Twenty-one is really the last milestone birthday you get before you start feeling the weight of time (turning 30, 40 and 50 likely won’t be nearly as exciting). And it’s a mark of transition from adolescence into young adulthood.
Still, your early 20s are really one mistake after another, so there’s no need to feel like you need to have it all “figured out.”
Scroll down for 21 things you might consider trying before you hit the big two-one.
1. Fuck up
Let’s face it, you’re going to fuck up. Maybe this should be get comfortable with fucking up. Breaking out of the teenage years and into your twenties is almost like learning how to walk all over again. And you will fall down. A lot. Getting used to that and realizing it’s not so hard to get back up will save you a lot of hurt later. Recognize when you screw up and learn from it.
2. Fall in love
Young love is a beautiful thing, full of hope and excitement. Who cares if it’s inevitably going to come back around and sting you? Your heart is a muscle and it needs to be exercised.
3. Do drag not just in your mom’s closet
One of the great things about growing up gay is the freedom to explore nonconforming lifestyles. Getting dolled up in drag is just plain fun, like playing dress-up when you were a kid except so much better. You may think it takes serious balls — and it does — but once you’re out in your fierce look, you may discover a confidence you never knew was there.
4. Quit smoking cigarettes
Do yourself a huge favor and get this nasty habit out of your system early on. Quitting while young will make it that much easier to skirt temptation later on. The LGBT community struggles with cigarette addiction at a higher rate than the rest of the population, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We get that smoking has its appeal when you turn 18, but what starts as a fun thing to do with friends very quickly turns into a physical and mental addiction that could ruin your life.
5. Pick up a musical instrument
I don’t care if it’s a harp or a bongo drum, commit to learning a musical instrument for at least six months. Maybe you’ll suck, and maybe you’ll hate it. But you just as easily won’t suck, and you just may love it. The likelihood of starting to play music after 21 is pretty low, so give it a shot while you’re young. Who knows, maybe you’re the next Sam Smith or Jared Leto.
6. Campaign for Hillary in a swing state
Assuming, of course, that you support her. But let’s be real — chances are if you’re reading this, you already do. If you have free time on your hands, getting involved politically can be rewarding and might even open a door or two for you down the road. Take advantage of the fact that you aren’t fully career committed and help shape the future.
7. Find a hobby that has nothing to do with academic/professional success
There’s so much pressure on young people to “set themselves up” to succeed. Activities in high school are often adopted based solely on how they’ll look on college applications. All your careful planning may bring you all the material success you’ve ever dreamed of, but if you don’t have hobbies that bring you joy, it’s really all for naught. Doesn’t matter if it’s hiking or jewelry making.
8. Hold down a job
This is a practical one. Love it or hate it (more likely hate it), you’re going to have to support yourself very soon (if not already). Getting used to the idea that you need to show up places on time seems simple, but you’d be shocked how people who don’t learn this early on never seem to fully grasp it.
9. Explore a fantasy
It’s an amazing time to be gay. By the time you’re 21, you may have already been out for four, five, six plus years. That’s incredible! If you’re comfortable with who you are, you can be honest about what revs your engine. You certainly don’t need to feel rushed to try anything new, but a simple Google search or two hundred can’t hurt.
10. See a play
Plays are like movies, except instead of a screen there’s a stage with actual people. It’s shocking how few young people go to the theater, but the experience of seeing a truly good play is irreplaceable. And it’ll make you sound smart on dates.
11. Watch Angels In America and The Normal Heart
Speaking of plays, these are two brilliant ones that have been made into fantastic movies. And they will teach you how lucky you are to have been born when you were born. They’ll also give you a foundational understanding of the blood, sweat and tears the gay community has shed to get where we are today. After you watch them, read more about gay history. Learn what Stonewall is, find out about the Mattachine Society, watch Milk and We Were Here.
12. Travel more than 100 miles from home
If you can, leave the country. If that’s not feasible, take a trip as far as you can. Travel can open your mind to new possibilities, and will change your perspective on the world. Watching the Travel Channel doesn’t count.
13. Go camping
Friends, camp fires, stars and no cell phones. These are the things life is all about.
14. Smoke pot and inhale
If you’re over 18, you’re old enough to experiment (safely!) with marijuana. Hey, it’s nearly legal after all. If you hate it, don’t do it again. It’s that simple.
