It Gets Better (Or: Hooray for Adulthood!)

(Content warning: mentions of depression and suicide.)

When I was a depressed, self-hating and all together messed up teenager, adults used to think they were being comforting and helpful when they told me that these were the best years of my life! I responded, entirely seriously, “you mean it gets worse!?”

Only it doesn’t. I really have no idea where people get this cliché from that school years are the best of your life. Perhaps people who had really perfect idyllic childhoods, but even then…

You know what? If I’d really believed it was only going to get worse, I would have killed myself.

I had a really difficult time as a kid and teen. Ridicule and attacks followed me everywhere I went. I always had few to no friends. I was horribly, desperately lonely. At fourteen, I fell into the arms of the first boy who promised to look after me, because I so badly wanted to believe that somebody would. When that ended, my world seemed to collapse in on itself – not because of the actual relationship, which really was barely a relationship at all, but because it reinforced my feeling that I  was unlovable.

I was considered hilariously unfuckable, and obviously I didn’t have the context to respond “well yeah, I’m a child!” I didn’t have the confidence or the feminist sensibilities or anything to help me realise that my sole purpose in this life wasn’t to attract – and keep – a man. I knew I had thoughts and desires that weren’t altogether ‘normal’ – that pretty girl in the year above was so much more fascinating to me than the male heart-throbs I was supposed to fancy. Like so many young people, my ideas about relationships came from Disney and rom-coms and classmates who made fun of me for being a virgin at fourteen. When I was a kid, I was depressed (among many reasons) because I thought I’d never find my One True Love who would come along and sweep me off my feet and make all my problems disappear, and have the fairytale wedding and the bunch of children and the happy-ever-after.

I love being an adult because I didn’t find that. I found something so much better.

I was the damsel in distress who longed for a man to come and rescue her, because she didn’t realise she could rescue herself. Because I couldn’t rescue myself then – becoming an adult gave me the power to do that.

I love being an adult because I learned the joy in relationships with people who want to be with me, not people who want to save me.

When I started having sex, I justified not waiting until marriage by telling myself that at least I’d given my virginity to the man I intended to marry. (I don’t know entirely where this came from, as I wasn’t brought up in a religious way or anything, and my parents never preached abstinence until marriage. I was a weird kid.) I didn’t – and wouldn’t for a good few more years – have the context to realise that I wasn’t a horrible, ruined slut if I didn’t marry the first man I slept with.

Daydreams of traditional, Disney-style love helped keep me alive once, and I can now truthfully say I couldn’t be happier that none of them came true. Instead, adulthood gave me my beautiful, wonderful, totally non-traditional brand of love and happiness.

So we shouldn’t be telling kids that everything goes downhill once you enter adulthood. Honestly, I’ve never heard anyone say that this was their experience. Instead, we should be preparing them for it by giving them some sort of idea of what freedom and responsibility over your own choices actually means, and encourage going after whatever makes you happy. Even if it’s something the world still sees as totally out there and weird.

Empowerment isn’t being told “make the most of this crap, it only gets worse.” Empowerment is being told “you will have the power to change things, to make your life whatever you want it to be.”

On a related side-note, this is exactly why I love the “It Gets Better” campaign. Because “it gets worse” is unhelpful at best, and fatal at worst.

26 thoughts on “It Gets Better (Or: Hooray for Adulthood!)

  1. Cara says:

    I totally agree, just the other day I was remembering that people used to tell me school was going to be the best time of my life. I was so miserable some days I just thought I couldn’t go on and would cry myself to sleep. University was amazing, no compulsory PE where girls would laugh at me, no dinner times where I would have food thrown at me. I could focus on my strengths academically. I am so much happier now working than when I was younger!

  2. Serina says:

    Yes. This.

    So many adults, when thinking back with nostalgia, have no idea how it sounds to kids. In some cases, it’s even said with a certain amount of accusation – “It’s the best time of your life, how dare you not enjoy it just because of bully/depression/insecurity/inability to access to information/total lack of any say in your life!! You don’t appreciate it the way I would if I had youth!” Of course, what they *want* is to be young – but still have the right to control their life and the generally higher level of resources they have as an adult. But kids don’t hear that.

