in a lot of the blanks you had at age 26 with your awesome wife, your house, and your child. I don't think there's a lot to be gained from seeking to recreate the state of affairs without those things there, especially when they themselves offer so many opportunities for personal growth that weren't close to being on your radar at age 26. You can be a scoutmaster, join the PTA, coach baseball or soccer, and be an awesome dad, husband, and grown-up. It's possible to find far more fulfillment through things like that than the things you enjoyed at 26.
posted by alphanerd at 8:55 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that in your mid-twenties you had a whole bunch of life goals that now you have achieved? If getting married, having kids, buying a house, finding a stable career are all things you wanted for a long time, it might feel like you have finally arrived and now you don't know what to look forward to.

Even if you didn't spend a lot of time back then actively striving for these goals, maybe you at least had them in mind as a way in which your life would improve in the future, so it made you optimistic, whereas now you imagine your life always staying the same.

If you are a future-oriented, or goal-oriented person, you might need to come up with some more future dreams that you can start looking towards.
posted by lollusc at 9:05 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think I was too glib in my answer. Re-reading your question, I wonder if you're hitting an understandable life crisis right now. You have everything you thought you wanted, right? A partner, a child, a home, a job, etc, yet you don't feel fulfilled and satisfied. Most of us commenters I think are getting confused by the same thing that's confusing you: You're locating the problem with your age and we're responding to that. But I think this is about a crisis of, "I have it all; now what?" This is a really big, hard question that probably can't get answered on metafilter. Maybe you need something big and different in your life. Maybe a significant and meaningful change.

Or maybe some of this is about being the parent of a young child. In my experience, the time when your child is very young is one of deferred fulfillment. I loved my little baby, but I also felt that there was nothing left about me that wasn't about being a parent. This eases as your child grows. So some of this feeling may be just about waiting out the tough early baby years.

I'm not sure what's going on for you precisely, but I don't think it's your age.
posted by latkes at 9:06 PM on April 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

Yeah, it's not your age. Or rather, it is your age, but everybody has a different "golden age." Some of the people here who are telling you that your 40s (or 30s or 50s) will rock will find themselves up against exactly the same thing you're facing now, in their 50s (or 40s or 60s).

To answer your question, there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Anyone with any brains outgrows external motivation pretty early on, and internal motivation can only get you so far unless you're deeply neurotic. At some point, you realize that you're completely irrelevant to the big picture.

As some wise person once pointed out (and I wish I could remember who it was): At some point in your life, you realize that you will never again have unmixed feelings. You'll never have the unadulterated highs of youth. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You'll just have to figure out for yourself what else makes life worth living; the Internet does not have the answer. It's undeniably a painful transition, but the good news is, you'll probably survive it.
posted by bricoleur at 9:41 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

The early baby years are super tough. It is important not to get caught up in a whole vast philosophical morass of wondering if this is what life is really about, etc. Instead, ask yourself if you've had enough food, water, sleep, sunlight, exercise, etc. You probably haven't. Take care of that first.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:44 PM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

For each anecdata there's an equal and opposite one. Every decade I look back at myself the previous decade and think "Thank god I'm not that idiot any more." Virtually Everyone I know has found their current decade to be the best so far. For me personally my 20's weren't bad, but I did so much better with my life in my 30's. Now I'm taking the lessons from the 20's and 30's and looking forward to what I can do in my 40's.

If you're still playing by the rules that you did when you were 20 you're playing the wrong game. As you get older life becomes more nuanced. It was great when I was 20 and had a huge circle of friends, but now that I'm 40 I would hate hanging out with those people who, now that I look back on it, only my friends because we worked together, not because we were great to each other. Now I'm much more particular about who I spend my time with because my time is valuable, and my friendships are much more meaningful to me. And while that's different, a party with 4 good friends at 40 feels just as good as that blackout drunken bash with 60 did when I was 20. No, I take that back, it feels better than that bash because I'm now smart enough not to drink until I forget the awesome times I've had.