15. Read books that aren’t assigned to you in school
Find books that you love. It’s amazing how not having to write a five-page paper on a book lets you enjoy it a whole hell of a lot more. You could try one of these. Or these.
16. Send someone a handwritten letter
Texts are convenient and all, but there is nothing better than receiving a thoughtful handwritten letter from someone. And you’ll be amazed at how fulfilling it is to write. If you put in the relatively small effort, not only will you brighten up someone’s life, but you’ll get what I mean after they respond in kind.
17. Have meaningless sex
Before everyone freaks out, this is obviously based on personal preference. If you’re saving yourself, go right ahead and save yourself. But if sexual exploration is on your radar, just remember that everything doesn’t have to mean something. Sometimes the experience is all the meaning there needs to be, so have fun and don’t feel ashamed.
18. Have meaningful sex
On that same vein, the revelation that sex can be physically pleasurable while also being so much more is powerful to say the least. Learning the difference between the two early on can make things a lot easier later.
19. See your favorite band perform live
Concerts will never lose their charm, but I will never forget the unbridled elation I felt seeing my favorite bands play when I was younger. For me it was Jimmy Eat World when I was 16, Radiohead when I was 18 and Paul McCartney when I was 20. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. If you can’t afford the big name venues, see smaller shows for $10-20 a pop. I’m embarrassed to say how many times I went to see Dashboard Confessional play tiny clubs as a teen, but at the time it was everything.
20. Read The New Yorker or The Economist
Attention spans are at an all-time low. Exercise your brain and enhance your understanding of the world by reading entire articles (not just the first 2 paragraphs) from one of these magazines.
21. Find a physical activity that you enjoy doing
It’s astounding how little movement people get as they get wrapped up in life. And among those who do manage to exercise regularly, most of them hate it and bitch about it constantly. You’re young and spry, and I hate to sound like Debbie Downer, but you won’t always be. If you find a physical activity that makes you happy early on, you are exponentially more likely to keep it up as you get older and your schedule gets more complicated. Try out lots of them: Yoga, swimming, running, rock climbing, racket ball. Find one (or more) that gets you excited.
You really shouldn’t advise people to support a major political party. Both of them are vile, retrograde relics who only have ANY position to pander to their demographic, and anyone who makes it to the candidacy for president through one of those parties has already pledged allegiance to Big Business, the war machine, Big Oil and the entertainment biz.
So yeah… don’t tell people to campaign for either party. Both of them despise you, because you are an ordinary person.
@demented: No sweetie, the parties are not the same.
@demented: If you think that the laws and judges nominated by Republicans are the same as those we get from Democrats are the same, you need to imagine where we would be if Gore had been ‘allowed’ to take the Oval Office versus what we got from Bush. The hidden, ticking bomb in any gubernatorial or Presidential election is the lasting impact they have on who sits on the benches of justice. That is something more voters need to keep in mind when they vote—or, worse, decide NOT to vote. Voters fail to take the long view.
I don’t know about you but since I never came out until I was 21, I feel that sexually I am 10years behind. I am 36 now but feel 26
I suppose I must be really quite lucky. I never had to ‘come out’ because I never had need to; the fact of me being gay was always assumed by friends & family alike (except my father; when he died recently I discovered that he had cut me out of his will because of my ‘dirty lifestyle’). I presume he meant the unnatural and wicked fact that, forty years on, I am still with the lad I met when I was twenty!
As for any advice I would give to twenty-one-year-olds, it would be to fall in love and run with it, that however dark it may seem at times (and it will), all will work out for the best in the end, and I would also refer them to Alexander the Great, who famously said: ‘Live your life as though today will be your last, but also as though you will live forever.’
In short, I would tell them to be happy.
@ethan_hines: I think this is something this newer generation might not experience, and that’s a good thing. Today, we really are in a new era of social acceptance. My high school years were shadowed by uncertainty, questioning and shame. There was no one to talk to and nothing to relate, too. It was such a horrid time. Of course, even now, there are still kids growing up with the shame, but thankfully it’s starting to shift to a new tomorrow.