    Since the first time I heard about the ‘It gets Better’ campaign, I felt it to be wonderful. Although I was surrounded in my teens years with a large group of friends who were about a third bi and gay, and therefore didn’t see it as anything unusual or disgusting (and they were pretty much all a bit older than me too, so they looked after me), I’m well aware that this was an incredible stroke of luck for me. The vast majority of young LGBT people are not nearly so fortunate. Most people don’t have the access to (firsthand) information, support and role models that I did. It’s time that every child (whether LGBT or not) has that. Maybe then that particular brand of desperate unhappiness that some have carried with them into adulthood, continually the cycle as they introduce it into the next generation, can be stopped.

    • missamaranth says:

      It’s really awesome that you had that experience growing up. So yay! I really wish I’d had something similar. My first bit of exposure to non-straight people were a couple of much-braver-than-me folks who came out in high school, and got bullied so badly they could barely stay in lessons. I wish everyone could get the kind of experience that you describe!

      I think a lot of people look back at childhood/teen years with nostalgia, thinking ‘the lack of responsibility must be so nice.’ But with the lack of responsibility comes the lack of any kind of control, too…. not a situation I have any desire to go back to!

      • Serina says:

        Yes, you’re exactly right – they don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of their actions because sometimes it can be so very hard. So difficult, dealing with fallout from relationships, or losing your job, or high bills, or awful coworkers, or, or, or….

        Yes it is tough being an adult. But at least there is more chance of being able to take the reins of your own life than when you’re a 13 year old being told that you know nothing about life and you should just buckle down and get on with things.

  3. Louise says:

    I think I’m lucky in a way that my parents always had an awareness that I didn’t fit in when I was younger. I think they also wanted me to grow up and be successful so I could move away to somewhere better.

    I have mixed feeling about ‘It gets better’. It did for me but it took till I was 30 and a lot of luck that I managed to meet the right people who encouraged me to learn to be who I am now. I always remember too for some LGBT people it doesn’t get better.

    Also I don’t want kids to have to grow up before it gets better for them and they can have a happy life. I want people growing up to have all the freedom to be themselves I didn’t have and to be safe from bullying.

    • missamaranth says:

      Yeah, it’d be wonderful if everyone could grow up knowing it’s okay to be who they are.

      “It gets better” is hugely important because for most kids in that situation, things suck so much now. “It gets better” won’t be needed any more when we can make it so things don’t suck in the first place. Wish I knew how to go about that…. changing the world is hard….

      • Louise says:

        I think it needs to go hand in hand with anti LGBT bullying and education at school programs. I’ve seen some really cool stuff around like diversity role models for example.

  4. Nomad says:

    Heh. Interesting post to read today, on the twenty year anniversary of my high school graduation.

    Love you!

  5. Daniel G says:

    Did not enjoy my school years either, my mum always told me that I’d want to go back to school once it was over.

    Couldn’t agree less with her, I love being an adult!

  6. Jose Luis says:

    Reading your story it remembered mine almost word by word… But I always thought that my life could and should change for better. Anyway, It took me a long time, more years than you, to achieve enough self-confidence to love my self. But I got it. I realized that it’s just an issue of how one faces its life. A positive attitude turns that statement “the best years or your life” as just bullshit. It’s a real fact that life gets better day after day if you wish that to happen.
    Today is a wonderful day, but the good news is that “The best is yet to come.”
    Greetings from the OpenCon Catalonia!

  7. Kerran says:

    Nicely put.

    If I thought I could get away with it I’d sit several of my pupils down and get them to read this.

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you!

      Heh, that’d be awesome. I suppose it’d be seen as encouraging them in “deviant lifestyle choices” or something. Any way you could get away with directing them to “it gets better” campaign without incurring the wrath of irate parents?

      • Kerran says:

        Yep. That’s the sort of thing I normally do. It’s ok to point them towards sources of information, but introducing them to a website about poly- lifestyle would probably be seen as overstepping certain boundaries. . Not to mention the fact we have a strong religious community based near where I teach.

        It’s also the fact that the rules in education about this can be a little odd. Every school has designated persons who deal with the more “sensitive” issues. Technically if a pupil comes to me with issues about their personal life I’m supposed to refer it to a variety of other people depending on how serious the problem is.

        It can sometimes lead to very odd situations, if a child opens up to you sometimes the first thing you have to do is thank them for their trust and then direct them to someone else. While I can understand the reasoning, (sort of) it can be incredibly frustrating at times.

  8. Byghan says:

    I miss the lack of responsibility – in the sense I miss never giving a damn about money and I miss ‘knowing’ that once my sister was 21 I could skip out on everything and leave this shit.
    I miss the idea that at university everything would be easier and I only had to get through the next few years. I miss the idea it would all get better on its own..
    But I don’t miss being a kid!
    University was a bust for me: more homophobic, more biphobic, more pressure, as many cliques…but I got through it. I made my own choices and found my own path and I think no one should ever be told you can’t try for that.