So quit trying to capture the magic of your 20's. It was only valid when you were there. Capture the magic of today.
posted by Ookseer at 9:58 PM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Man, my twenties were shit. I was plowing through major depression due to gender issues I was finally beginning to acknowledge. Sure, I'd moved out to LA to pursue my dream of being an ***ANIMATOR*** but that would fall apart. I had next to no friends. I was miserable. I hated myself and everyone around me.

Now I'm just starting my forties and life's totally awesome. I've got a few on-and-off lovers. I've had a Tarot deck published. I just finished the first volume of my crazy sci-fi comic, and just this weekend I showed my portfolio to a dude at a Well-Known Comics Company on a whim and found myself being offered some freelance illustration work. That same night, an indy game with my art premiered in NYC.

And on the side I'm an occasional burlesque dancer. I am fit, hot, and life is totally amazing.

I could have slugged it out in animation. I might be directing some Flash unit somewhere. A dude I trained is doing just that at WB. But I'd probably just be sitting in a hovel curled up in a ball of self-loathing.

Get out there and shake something up. Learn something crazy. Make something. I don't care what medium you use, try telling some stories or making some art. Stop being such an "adult" about everything. Sell the house and move out of the suburbs into an actual city, if baseball is what excites you then start chasing more jobs involving it. If the wildest thing you wish for is "a steady job in a decent school district" then yeah, your life is gonna be boring. Dream big; even if you fall short of reaching the stars, the Moon is a pretty cool consolation prize, right?

And you'll fail on the way. The time between then and now has been grueling. But through it all I've held on to trying to draw beautiful things, and gotten quite good at that.

So: What's burning inside of you that you're clearly extinguishing by taking the safest, most sensible route possible? Start doing it. Keep doing it through thick and thin.

(Note: I don't have kids. I don't want to have kids. So the demands of a kid may change what you can do. Or not; I dunno.)
posted by egypturnash at 10:03 PM on April 2, 2012 [13 favorites]

The times that were the best are scattered all over my life. There's no pattern. Just keep trying to make the present the best you can.
posted by ead at 10:09 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't recapture anything, it's gone. You can only create something new.

You keep moving forward until one day you don't.

My 20s were shit BTW.
posted by mleigh at 11:42 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

All I can tell you is that this is by no means a rule. My twenties where, for the most part, miserable, depressed and depressing. My thirties were much more enjoyable. My forties were strange, unexpected and rather wonderful. I'm coming up to three years into my fifties and so far they have been... somewhat disappointing, somewhat satisfying, somewhat surprising and somewhat puzzling.

The things that seem to have caused the good parts of each section of my life has been to not obsess about the inevitable and irksome decay of the body but to keep doing things, and to always be open to new experiences.
posted by Decani at 12:29 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My 20s (with very little exception) have been absolutely horrible. I think there might be a certain sociocultural subset for whom the "young and fancy free" time period actually exists, and maybe you're lucky enough to be in it; but be assured (and several of the above posters seem to agree) that this is by no means a universal experience. Many, many of us had 20s full of day-to-day financial struggle, bad relationships, failed dreams, and long hours at crap jobs trying to keep the rent paid while desperately struggling to figure out personal issues and and recover from abusive childhoods and god knows what else. In fact, many of us spent the "best days of our lives" being violently disillusioned of such a thing's existence. So truly, the first thug I would say is that if your life has really been that great up until now, you are EXTREMELY lucky/blessed. Think about that, and really absorb it; because it isn't something everyone gets to say.

Second, if you haven't already, do some serious introspection. Maybe you already know exactly what it was about this time period that made it so great (for you, personally, not accordion to some mass-media ideal). Maybe not. Lots of good advice unthread about expanding your social circle, adding spontaneity to your life in non-destructive ways, and being in the moment with the here-and-now. But it all really depends what you feel you're missing.

Honestly, for a long time I thought the best time of my life was my first couple years in college, at 17-18. I was struggling with a ton at the time, but I also had a really strong support network of friends and mentors and such for really the first time in my life; and I went from shy, confused loner to student body treasurer, and the intellectual version of the popular kid, of my campus in the space of a year - I was well-known and loved and I felt like I was able to really "be myself" so to speak. I felt like my strengths were recognized and honored and I didn't have to fake anything to win love.

In retrospect I spent a lot of my mid-early 20s trying to recapture the innocence and idealism of those two years. But you know what? That was pointless. I'm no longer as innocent and idealistic, and I never will be again probably, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. And as long as I kept wanting to be who I was at 18 again, the longer I kept myself from dealing with, and growing and loving the person I had become in the meanwhile - disillusionment and all.

I think this past year to be honest I have finally started to really "get" that and accept some aspects of myself and my life that have been holding me back personally. I am finally ok with being agnostic on some things that bothered me a lot when I was younger; I've accepted myself as a sexual human being (which came as a huge huge struggle); I've found things I am good at and reasons for my own worth that have nothing to do with academics or external approval.

Oh, and for the record? I am 29 now, and I can not wait to be 30. My 30s are going to be AMAZING.
posted by celtalitha at 12:44 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

To be honest, it sounds like you really regret moving out of Florida. Just a feeling from the way you describe the two places. I get the sense that you moved for a lot of 'sensible' reasons, but it still doesn't quite sit right with you. Maybe you and your wife need to sit down and figure out whether you could move back, good school district or no.
posted by Acheman at 1:44 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

My 20s were fun, but my thirties (so far, I'm just a couple of years into them) are amazing. I'm much less interested in how people feel about me or what they think of me, and much more comfortable in my own skin. I like myself better. I am less anxious and know what I'm doing and where I'm going, at least on a short-mid term time scale.

I really liked my 20s, but look forward to having an amazing 30s!!
posted by arnicae at 3:49 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This has nothing to do with age. For another data point my 20s were horrible. Horrible! I am so much happier now in my late 30s for a lot of reasons. I also do not have children. Which brings me to my main point: studies show clearly that personal satisfaction and self-described happiness drop once your children are born and do not recover to the pre-baby highs until your children leave home. Deferred happiness is the phrase.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 3:54 AM on April 3, 2012

Given your situation, recapturing the magic of youth is probably out (except perhaps in fleeting periods). But perhaps you can accept that and begin to see what exists in your present life that can exhilarate you. It won't be the same feeling, but if you can't find moments of bliss in your situation (which sounds excellent), there may be something wrong that can't be detected from your description.
posted by benbenson at 5:04 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've had some significant lifestyle changes; my take would be that hopefully you just need a little more time to find the new groove. I have moved a few times, and there has always been a period of discontent while one finds the right new roots.

Also consider that in the frustration involved in adjusting, you may be over-romanticising your past. Sitting through 81 ball games a year? That just sounds like part of your job.

Having a young child does involve some 'deferred fulfilment,' but I found great relief in the end of the me-me-me. Do try to connect with your kid and stay involved there as much as possible, as much happiness potential exists there.

Your mention of "settled" in a sort of negative context and the idea of "stopping it all" and fleeing makes me wonder if their are relationship issues you are ill at ease with considering, and thus not dealing with, and thus suffering from. Babies can be hard on relationships.
posted by kmennie at 5:10 AM on April 3, 2012

I hated my 20s. Most of my peak experiences - the ones whose intense happiness I am quite sure I will never feel again - were in my 30s.

I'm 50 now. It's taken me a while to get reconciled to the fact that from here on, everything enjoyable is going to hurt just a little bit more every year; having accepted that, though, I'm looking forward to the rest of my life with a keen interest. I want to know what happens next.

Feeling a bit flat is just the professional white background to an authentic life. If you were as happy all the time as your nostalgia is currently making you believe you should be, you wouldn't actually appreciate it anyway because it would just become normal.