I missed out on the firsts in my high school and young adult years. I didn’t have my first kiss like everyone else my age did, first date, prom…all my firsts felt sleazy, because I never had a comfortable environment that allowed it. Well, either way, good thing it’s changing.
This is an excellent list – I wish I had had an older mentor when I was younger to help steer me through my 20s.
I would expand “21. Find a physical activity that you enjoy doing” and strongly recommend joining a gym and learning to properly lift weights when you are young – and keep doing it throughout your life. It is a great feeling to be able to take your shirt off at the beach, playing volleyball, at the street fair, at the club, etc. and feel confident about your body (and perhaps get a few looks.)
Yes, yes and yes.
Your twenties are full of fun times and fuck ups when you are automatically attractive just because you are young. But you couldn’t pay me enough to repeat those ten years, no sir.
Great list! Especially #4 about smoking. Set a $5 bill on fire (extremely cautious estimate!) every day for 5 years = $9,125. In reality it would be more like twice that.
I suppose it’s too much to ask for #22, Tattoos are forever.
Number one on the list should be “Avoid getting HIV.” All it takes is one momentary “fuck up.”
Quit cigarettes, yet smoke pot and inhale? Who wrote this list? Hypocritical at best
Campaign for Hillary? Really? Just because you are gay doesn’t mean you are a democratic voter. I vote Republican because I agree with them on what I consider the pressing issues, i.e.: Homeland security, the economy, Border patrol. Yes of course I am for gay rights but that comes secondary to the more pressing issues. No matter who is in office gay rights will continue to progress. That is why it is called progress. Obama is a Buffoon, and is ruining this country. Don’t tell anyone who to vote ever. again. period.
I grew up straight but still wish I had read this article back then. We don’t appreciate how quickly time slips by, so I am an informal guru to some of my younger friends and make it my mission to remind them. I’ve had a few who are now settled down to careers and parenthood who have thanked me. I’m trying to make sure they don’t become a crazy old broad like me who gave up a career, ran away to the beach, spends way too much money on concerts, is probably an embarrassment to her yuppie children, and is happier than any of my contemporaries. LISTEN YOU KIDS, THIS ARTICLE IS GREAT ADVICE!
@Merv: “Number one on the list should be “Avoid getting HIV.” All it takes is one momentary “fuck up.” LIKE MEANINGLESS SEX!!!!!
@pstyr: No matter who is in office gay rights will continue to progress. So much willful blindness.
@pstyr: “No matter who is in office gay rights will continue to progress.”
Yeah, that’s what they said in Germany around 1930!
@enlightenone: meaningless sex does not mean unsafe sex.
@ethan_hines: I’m 22, been out for a few years now, but I’ve only done maybe 3 things on this list :/ Depression and social anxiety are really holding me back from a lot.
1. Smoking pot and smoking cigarettes are two entirely different things.
2. ” I vote Republican because I agree with them on what I consider the pressing issues, i.e.: Homeland security, the economy, Border patrol”
A. Under WHOSE watch were we attacked? 9-11-2001???
B. The Economy? My retirement was destroyed in the Bush years and has only recovered in the past few years? Where were you? Or were you born in the 1% that Romney spoke to and for?
C. Border Patrol? Bush had a full republican congress and nothing was done. Like it or not, deportations are WAY UP.
3. “No matter who is in office gay rights will continue to progress. ” You have got to be kidding.
4. “Obama is a Buffoon, and is ruining this country” You MUST be part of that 1%
5. ” Don’t tell anyone who to vote ever. again. period.” And, you are…? By telling somebody what NOT to do, you are telling them WHAT to do.
I suggest a date with Phyllis Schlaffly’s son or the dork in this week’s QUEERTY who supports his gay hating mama for Congress.
Now, go back to watching FOX and feel as empowered as the members of the Log Cabin Club or GayProud…they’re ALWAYS invited to those swanky GOP affairs, aren’t they?
Re: “14. Smoke pot and inhale,” most 21 year olds won’t even get the author’s sly historical reference (to then-Gov. Bill Clinton in the very early ’90s… damn I feel old suddenly!).
@Sebizzar: Which three? I feel bad for you, since I’ve had to deal with social anxiety & depression all my life. I hate to tell you IT GETS WORSE if you don’t get out there in your 20s.
