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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Living life without expectations

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Will Melfi believes that the best years of his life are yet to come.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen my peers worry about lost time. In many ways, it feels like we have all lost a year from our lives — and if you are in your 20s like I am, it can feel like you have lost one of the "best years of your life."

When you have only lived for 20-something years, a year lost can feel significant. Or perhaps it feels so disappointing because from a young age, we are collectively conditioned to believe our good years are over when we fatefully turn 30.

I turned 21 in December 2019. I came back to the second semester of my junior year ready to spend every weekend at a bar (no matter how disappointing bars in Chapel Hill are).

But, because life never goes the way you plan, the two months before quarantine were not as fun as I would have liked. And I soon found myself back in my room at my parents’ house, staring at the wall to pass the time.

What was supposed to be an extended spring break turned into a remote semester. Then another. Now, I’m in my third. Somewhere in there, I turned 22.

I used our time of social distancing to spend more time in nature, and every time I do I cannot help but think about how silly things are. GPAs. Internships. The 9-to-5 workday. When you are faced with things like the mountains and the stars, it all just feels so silly.

Unfortunately, we are still required to operate within the society we live. That being said, I refuse to let my “good years'' expire. Not after this year.

This past year has sucked. I assume — though for some more than others — it has been terrible for everyone. How could it not be? We have been living through a pandemic that has affected all of us, even if some people act like it doesn’t impact them.

I am also not so foolish as to expect the next year of this pandemic to look too much different from the last, though I will be pleasantly surprised if I am wrong about that.

I have no idea what’s going to happen, so I cannot help you there. I have not studied epidemiology, global health policy or divination. I did, however, just finish binging the TV show “New Girl.”

I don’t think the show is very good, nor do I find it very funny. However, the reason I enjoyed it is because it shows what we need to see more of: people living in their thirties.

At some point long before I was born, society determined that one’s 20s are the designated “good years.” During the former half, you are almost expected to party, have fun and mess some things up. During the latter, these things are still OK, but you should really start getting your life together — because once 30 hits, it's practically over.

No wonder some look back nostalgically on their college years.

This is especially true for women, who society tells to find a partner and start a family because by 30, you are practically an old maiden no one would want to settle down with. This is also true for gay men, like myself. There is a real disinterest toward older members of the community.

But gay men arguably could benefit most from embracing life beyond 29. After all, many of us fully step into our identities in our 20s, after suppressing ourselves throughout our teen years.

As life expectancy continues to rise, I hope the best years of my life aren’t in my third decade, when I am still a floundering young adult. I fully plan for life to keep getting better, not worse. 

Otherwise, what exactly is the point?

Moreover, we are pressured into finding enjoyment in things we may not enjoy, and we are trained to seek great thrills in order to feel fulfilled. Live the life you want to live and live it unapologetically — as long as it doesn’t harm others, of course.

If you want to party with a bunch of strangers until the sun comes up (after COVID-19), then do so. If you want to take up a new hobby or sport or interest, then do so. Whenever you want. But remember: Vera Wang didn’t design her first dress until she was 40.

Even better, learn how to appreciate the everyday highs: nice weather, a good interaction with a stranger, a satisfying meal or even a beautiful mountainscape.

The one good thing I have gained from this pandemic is the expectation to have no expectations. I have torn up my life plan. If I get married at 30, great. If I don’t, you can expect me to be doing whatever the hell it is I want to be doing.

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Will Melfi

Will Melfi is the digital managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and political science.