More than moving away from home, falling in love, having sex, or spending my very own money, one thing has finally closed the door to my girlhood. I watched my dearest, bestest, truest friend marry the love of her life, and as her name changed, I faced it. We aren’t girls anymore.
I went west to be there for the wedding. Not home exactly, I have lived away for 7 years now, but the home we grew up in. I plunged into it, joining the festivities, and found myself walking directly into high school.
And before I could enjoy it or address it, it was over. I strolled down the aisle, sat and looked on. She said words I knew she would. It wasn’t a surprise. And yet as she turned towards me with a new name, I could see my idling in Neverland was ending. We weren’t girls but grown ups, and our lives couldn’t and shouldn’t be the gloriously selfish rambles they used to be.
There is a lot about this realization I wish I could reject. Adulthood means compromises and compromises and compromises. Each decision as an adult feels it is comprised of giving up on one thing to have another. In love, especially long term love, acknowledging this is the ultimate Rosetta Stone. While as a girl I would have chosen the same sad-eyed, sharply funny, broken Peter Pan each time, as a woman I have had to shift my decision-making process to make way for reason. He may write amazing song lyrics and he can lean like Jordan Catalano, but would you move across the country for him? How about a going to a whole new country? What happens when he loses his job, or you lose yours — can you count on him? Being practical, as unsexy as it may be, will set you free. Not to say that your stomach shouldn’t flip still, or that you should treat your relationships like business transactions. It is simply a fact that the capitalized moments of adulthood speeding toward you (Career! Babies!) require a partner in every sense of the word — not simply one who inspires sonnets.
Another marker of the grown-up relationship is the shift in expectations. Where girl-me had a standard of perfect conduct that I assumed the love of my life would have no trouble meeting, life has shown me through the mistakes of lovers past and present, and my own (occasionally terrible, but usually quite reasonable) behaviour, that expectations, like rules, are meant to be broken. Those I love now, post-girlhood, I see not as golden boys full of promise but as more and less at once. Good men, not perfect, but good. My imagination isn’t able any more to edit out the possibility that things might not work out, that I could be crushed in the process, that it is possible to be loved and have that love taken away leaving nothing, or at least much less. No adult person in a relationship is ever completely sure about anything — if they think they are it is because they are either complacent or delusional — and that is the way it should be. This is the root of commitophobia — we are all afraid of what we don’t know, and, paradoxically, you can never completely know anything about someone else’s heart. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do something that scares you every day,” and for most adults, including myself, this something is loving someone and trusting them to do the same.
It isn’t so dire after all, saying good bye to my girlhood. In its place come beautiful, challenging things. The possibility of true love and partnership, like my best friend has found, is only possible when you accept your own needs and allow your expectations to become flexible. There are adventures that can be created entirely by oneself, friendships that expand and breathe like living organisms, and the knowledge that every wrong is rightable. And who knows, maybe girlhood is like summer camp — I may never really go back the same way I used to, but every once in a while, as I whip around curves of the coast with my music cranked and my best pal in the passenger seat, the girl I was might just come back for a visit.