Emma Koenig, author of the book F*ck! I'm In My Twenties, sat down with us to talk about what, exactly, is so special about being a 20-something, and what she has to look forward to in her 30-somethings.—Katie
When we’re 15, it’s easy to imagine that by the time we’re 25 we’ll be (OMG) married to our crushes and wildly successful. What did you imagine your life would be like at 25?
I thought I would have flat abs and a cabinet filled with a vast selection of cookies. Kind of contradictory dreams. Part of the problem is that I didn't imagine my twenties in any concrete way. I never envisioned getting married or having kids or how my career would play out. I just pictured things kind of working out in some vague way if I worked incredibly hard. I thought I wouldn't be as depressed and anxious as I was in high school and college, but I found that my emotional problems seemed to intensify. Although I'm sure that assessment is due to the inaccuracy of memory. In any case, I'd like to think I'm better equipped to deal with those things now, though. I guess the biggest discrepancy is that I believed I would feel so adult and I'm not quite sure I do. Geez, I'm figuring it out, guys!
Speaking of crushes, how has your taste in men changed since high school?
There used to be some kind of glamor surrounding cynical guys who would smoke pot all day and be indifferent to your presence—the kind of guy who was sure to have dirt under his fingernails and seemed to wear the same outfit every day like a cartoon character. Now I place a lot more emphasis on ambition, hygiene, and actually being a decent human being. It's incredible how many guys I've liked who were so mean to me! I think that your dating standards kind of change based on the available population and what you feel you deserve at that moment (which is a whole other rabbit hole to go down). Based on those variables, high school is kind of the worst possible place to have high expectations.
Now that you’re in your twenties, are there certain things you value more now than you did as a teenager?
I value education in a different way. It's almost as though high school happens at the wrong time, at the moment you're least likely to be excited about learning. Not to mention that the social climate and personal metamorphosis totally overshadow your classwork.
Not everything about being a 20-something is terrible. What is the best part about being a 20-something?
The best part of being in your twenties is that gravity hasn't taken all your body parts hostage—yet.
…But a lot of it is pretty terrible, so what’s the worst part?
I think the worst part is encountering a thousand little uncertainties on a daily basis that, over time, turn into this massive conglomerate of doubt and fear. But I guess the ideal is to see the unknown as a positive thing. Maybe one day I'll get there!
Quarter-life crises are real! What do you do to make yourself feel like everything’s fine, even as you’re weeping maniacally over old ‘90s sitcoms?
I started Fuck I'm In My Twenties to deal with those moments! Trying to channel my feelings into something productive has dramatically changed my life. Still, that doesn't always work. When in doubt, I call my mom, go for a walk, or I go on YouTube and watch the audition videos for reality show talent competitions. My favorites are The X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance. The actual performances can be calming, too, but there is something about the auditions that really gets to me. There is something unbeatable about watching people's dreams start to come true. I know that sounds so cheesy, but I am dead serious.
Would you rather have a boyfriend or a cat?
I'm pretty sure cats hate me. And you can't have intellectual discussions or sex with cats (at least, you shouldn't do the latter with them). So, boyfriend it is!
When you were growing up, what TV shows colored your view of what life as a 20-something was going to be like?
Maybe there was some part of me that thought my life would be like Seinfeld, even though those characters are a little older. But one of the reasons that I dig that show so much is that it's constantly assessing the absurdity of being a human being and it unpacks the mundane with so much energy and passion—all this against the backdrop of NYC. To me, that is perfection. All I want in life is to be sitting with my friends in our favorite diner, riffing on the insanity of the universe.
As you claw your way out of your 20s, what do you see your 30-somethings looking like?
I just want to worry less in my 30s. And stop breaking out. I mean, c'mon, human beings should not have acne at this age. This is getting ridiculous.