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Having fun in 20s looks different for everyone — and that’s okay

Fun is a subjective enterprise. And limiting it to having it one way defeats the very idea of it

Our cultural definitions of enjoyment fit in a neat box...To make things worse for introverts, ‘fun’ is inextricably social. (Unsplash)

By Nona Uppal

LAST PUBLISHED 06.10.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

On the cusp of turning twenty, while I was crying over my inevitable ‘decline’ now that the youth of my teenage years was over, my sister reassured me: “Your twenties will be the funnest years of your life!" 

I believed her (she was six years older and wiser) and right as I concluded my first ever Big Girl Job, right as enough capital was accumulated in my wallet for the Fun! to commence, the pandemic hit. And there went all that fun I was promised. Instead, I was stuck in my bedroom doing what I’d grown up doing, the only fun I’d ever cared about having — reading books I’d read before, watching shows I knew all the lines to, and doing hour-long karaoke sessions by myself. 

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Only when the pandemic abated and things didn’t change, when I continued to do those same things for fun, now with a few people by my side, did I realise that this wasn’t a pandemic problem. This was a me problem. I wasn’t “fun"; not in the conventional ways. Don’t get me wrong: I still had fun. But in calm, quiet ways that people my age would probably associate with a forty-year-old. 

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Our cultural definitions of enjoyment fit in a neat box: it’s a party somewhere, music is blaring, lights are flashing, and extroversion is on steroids. If you can’t story it on Instagram, it’s probably not that fun. To make things worse for introverts, ‘fun’ is inextricably social. Where does a person who hates crowded spaces, loud music, and prefers copious amounts of alone time go then? And what impact does this have on the friendships and relationships I build and keep in my life? 

During a little activity that Laurie Santos, Yale University’s “Happiness Professor" calls “fun-audit", I realised that my most active, joyous moments of ‘truly present’ fun were solitary experiences. I enjoyed the occasional party, but to the average onlooker, my daily versions of fun were boring. This self-reflection caused discomfort: why couldn’t I just be a little more easy-going and have fun in the conventional ways? 

But it also brought recognition. This is just who I was. 

What is more damaging than the restrictive ideas of fun, however, is the suggestion that twenties are the (and only) time to have it. Rainesford Stauffer described this succinctly overwhelming dilemma of having to be-it and do-it all in the span of ten years in her 2021 essay The One-Size-Fits-All Narrative of Your 20s Needs to Change published in The Atlantic: “This decade is supposed to simultaneously be a golden age of rootless freedom and fearless exploration and, somewhat contradictorily, the time when you’re meant to figure out your career, your relationships, and your life goals. That’s a lot of pressure." 

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And it’s pressure with a ticking time-bomb.

While there’s no arguing that thirties are a far more ‘serious’ decade, this perception that fun is finite or best had in twenties is damaging to our perceptions of our own selves as we age. These conversations are what sell the “avoid ageing at all costs" mindset; evidenced by the boom in the anti-ageing industry, interestingly targeting 20-somethings now. 

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By embracing my personal philosophy of fun, I allow for this leisure to carry through the decades, instead of being some vial of youth that exhausts at twenty-nine. However, and inevitably, what follows this subjective idea of fun is that it restricts the kind of relationships I sustain in my life. 

Most of my childhood friendships have faded away not because of some deep issue but because how we had fun looked so vastly different. Eventually, as I found confidence in my preferred forms of leisure, I also found people who were more accommodating of it. Like my best friend, for instance, for whom fun means dancing to Bollywood music all night — who I value too much to lose to this contradiction. Every once in a while, we happily compromise; I yield in for a night of dancing awkwardly and the next weekend she shows up at my place so we can cook together as music fills the kitchen.     

Or like my sister, now in her thirties, who, albeit lovingly, disagrees with my ways. “I think there’s nothing more fun than a drink at a club," she says jokingly. “But honestly, I guess it’s about learning to have fun with people who are different from you and finding a middle ground. You have to respect my fun-time and I have to respect yours. And that way, you get to try more things than just what you know you like." 

It falls neatly with what Santos told The Guardian in a 2021 interview: “We would probably all be having a lot more fun if we tried new things, just like kids do. They seek out new activities and try new things out – they don’t beat themselves up if they don’t like them." Perhaps the latter half of my twenties can be equal parts embracing my sure-shot attempts of fun, while also expanding my definition of it. 

Who knows, maybe I even become the kind of person who dances the night away. (I doubt it.)

Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal