I always believed my childhood would end the moment I turned 21. It seemed like that magical age where everything starts to happen for real. I assumed that like the movies I’d be plummeted into a world of careers, travelling, dinner parties, and mind-blowing on-the-next-train-to-Paris dates. The reality is that it’s all a bit less Marie Antoinette, and more Mama June. And although many tell me otherwise, I still feel like the sixteen year old who went to her first party with a litre bottle of cider, caked in glittery blue eyeshadow and a clumsily drawn cat eye. I know nothing. Or next to nothing. The names of every single cookie flavour in Sainsbury’s doesn’t count- right?!
But in all my inelegant glory, there are several things that I seem to have picked up along the way. They have diffused into me like a wacky tea, (probably contains drugs- no one tell Grandma). Slowly, these things have cajoled me into adulthood. As I’m coming to the end of my last working term at Exeter- I can’t shake the feeling that the expereinces of my late teens and early twenties aren’t just anecdotes I’ll pass on to my children or new friends. They’ve changed how I view myself, how I see others, and what I want from life.
So, in the spirit of new beginnings, and as a celebration of my time in Exeter, hoping and praying that the next 21 years are full of more grace, decorum and sophisticated brunches with friends than the last, here are 21 things that every girl should hear before she reaches 21:
1. University is both like school, and not like school. Yes, you’re learning (only if you actaully try, and can understand words like monosaturated or determinism), and yes, there are societies and freindship groups and rivalry. But, ultimately, you are not the smallest fish in a huge pond, and you don’t have to do or say anything that other people want you to. You are free to make friends with who you want, enjoy the things you enjoy and genuinely not give a damn if Sarah from biology is going to wear the green or black dress to the sixth form ball. You’re free, finally.
2. You will be scared though. It’s a fact of life, and one I hate, to this very day. But being scared only makes the victory ever sweeter when you conquer that fear, whatever it may be. Say the ‘stupid’ things, trust me, someone else is thinking them too.
3. You are turning into your mother. Sorry. The new found respect you have for her is palpable. Enough said.
4. Good friends are a must. The kind of people who you know you can sit up with drinking, eating and talking till 4am talking, and with whom you’ll still want to go to brunch the next day. These people will become the most important things in your life, and to know that you can call them crying with any problem, at any time, will make even the dullest of days bearable. (You know who you are, if you’re reading this, I love you).
5. Toxic people aren’t worth it. Try as you might, they don’t want to acknowledge what’s in front of their nose – whether that’s an apology, a long talk, or a crumbling friendhsip. As candid and cliché as it sounds, you can’t waste your time on people who make you feel awful about yourself, what you’re doing, or the things and people you once loved. It says more about them than it does about you.
6. Food after a night out is ALWAYS a win. Takes the edge off even the worst hangover. (cheesy chips from Mega are my go to- but don’t accept it if he offers you a slice of cucumber and a wink… no, I’m being serious).
7. Go out into the countryside as often as you can. Living at uni in the middle of a city can be diverse, fast paced, and great fun, but if you need a change of scene- the rolling hills and valleys of Dorset; the lakes of Cumbria and Yorkshire; or even our very own Exmoor work a charm. Take a picnic and go walking- thank me later.
8. Drink water and balance your finances. Yes, yes, I know I sound like an overprotective parent, but these are the two fundamental things that I learnt during first year. (Oh my god- why is this the only thing I learnt in first year?!?) Without water, your brain and other organs cannot function: I’m not kidding when I say that water is the drink of the Gods: you’re hair will get shinier, your skin clearer, and most importantly your mind will be sharp and on task- what is better than that? And the finances speak for themselves- soon you’ll be out in the big wide world- you’re gonna need a budgeting system.
9. Pace yourself and be kind to yourself. Work hard, play hard, as my mother would say. You can’t please all the people all of the time, including yourself. Plan ahead and get things done, but don’t sacrifice a night out with friends, a dinner party, or even that new face mask you’re dying to try. I learnt the hard way that the most important thing to keep ticking over is your own happiness and mental health. Take time to love yourself, don’t plan too hard, and the rest will follow.