    It can get better. It gets more complicated but you get more choice and you get more control. Sometimes you get enough of both those things. I’m lucky, I didn’t just get to go to uni, but I got to stay out of home afterwards. I didn’t end up stuck in the ‘same council estate on the dole with the same people who hated me beforehand’ – I walked away from some of the hard parts of my life and more than that I am financially in a position not to put up with shit at work just to stay here. I got my anti-depressants and a safe space.

    Not everyone gets that chance, not all communities will forgive an adult. I’m not saying we shouldn’t tell youngsters that there isnt a better world waiting for them but I also don’t think we should condemn those older than ourselves who never broke free and miss the ability to not be condemned by adults, to be excused for being a ‘stupid kid’ and not be surprised that they forget how judgmental kids can be while they cope with how judgmental adults can be.

  9. Byghan says:

    ps I absolutely support “it gets better” as a project and would like to tell so many kids and adults that their experience and being bullied is not the best that the world can offer and that they CAN and SHOULD be offered respect in their lives

  10. Pablo says:

    I’m quite proud of realizing, when I was a teenager, that if you take 40 quasi-random people from society that the only thing they share with me is their date of birth, it’s very unlikely I would find a friend, being that I’m the person that can only friend one in a hundred thousand people. And thus, when I was 14 or 15 I realized “this sucks but it’ll stop, I’m just stuck here for a while”.

    I suppose those people that told you these were the best days of your life are the adults who found themselves stuck afterwards, but on top of that, having to deal with lots of responsibilities. Not everybody realizes that you are not really stuck and the world is a big and awesome place full of interesting things and opportunities. I know several people that are stuck due to having children… oh well… what did I expect of life if they decided to take the ultimate responsibility?

  11. Dragonmamma says:

    I think the adults who refer to childhood as”the best yeasrs of your life” are harking back to an image (often illusory) of long hot summers and total freedom with no responsibilities – the kind of childhood that was in the Famous Five books and always during the holidays.
    It was of course never like that, but many people have the ability to blot out the bad things from the past and remember only the good.
    And yes, it can get better. Owning yourself and your own life brings with it all sorts of freedoms (and responsibilities) and all sorts of choices. But these arent always easy ones and they dont always work out well.
    I think we should beware of telling kids that it will get better as if it’s a universal panacea, just as much as telling them that childhood is the best. (O.K. I know you didnt mean it like that)
    The real truth is that life is made up of good and bad things – some of which we have no control over -and the stronger we are the better we can cope with the bad stuff..
    I am a firm believer in giving young people useful tools as coping mechanisms. Learning the sort of phrases that help you deal with awkward people for instance. Learning that you can make your own choices, but that not everyone will agree with you. Learning that just because your family/friends/loved ones disagree with your choices doesnt necessarily make them wrong. (but in this instance shouild perhaps give you pause for thought)
    Learning that real freedom doesnt mean that you can do ANYTHING regardless of the consequences, but it does mean that different is neither worse nor better.
    But above all we should teach our children to value themselves and others around them, that all life is precious and every individual is beautiful in their own way. If we cant see that it’s because WE are the ones who are blind.
    And never forget that “Ugly Ducklings” do become Swans and Caterpillars do become Butterflies.

  12. Dragonmamma says:

    P.S. I’m still waiting for the Prince to come along and save me. It isnt that I cant save myself, it’s just that it would be a nice change to lay down the responsibility occasionally and let someone else do the work.
    I reckon I’d last about a month before I got bored and frustrated with that scernario though. But in my dreams it all works out perfectly!!!!

  13. Sophia Gubb says:

    When I was a depressed, self-hating and all together messed up teenager, adults used to think they were being comforting and helpful when they told me that these were the best years of my life! I responded, entirely seriously, “you mean it gets worse!?”

    — I so identify with that!!

    Childhood and adolescence was hell. Adulthood is all kinds of heaven. It’s amazing.:)


  14. Couldn’t agree more… had a very similar experience all tied up with gender and sexuality issues including a strong tendency toward polyamory before becoming aware of it as a possibility… and I almost DID kill myself because people kept saying this was the best time of my life… luckily I had one teacher and one aunt who said otherwise and it was enough to keep me going… good for you for getting this message out there!

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