In your case #3 (drag) & #14 (pot) are probably not right. Maybe #8 (job) will be a struggle, though obviously you MUST do it. But #1, 5, 7, 9 (they’re only talking about Google searches!), 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21 are eminently doable.
IMO #17 (meaningless sex) would help you. Personally I’ll admit I overdid it, it became an easy out. But I think it was still better for me in the long run than moping at home depressed & anxious 24/7.
I hope you can find a way to do #13 (camping), that one would definitely help you!
@pstyr: said…. “Campaign for Hillary? Really? Just because you are gay doesn’t mean you are a democratic voter. I vote Republican because I agree with them on what I consider the pressing issues, i.e.: Homeland security, the economy, Border patrol.”
Could the Log Cabin trolls please at least do a little research before they come in here and make false statements?
Ok, lets see, you vote for the GOP because you agree with them on the important issues. Well lets see.
Homeland Security….what exactly do you mean by that? If you mean supporting troops and Vets the GOP has demanded cuts to both Troop and Vet care, as well as major republicans stating during the past few years that we should have troops in Lybia, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Egypt, Ukraine, and Iraq.
The Economy? Bush took the country from a surplus to a complete economic collapse before he left office, (And don’t try to lie and say the economy collapsed under OBama. We all Remember McCain suspending his campaign to come back to DC to help Bush push through the TARP Bailout of Wall St.?) And you talk about the economy, well the GOP keeps touting Reagan as their best on economy and yet even Forbes Magazine has said Obama’s presidency has a better economic record that Reagan. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamhartung/2014/09/05/obama-outperforms-reagan-on-jobs-growth-and-investing/)
As for the Boarder Patrol, The number of Boarder Patrol Agents is far higher than it was under Bush.
So since none of your issues are actually valid you may have to admit that you just want to seem different and that is why you purposely vote for a party whose goal is taking away your rights. Even if they were better on the issues you claim to care about, how would a better economy matter to you if the party you support pushes for businesses to legally be able to keep you from getting a job, or having a place to live. Just admit, your support for the GOP has nothing to do with actual issues and pretty much everything to do with you wanting to parade yourself in front of your gay hating friends to tell them that you’re a “Good Gay” and don’t mind sitting in the back of the bus.
@demented, you are right. I vote for the Greens.
For anybody who thinks the Democrats are so great – Just go and read about the obscene Trans-Pacific Partnership Obama wants fast-tracked – basically he wants to impose a trade agreement in which American corporations can sue countries that want to regulate or forbid fracking or logging or worker’s rights, he wants American corporations to be able to penalize countries for making deals to make certain expensive drugs available to the poor, and so on. Just look at how many Bush officials Obama has had prosecuted for torture and other war crimes – NOT ONE. How many bankers Obama’s administration has prosecuted for defrauding all of us into the economic mess we’re in – NOT ONE. How many whistleblowers the Obama administration has persecuted for exposing government malfeasance – more than ALL other presidents combined. How many undocumented immigrant families he’s broken up with deportations – many more than Bush. Who made a back room deal with the health insurance companies to kill single-payer health insurance (over the objections of his party) – Obama himself.
Just because Obama started to support gay rights (very late, by the way) is no reason to sell our souls. We really have to start voting for third parties or the Dems are never going to take seriously those of us who are actually liberal.
But then, most gay people here were never liberal.
*[Obama] wants to impose a trade agreement in which American corporations can sue countries that want to regulate or forbid fracking or logging or [who want to protect] worker’s rights
@Sebizzar, don’t worry about it.
I didn’t even have sex for the first time until I was 22. It is not so unusual and it is not so bad.
@vive: Do you have a source for your claims? It’s far more likely that the agreement would forbid fracking or logging regulations that are applied unequally to foreign vs domestic companies. That’s usually how these agreements work.
I would advise getting peers to get out and VOTE! I don’t care which party but have them make their OWN choice not their parents necessarily. Become involved in the grass roots politics, because that is where the whole political machine starts. Maybe getting A Youth Party started, anything other than what’s in place. It is your student loan money and taxes that is your burden and growing. Get YOUR politicians in tune with YOUR wishes. America wastes too much money, energy, people, our military especially, resources, etc. You can change that waste, you can change the system. Set Congressional term limits. Make YOUR government responsible to you, the people, again not corporations and the ULTRA RICH.