10. Christmas is a time to appreciate family. No matter if you celebrate or not- there is something about sitting around drinking wine and eating mince pies (and copious other foods), with the people that have been with you through all those years of childhood tantrum, and teenage tantrum… and come to think of it, adult tantrum. No matter the break ups, the lost lecture hours, and terrible heartache over that one guy who had good bant but terrible taste in jumpers, your family will always have your back.
11. On that note: you will never be able to achieve the great heights of your mother’s cooking. Ever. Sorry, but you may as well stop trying, because your Bolognese, or roast potatoes will always fall slightly short. This is why it’s great to go home from time to time. It is a failsafe reminder of the fact that you still have years to perfect that amazing crunch or perfect balance of tomato to Worcester sauce.
12. However, don’t bin off cooking for good. It’s a great way to stay healthy, have a great time with friends and eat some pretty great meals that weren’t out of Tesco’s freezer section for £2.99 a pop. (Don’t pass up a cheeky Maccy’s now and then though!)
13. Only buy and do the things that bring you joy. Though I risk soudning like Marie Kondo here, her philosophy works well forthese two things. Buy things that will last more than a couple of seasons, and that will bring you joy and memories in your home when you see or use them. Find hobbies that you love and stick at them, even if you aren’t that good: writing, sewing, reading and playing netball are mine, I’m just never going to be a gymnastics or archery kind of girl.
14. Say thank you once in a while to those you love. We so often forget in the daily bustle of life about the people who would stand in our corner and back us even if we were fighting Tyson Fury. (God forbid.)
15. Love who you love and demand respect about it. Be that girls, boys, one night stands, long-term relationships, or anything else. It is your choice what you do with your body and your heart. Share your mind and your time with people who deserve it, and not those who are going to judge you for it, whether that be experience, inexperience, or disinterest. I got alot of comments coming to uni with my high school boyfriend, who I am still with and love to the ends of the earth: a confused, “So, you’re not going to cheat on him?” was one of the best. Stay true to yourself, nothing else matters as much.
16. Fries over guys and sisters over misters. Who’s going to be there when you’re sobbing into the last dregs of your margarita and begging for ice cream? Not Johnno from TP last week. Your girls.
17. Mixing drinks is always a bad idea. As is drinking to forget something. We’ve all been through a hard time, a break up, a shitty comment from your patriachal boss, and wanted to drink ourselves into oblivion. Trust me when I say, you will wake up the next day with a throbbing headache, having made some very bad decisions, and the hurt will still be there. Deal with it in your own time, your own way, but Jack Daniels is not always your friend in this situation.
18. But… Drunken adventures with your best mates are another thing. Go wild; tell that boy to keep his hands to himself, or else; get drunken ice cream sandwiches at 2am; talk to random people in the club who you’ll never see again, and play monopoly in your parents living room while downing cans of out of date beer.
19. Appreciate your body for what it is. Self-acceptance can be really hard, on some days it’s impossible, and that is more than okay. In my case, I am not a champion athlete, or a Victoria’s Secret model. I bloat when I have a bowl of chips, my thighs rub when I walk, and I will probably never be who society says is the skinniest, prettiest girl in the room. But I thank God every day that I am who I am. I feel healthy and alive in my own skin, I have friends and a boyfriend who love me, and even more than this- I love myself. Anyone who doesn’t like it, doesn’t need to comment. End of story.
20. Don’t be afraid to say no. Be honest and maintain your integrity. This is something I learnt the hard way, and am still trying to come to terms with. Trying to please other people will never result in the best outcome. Be true to your own feelings, the people who really matter, won’t mind.
21. Remember there are no rules to life. Says me, sitting here writing a set of rule-like things. What I mean by this is that everyone is different. Your path is your own, don’t let anyone step into those little red shoes and chart the way you should skip down the yellow-brick road. You do you, and enjoy it.
So here’s my final offering to you lovely people, and a huge thank you to HCX for giving me a voice during my time at Exeter, and some of the best friends and memories I could ask for.
Love, Bryony xoxo