I just saw the movie “Before Midnight”, the third installment of the trilogy that began with “Before Sunrise” (when the 20-something Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were two strangers on a train who went on to share a magical night) and continued with “Before Sunset” (when they finally met again, ten years later and much more jaded) and now they’re 40ish with twin daughters.

Since I’m close in age to the two leads, each movie seemed to parallel where I was in my own life, in terms of romanticism versus cynicism, dreams versus reality, etc.  So I’ve decided to do a trio of posts about each stage of life and relationships.

Starting with the early twenties…
Developmentally, young adulthood is about exploration.  You define yourself to some degree in opposition to others–especially those older than you, who might appear to have sold out or gone complacent, to have lost their fire and passion.  You think–and talk, a lot–about what you want to become, and what you never want to become.

So much feels possible, in terms of career and love.  You can experience the greatest love the world has ever known; you can change the world.

That’s your shtick, anyway.  Below the hubris, there’s a lot of uncertainty.  How do you know you’re capable, when you’ve never been truly tested?

When I watch “Before Sunrise”, when I see two strangers on a train meeting for the first time, there’s a brightness to them, a  sense of possibility, that is infectious.  It’s funny how watching it now, at almost 40, I can see their cynicism vying with romanticism: It’s like, they know better than to believe in magic, but they still want to.

And I think how the older you get, after having a succession of relationships and personal and professional setbacks, you realize that the belief in magic can be a dangerous one.  It can skew your decision-making; it can dissolve into foolishness and waste (spending too much time trying to fix relationships that are best abandoned.)

What I love most about the early twenties–why I love doing therapy with people that age–is that there are so many mistakes left to be made, and they don’t have to be afraid to make them.  There’s plenty of time to pick  yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over.

Drop out of school for a while, travel, have experiences, take odd jobs?  Sure.  There’s plenty of time to find yourself.  Do that 15 years later, with a couple of kids?  It’s just irresponsible.

There’s a certain kind of love that can happen at that age.  You can believe in a love that’s so powerful that it can’t be dimmed by circumstance or passage of time.

I miss being that age, and am so grateful not to be.  With these beliefs can come crushing disappointment and intensified pain.  But there’s something comforting about thinking that developmentally, it’s just where you’re supposed to be.