I’m 21 — now what?

Kendall McElhaney

I’ve been 21 for about a week now. Nothing has really changed except now I am an adult and know everything. That makes me an expert on telling you what I think about things. That’s right, folks. I am limitless. I am inexhaustible. I am “legal.”

I have to say, after never having alcohol before this exact moment of legality, I am a huge fan of it’s work. 10/10 would recommend. Some drinks taste fruity. Some drinks taste sour. Some even taste like adult chocolate milk. But I’m here to tell you that drinking just because you have the legal privilege to isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

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I received my first official recognition of infinite “adulthood” on my birthday atop a mountain surrounded by friends, family and associates alike. It was a beautiful ceremony, and I felt very #blessed. Okay, so it may not have been a mountain — more so a barstool. And it may not have been surrounded by my close ones — more so the sweet drunken gutter babies I met in the bathroom at Bondi who bought me my first Irish Car Bomb. But here’s my point: I made a choice to go out with people I trusted and had a really great time. And it was my choice. I made memories with friends, accidentally pulled someone’s hair and touched a gooey table. It was a banner night.

However, between Fuzzy Navels and Slippery Nipples, I found myself under the influence of self-inflicted stress. Never before has the entire world been so accessible. I could physically reach out and touch the sweet nectar I’ve only ever heard about on TMZ

What I have come to realize, however, is that the line between having some good, sober fun or enjoying a few brews becomes hazy when drinking becomes a habitual activity. We may need to reevaluate the value we place on the connection between alcohol and having a good time.

We often forget that with age comes responsibility. I am not sure where we all got it in our heads that our 21st year is about being the perfect amount of tipsy and buzzed simultaneously, all while maintaining the successful and promising lives we’ve built for ourselves. There is an unspoken expectation to party ’til the break ah’ dawn when you live in a university environment. I’m about to break your hearts, but the truth is that the movies lied to us. It’s not all drunken nights with beautiful 30-year-olds posing as 20-year-olds. It’s not cool montages of fancy drinks and then some flirtatious dancing at a lavish frat party. It’s drunk-crying, sticky floors and gnarly no-cure hangovers.

My question is — is it worth it to buy into this expectation? If you go out and you don’t take a Snapchat of what goes down, did it really happen? I’m not going to sugar-coat it — unless it’s around the rim of a strawberry marg — drinking can be fun. I am finally old enough where I can say that. What I am saying, however, is that it doesn’t live up to the hype we’ve placed on it.

Your 21st year shouldn’t be the year you get trashed every night. In truth, no year of your life is a good year for you to get trashed every night. The only thing notable about your 21st year is that you’re another year older.

Turning 21 means you’re right on the cusp of something great. In the words of the great Britney Spears circa 2002, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” There is still so much ahead of us, and it is important that we experience them to their entirety, which is hard to do if you’re under any sort of influence. 

I had certain expectations about my 21st birthday. Some were met, some were not. But what I realized the next day when I finally woke up is that I am the same person. My choices are still my choices, and just because I have certain privileges doesn’t mean I have to feed into them. Also, I recognize that just because I can go out now doesn’t mean I have to. If I want to stay home and watch “H20,” that’s my prerogative. 

You have your entire life in front of you, and one too many drunken nights may hinder you from enjoying the pleasures of life. Pleasures like a tall Italian man winking at you while you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, or the farting noise your shoes make after you’ve stepped in a puddle. These are the splendors of life and can be enjoyed regardless of any outside influencers. 

If you want to drink, please be safe. Before a night out or a drink at home, evaluate your choices and make sure what you’re doing is what you really want to be doing. If you are going out just for the social media buzz or because all your friends are, I urge you to think again about why you’re partaking in this activity. Don’t just drink because you can or because that’s the sign of a good time. There are other ways to kick back and enjoy. As for me, I will continue to go out as long as it is something I want and I always have a safe way to get home.

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Moderation is key, kids. Listen to your elder. 

And a quick note to all the women I have met in random bathrooms, long lines and dark corners of parties, ragers, kick-backs and book clubs, I really did like your dress and totally think you should break up with Josh. You deserve better. We all do.

Collegian Columnist Kendall McElhaney rode a bike once. Just the once. She can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @kendallaftrdark.