#6 – Campaign for Hilary? This is the only one I do not wholeheartedly agree with, and not for the reasons that others here have disagreed. Political leaders who support LGBT rights ARE an important facet of what we should be looking at in a person we want to support with our vote and with our money. Are there Republicans who support us? Yes, but look at their agenda and their campaign platforms. They are all about keeping us subjugated and without power or influence. So a vote for a Republican, if you are any kind of self-respecting LGBT American, is generally (with some notable exceptions, like Olympia Snow or Susan Collins) a vote for keep you and us in our place, and our place is next to Rover, waiting for the GOP to throw us a few table scraps.
But Hilary Clinton, despite her recent crossing over to the side of good and gay-friendly, has proven, along with her husband, that they will throw us under the bus if the wind changes direction. She is not our friend. She is using us because LGBT voters, by and large, are a Democratic voting block, and in a close fight, our votes might mean the difference between George Bush and Al Gore.
So you want to campaign for someone who really does care about LGBT folks? Try Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. They have a lengthy track record of support for the LGBT community. And Warren, in particular, may just have a good shot of winning not only the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, she may be a strong contender to be the first woman President of the United States.
And she won’t throw us under the bus when is suits her fance, unlike Hilary.
@onthemark: 1, 9, 17… well 7 too I suppose, but I’m not even sure if I truly enjoy my hobbies anymore :/
2 and 8 have been my biggest goals for years, and yes it’s definitely a double, no quadruple, whammy with what I’m dealing with.
@vive: Hmmm, well the sex part was surprisingly one of the three lol :/ But I’m not saying that proudly.
@Merv, it is difficult to say exactly what the TPP contains, since much of it is confidential, with only government officials and certain large corporations (e.g., Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA) having access and in fact even participating in writing policy documents. Obama wants “fast-track” authority to approve it in congress without debate. However, some of the U.S. position was made public via leaks.
From Wikipedia: “According to The Nation’s interpretation of leaked documents in 2012, countries would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to the TPP’s rules, even limiting how governments could spend their tax dollars. As of 2012, US negotiators were pursuing an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, also known as corporate tribunals, which can be used to attack domestic public interest laws. This mechanism is a common provision in international trade and investment agreements, that grants an investor the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign government in their own right under international law. For example, if an investor invests in country “A”, a member of a trade treaty, and country A breaches that treaty, then the investor may sue country A’s government for the breach.
Critics of the investment protection regime argue that traditional investment treaty standards are incompatible with environmental law, human rights protection, and public welfare regulation, meaning that TPP will be used to force states to lower standards e.g., environmental and workers protection, or be sued for damages.”
@Sebizzar, “… the sex part was surprisingly one of the three lol :/ But I’m not saying that proudly.”
There is no shame in that unless you hurt someone. Remember, you are a strong, confident guy, you decided to do it, and you own it.
@vive: Of course I didn’t hurt anybody! I say “not proudly” because it was just meaningless sex, mostly done just to experience it. I don’t regret it, but I just wish my first time would had been with someone I loved. Oh well, what’s done is done.
Anyway, thanks for your response 🙂 I didn’t really mean to discuss this on the comments section though lol, so if you would like to chat further my email is [email protected]
#22: Accept the fact that, if you don’t look like the boys in the photo here, you aren’t the type of young person that the gay community wants aaaaanything to do with.
@sesfm, really? Those boys look decidedly D-list to me.
@vive: Kinda proves my point I guess. I shudder to think what you’d say if you saw me, then.
Can we combine some of these to save time? Go camping with Hillary. Leave the country and have meaningless sex with Giancarlo85. Then grab his green card and leave him there. Find a physical activity you enjoy doing and smoke pot while doing it. (hint: you’ll have a bone in each hand). Dress in drag and go to work. Oh yeah, you do that now. okay, I tried.
Too late for me (10 years overdue) that means am ancient in the gay world… :/
Thanks god, i had a lot of older gay friends, although we never had sex, they helped me find my way. I am sorry for all that gay kids today with “not older than 30” in their profils. It might understandable that they are not interested in sex woth older guys, but why not for going out, clubbing or great talks? This guys miss so much they could learn.
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