You might care to consider beginning to learn a new skill that can never be fully mastered. Do you currently play a musical instrument? If not, pick one and start.
posted by flabdablet at 6:17 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think I made my bed, settled, grew up...whatever you want to call it, and it's really not sitting well with me.

To me it sounds like externally you did what you were required to do according to which age you were at but you didn't really "grow up" inside. You didn't actively choose to "settle down". You did it because maybe everyone else was doing that and you just went with whatever next step one is required to take by society. That said, maybe I have it all completely wrong. So why is it that you chose this life you are living right now, if you did indeed choose it in the first place? all feels sort of...hollow.

Believe it or not, it may be good for your health to feel this way from time to time. We tend to get this way when we are or close to being in a rut. And things are just, well, boring. That's when you take a step back, introspect and contemplate and try to figure out what brings joy and excitement right now, in this moment. Past, if it was good, will always taste sweeter with time- its just the nature of things. It doesn't mean the present is not just as delicious. It's different but its up to you to add new and exciting flavours (that YOU like) from time to time. But only you can really figure out what you like.
posted by xm at 6:52 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hope this is OK, but I kept thinking about your question and my curiosity led me to take a look at your profile. It seems like very similar issues have been coming up for a few years. Not a criticism at all, just something to think about, ie: maybe this isn't about your specific circumstances right in this moment.

Maybe there is some big change needed in your life to create more of a sense of meaning. What could you do that would shake up some essential part of your life, and really shift this sense of dissatisfaction? I'm not sure anyone could answer for you...
posted by latkes at 7:11 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a feeling we are going to feel the same way about our thirties when we are in our forties and the same way about our forties when we are in our fifties, etc. I'm 43 and don't give a toss about my twenties even though they were great. I romanticize about my thirties way more and would relive that time of my life before I'd relive my twenties. The exception, I think, is that when you are in your twenties you certainly wouldn't want to go back to being a teen. Maybe the twenties is a sweet spot in that regard.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:30 AM on April 3, 2012

I also felt the twentys were the best time of my life and did not want to leave those years, but time marches on. You gain experience, knowledge, and maturity as the years roll by. Now at 50, my children are out of the house and I have a different kind of contentment and freedom I did not have in my twentys. The next few decades I can look forward to retirement, spoiling the grand-children and sending them home without the responsibility of raising them, and traveling to places I couldn't when I was raising my kids. I really look forward to my future years.
posted by sybarite09 at 7:52 AM on April 3, 2012

As latkes points out, this isn't a new question for you.

You just had a baby, it's totally fine and okay and expected to feel trapped in a very small world because that world just became all about a very small person who isn't that interactive. But you and your partner can imagine what kind of life you want to build as parents. You can gather up your friends, leave all the kids at home, and do a week in a resort in Jamaica, dancing and drinking cocktails. You can host an annual weekend at a lake house with beer and video games and basketball and whatever. There are things you can do between now and (dear God) retirement to make your life fulfilling.

But really, I'd suggest going to find a therapist because giving the long-standing nature of this nostalgic discontent, there is a chance greater than null that you could turn into that guy who turns 40, buys a Porche and takes off for Vegas with a 20-year old in desperation.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:55 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Funny, for years I used to reflect fondly on late highschool early college as this kind of ideal life point. Only more recently have I been able to shake off the nostalgia, to see clearly those years had their ups and downs just like now. Actually, those years were extremely difficult because my identity was still forming, and I was so heavily influenced by my flawed peers.

Of course, the mind will fixate on anything to get away from the present moment. I am sure even back then you were reflecting on times past as a way to 'get away' from the quite natural discontent all human beings feel at all times. Even back then, something drove you onward, something encouraged you to let go of what you had and to move on to something else.

This inner discontent is what propels us to greatness, and keeps us moving forward in life. We can never actually be satisifed, just like after a big filling meal, we can still have some dessert.

