Love Letter to My 20s: Falling Behind My Friends


‘Whaddya like? You like indescribable bliss? Then whaddya want to get married for?’ – Stephen Sondheim, Company

When it comes to love, dating and sex, I’ve always been worried that I’m falling behind, in last place like in cross country (again). My friends are planning weddings and buying houses with their boyfriends; I’m still on several dating apps and hiding love bites from my dad. Sometimes I thrive off of this, I’m living my Samantha Jones life while they’re becoming the Charlotte Yorks of the world. But most of the time, I’m behind, racing to finish in the same position as any of my friends.

I wonder how this discrepancy happened, how I managed to fall behind. I look back on the circumstances that surrounded my first kiss, possibly the first romantic sexual milestone. During the first year of university, sitting in a pub, my friends and I discussed our first kisses.  I admitted that I had not had a first kiss—the only one of us. Cue more drinking and a pity kiss from a straight flatmate. Not only was I the only one not to have had a first kiss at the table; I was also the only gay person. How much of my being behind has to do with my being gay?

Our culture is built on a traditional heteronormative trajectory, certain rites of passage that need to be collected like properties on a Monopoly board. Several of these ‘life events’ are romantic or partner-centric: first kiss, first date, loss of virginity, relationship, marriage ad nauseam. And some of these rites of passage have an age limit attached to them. How many pop culture mothers have you heard ask their 25-35-year-old quirky protagonist offspring when they’re going to get married or/ and have children?

As lockdown eased, one of my friends, 25 at the time, bought a house to do up with her fiancé, jumping the hurdles of mortgage agreements and interior design. At the same time, I, also 25, was trying to find my first post-lockdown hookup, negotiating how I was going to get out of the house. We are not the same. I don’t have older relatives interrogating me about relationships or children. And while each generation takes their turn to chip away at the foundation of these norms, marrying later or renting longer, my lagging behind is by no means a choice.

But the race feels rigged from the start. Because of the heteronormativity of it all, for queer people like me, it can feel like you’re running a race without knowing the course. I don’t have the same blueprint for my life as my straight peers might have, conscious or not. I didn’t read fairy tales with little gay princes locked in dragon-guarded towers waiting to be rescued by little gay knights. I didn’t watch teen dramas where the gay captain of the football team falls in love with the gay nerd after he takes off his glasses and everyone realises how gorgeous he is. Sex education and, to some extent, losing your virginity was about a penis and a vagina. After all, marriage wasn’t an achievable milestone for me until 2013. 

Trying to fit a queer life into a straight stencil doesn’t seem to work. It’s like trying to copy-and-paste an image into a word document; paragraphs of text get moved, you can’t adjust the image correctly, and suddenly there’s a random blank page. Should I wish to marry, I don’t think they’ll be any expectation of wearing white. Should I want children, they’ll be no perfect accidents or conception getaways.

With no social or cultural set-in-stone expectations for queer people, running the race is no longer so important. People don’t know what to expect from you, what the course you’re running looks like. An epiphany occurred to me: no expectations mean freedom. No one necessarily expects me to be married by 30. A real sense of choice comes over me, choices that come without the age labels and milestones anticipated by my straight friends.

I’ve always been a fan of the hare and the tortoise story, and have always considered myself a tortoise. But, knowing now that I’m not in the same race as hares, I can go at a more leisurely pace, reaching the milestones I want to reach when I want to. And no one knows when that might be, including me. As a friend once told me at a flat party, the two of us, sitting in an empty bath sharing a bottle of Fireball (where all good chats happen), my peak will come in my 30s. Just three little years to wait, perhaps.

Words by James Reynolds

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