Meditation can be an excellent way to placate inner demons. Mindfulness meditation can help you learn to be in the moment with your little boy, and your wonderful wife, and not clinging to some imagined past, because let us face it, you are not remembering every fine little detail of those years. You are cherry picking the best, and since those memories are frozen and perfect, how can the present compare?

We do not get a redo, and honestly, the past is just an illusion imperfectly stored. You would not change a thing even if you could go back, and there is no 'there' to even go back to. The future is just a fantasy. This moment is all we get, and it is the same moment when you were in your 20s as it is now. Nothing has changed, you are just older, wiser, and more capable. More people can depend on you because you are steadfast and stable, but nothing has changed. This is truly the very same moment.

Fall in love with your wife again, fall in love with your baby, fall in love with them in every moment, continuously. Never let a moment slip by when you could be loving them. Let your happiness be a guide, and listen to it. Whatever you want to do, from a picnic on a beautiful day, to playing with army figures, or building model ships, or painting, or anything, just do it. This life is unlimited, without boundaries! Discover, explore, play, grow!

Your child will soon make you the center of their universe, what kind of an example are you going to set? Is life some endless dreary march, from milestone to milestone, never appreciating the blessings which rain down every single second? Or is life a gift, where infinite possibilities await us at every turn? There is no right or wrong way to live, just the way you choose. Fall in love with your life again.

We never arrive, we are eternally arriving.
posted by satori_movement at 9:18 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: 26 was the worst year of my life. I'll be 30 in August and I feel like I just hit my stride and am able to be sustainably happy for the first time ever.

It sounds like a lot of what was wonderful about 26 was situational. And situational stuff is great, but a pretty precarious foundation for happiness and satisfaction. Hopefully, you know yourself better now, you're able to notice what it is about particular situations that make you happy.

I lived in hawaii for four years when I was younger, and I understand how amazing it is to be able to go to the beach on a whim. I miss it a ton. But I don't live by the beach anymore, so I've found other awesome ways to enjoy nature on a whim. Wandering around hiking trails, swimming at the springs, just enjoying the sun in my backyard, etc. Find the beauty where you're at, and revel in it.

It sounds like you miss some of your strong friendships. I miss some of my old friends like crazy still, and we're scattered across the country. So it goes. How strong is your social circle now? Do you have really close friendships? If not, try to grow some. If you do, try to be present and enjoy them.

I think you feel hollow right now because you're thinking about all the wonderful things that were, and all the wonderful things that could have been but won't happen because of the choices you've made. Even though you love your wife and family, there are still worlds of possibilities that become unavailable when we make a decision or commitment. That's just the nature of a finite life. We've only got a century if we're lucky, and we can only be in one place at a time.

I think you're sort of grieving for all of the beauty and joy in the world that you'll never get to experience. It's understandable, and I think we all go through it in different phases. But we only have one life, and one set of decisions to make. But there's a beauty of it's own in that. The possibilities for joy are infinite, and extend out farther than we could ever extend ourselves. But the joy available in each possibility is also infinite. Within the choices and commitments you've made, there is so much happiness and wonder to be had that you'll never see the end of it. You just have to be present for it, and notice.

So enjoy old and wonderful memories, but don't get lost in them. Enjoy some fun "what if" fantasies about living the rest of your life in Hawaii on the beach. But don't let enjoyable daydreams use up so much of your attention that you miss the wonder right around you. It's already there. Just notice it and let it fill you up. And bit by bit that hollow feeling will recede, and you'll be overflowing.

posted by f_panda at 10:15 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

*eyes your profile*

So you went from endless awesome party in Florida to domestic life in Michigan. To the suburbs of DETROIT. Oh. Yeah. You know, just that geography explains a lot to me - I went from the sprawl of LA to freezing Boston and the weather made me want to kill myself even without being stuck in the suburbs. But the suburbs count for a lot too. The suburbs are pretty much DESIGNED to be ANYTHING but exciting.

Get out of Michigan's suburbs. Go somewhere things actually happen. Go find a city you can live in. A real one, where you can walk to the farmer's market once a week, and have most everything you need in walking distance instead of having to drive to the mall. Give your kid a chance to grow up in a kaleidoscopic melting pot of urbanism instead of a wasteland where you have to drive everywhere. Sure you'll be living in an apartment instead of a house. So? You'll have all KINDS of stuff to go do and see if you live somewhere interesting.

Because, man, fuck the safe life in the suburbs.
posted by egypturnash at 11:24 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

For practically everyone I know, myself included, their 20s contained the best times of their lives

Maybe find some additional friends with a different perspective. My 30s were way better than my 20s. My 40s--despite severe chronic illness, and nursing my beloved father and mother-in-law through their last illnesses--have still been better than my 30s.

I don't get the "glory days" attitude at all. Not that it may not be accurate to your current life experience, but you seem to think it's a universal. It is not.

One of the most inspiring conversations I ever had with relative strangers was with Bradford and Barbara Washburn. They were in their 90s at the time we spoke, and they were so fucking excited about everything they were doing (with good cause, because they were doing totally awesome things). I resolved to keep that sense of adventure as long as I could, even if I never got the Washburns' extraordinary opportunities. And yeah, I haven't climbed Everest or started a museum or flown over glaciers to take photos for National Geographic, but I've done things that thrilled me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:48 PM on April 3, 2012

What idiot started this ridiculous idea that your 20s are some glorious peak and the rest of your life is just a slow slide into pathetic decrepitude? That is the biggest BULLSH*T. Just bullsh*t. If you think that's how it is, you're in for some surprises. I just turned 60, and my health is so stinky I have a hard time even getting out of the house, but every year is still in some strange way better than the last. Just being alive is a total HOOT, and the older you get, the clearer that becomes.

Forget about trying to recapture the happiness of earlier times. You had it, you appreciated it, you can still cherish the remembrance of it, and that's all great. But there are so, so many more and different ways to be happy that you have yet to experience. For certain, there will be times when you feel hollow, and times when you feel full of pain. But that doesn't mean that there isn't more happiness coming. Allow that hollowness that you feel now to be filled up with appreciation for what you have today. Like when your little boy wakes up from a scary dream, and you can give him comfort, isn't that happiness? Isn't that at least as good as a free ball game?
posted by Corvid at 2:39 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jumping off from this comment and a couple others, I wonder if you can try to "bloom where you're planted"? I have long felt like that phrase was the opposite of "reach for the stars" but, lately I feel like it's really a more adult attitude to have. I live in Atlanta, but I'd LOVE to live in Portland. But you know what? I can't right now. I just bought a house here, my boyfriend's job is here and he loves it, and we do have a pretty nice life here. So I have been trying to enjoy what Atlanta DOES offer, and try to stop comparing it to Portland.

Maybe the general consensus is that Detroit isn't a "real" city, but I think you can still experience it in a better way. A blog I read, Sweet Juniper is written by a guy who moved to Detroit from San Francisco. And at first it was different and less cool, but with his two kids he has really explored Detroit and made it look appealing. To me, anyway.

So even though I'm younger than you, my advice is to try to enjoy where you are now, both physically and uh...on your timeline in life. Where you are right now is where lots of people are trying REALLY hard to get to, so congratulations!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2012

To me, it sounds like you miss excitement. However, you're in a stage when you have to be stable for your kid and your wife. That's great! Not everyone gets to settle down comfortably, so you don't have to struggle.

And maybe that's part of it. There's much less struggle and therefore less novelty. You don't have to figure out what's next. You don't have to MacGuyver a party with $10 and 20 friends. You have to figure out how to keep the consistency flowing, which is much less spontaneous and problem-solvey, but a much bigger question.

However, it sounds like you have it good. It sounds like you have deep-seated interests, a supportive spouse, and a beautiful baby. So, I guess the question is how do you appreciate those things daily? Are there hobbies and habits you can pass to your kid(s)? Share with your wife? Are there big projects to undertake? Are you still learning?

And to anyone who says "move to a real place": Screw that. You can hang out anywhere, and it's probably not worth upsetting your wife & kid because an internet person thinks Michigan sucks or kids suck. You don't have to be in Seattle or New York to have "real" art or "real" things that happen. I grew up in Plymouth, so I can appreciate that Northville is uniformly upper-middle class, but you can still find the interesting. It might take a drive to an art gallery, ballpark, or nature preserve, but it's still there. If Northville/Detroit is missing a thing you want to do: Do it yourself! Build it! You have an internet.

My point is that you're fine. Even though I'm younger than you, I find that I have fewer "bloggable" events in my life, but I enjoy the nuance of emotion and deep relationships better than any wacky bowling adventure.
posted by Turkey Glue at 3:16 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really like egypturnash's contributions to this thread. I feel like she gets what the OP is saying. It's really easy to say "enjoy your suburban life! not everyone is lucky enough to have a house, a wife, and a child!" But what st. starseed is talking about is a REAL problem, and it's really not remedied by telling him to relax and "bloom where he's planted."

I will address the question in three parts. First, I have a theory about why your twenties were so fulfilling; second, I will address why this sense of excitement disappears after your twenties; and third I will suggest some possible ways of recapturing that sense of adventure and possibility that your 20's represented for you.

(1) Why your twenties are exciting. I think it's pretty clear that people's twenties can be very exciting because you are in the first decade of adulthood, enjoying adult freedoms without the full complement of adult responsibilities (unless you married and had children early). Everything is new and exciting. Your life feels like it will go on forever. You are young enough that everything feels possible. If you are considering a career, you have plenty of time to decide on it. Nothing seems foreclosed to you. Because you're not saddled with a lot of family and childcare burdens, you have more time to hang out with friends somewhat aimlessly -- time to stay out late, even stay out all night if you choose to, drink a lot, use drugs, etc. You have time to read ridiculous numbers of books that you have discussed with your friends, watch movies late into the night, have long heartfelt conversations that feel like a continuation of college. So your twenties combines a sense of endless possibility, the pure pleasure of friendships that are not bound by some regimented social routine, the drama of intellectual discovery, and the freedom to explore.

(2) Why that excitement disappears after your twenties. One thing I do not like about growing older is how many of one's social engagements become very formal, very meticulous and planned out. The just-hanging-out stuff seems to disappear, squeezed out of existence by the quotidian responsibilities we have as adults. Our lives, almost unavoidably, fall into a predictable routine. Even if you remain unmarried, or, if married, remain childless, your friends will gradually begin to have kids, and their social world will become more constricted by routine. You get more responsibilities in your job, to the degree that you have to be well-rested and sharp the next day. Losing your job would be a catastrophe. So you can't take the risks that you were willing to take as a younger person.

(3) How you can recapture the excitement of your twenties as an adult. It seems to me that people who retain that sense of adventure, past their twenties, work in jobs that are transformative in some sense. I mean jobs where there is an overrriding sense of mission, vocation, or principle that takes the job out of the realm of a forty-hour-a-week commitment and makes it something deeper. It can be a career in the arts, or a career working on political campaigns, or working in some sort of job that allows interesting global travel with a sense of mission. I think it is very hard to retain your sense of freedom and adventure if you are a suburban cubicle slave. Your life fits into a pre-ordained groove and it's easier to lose respect for yourself, if your job does not ignite some fundamental passion that you possess. And if you are in one of these transformative jobs, you will find yourself with a sort of ready-made group of comrades-in-arms, people you can drink with and swap war stories with. If you cannot establish a career in a transformative profession, an alternative is to immerse yourself in some project that is apart from your work, something you can pour your passion into. Perhaps it's an art project, or a book you are writing, or some arduous training for an athletic event. The changes you go through as part of these projects may stretch you in ways that compensate for the lack of kindred spirits in your day job. And yet another possibility is to assert your independence in small but distinct ways. You do not have to be totally defined by your family. Even if everything else you do is by-the-book, suburbanite dad 101, you could do something modestly independent like every week stopping by a bohemian bar for a couple of hours after work and getting known there as a regular. Or, establish yourself as a blogger on a group blog. One guy I am Facebook friends with is probably in his fifties, and established a culture blog that was definitely a part-time, after-work diversion that happened to gain a lot of followers. This guy has remained defiantly youthful and playful in his attitudes toward life, and at least to my mind, retains that sense of twentysomething adventure and joie de vivre. Doing something even a little off the beaten path could go a long way toward retaining a sense of adventure and possibility.
posted by jayder at 7:39 PM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

You don't recapture your youth. You create and relish new experiences. Your life sounds too good to be true and I think you should simply live in the moment and make the best of these times. Or one day you will be trying to recapture these years :)

One way to funnel some excitement would be to take on new challenges and work towards them. Train for a marathon, take up learning a new language, learning something new, travel (with wife and kid) to a foreign land. However, all these are in addition to your already blessed life.

Stop thinking about the glory years and enjoy what are really more glory years in the making!
posted by blizkreeg at 9:10 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I want to respond to comments about Detroit. It has a bad reputation, particularly now, as a dying city. And it is in a bad place, and a dangerous city in many ways. But there is tons of history and culture in detroit. It's sick, not dead.

I've never lived there, and have only ever spent a day in the city. But I have friends nearby, but I hear about them going to awesome events there. Great art shows. Music. I know there are a lot of people getting actively involved in their communities, trying to heal the city. It's an amazing place, and is near a lot of natural beauty.

It's very much a real city where things happen. Not just bad things. Good and beautiful things.

Suburbs aren't ideal, but they're fine. You can hop into the city, or nearby cities like Ann Arbor (big university, I assume cultural stuff because of that). Sometimes living *in* the city is prohibitively expensive. Living in a suburb gives you a yard and some space. Opportunity to garden, or sculp the perfect landscape. Build a deck or whatever. And there are great and exciting hobbies that fit well into a boring house and neighborhood.

Michigan really isn't this pit of flyover country hell.
posted by f_panda at 9:23 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard it said that people tend to live in the past, the present or the future. Ether they idealize the past, or they look forward to the future, or they enjoy the present. I feel lucky to be the third type of person. Are you the first? When you were in our twenties, did you feel nostalgia for the lifestyle and friendships you had in college?
posted by bq at 9:15 PM on April 8, 2012

Having older friends who are older than you, and waaay more awesome helps a lot, rather than friends who are similarly missing the past.

For reference, I'm in my late 20s, and I express surprise at people who express surprise at me having good friends in their late 40s. Because, actually, I have friends in their 60s, 70s even.
I'm talking about the sort of people who throw a 60s theme party, at which I and two male friends turned up in mini-dresses and gogo boots, because it was their mid-60th birthday, and are constantly telling me about shows I should be going to in town. Or meeting the kind of grizzled travellers who haven't had a winter in over a decade, from living in different beautiful places and countries over the course of the year.

Give yourself someone to aspire to be.
posted by Elysum at 8:08 PM on April 9, 2012

It sounds like either:
- you aren't as interested in what you're doing now as what you used to do, or
- your memories are focused on the good things, and ignore the bad.

It's probably a bit of both.

Use the extra money from having an adult job to do things that are "Really Interesting To You". Not "Things You're Supposed To Do", but really actually interesting. That might be a hobby, travel, or supporting your kid in playing baseball, but make sure that *something* you're doing is as interesting to you as possible, and not just what you're supposed to be doing.
posted by talldean at 9:11 AM on April 10, 2012

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