My Roaring 20s: What I’ve learned at 28

Inspired by carefree, rebellious flappers of The Roaring 20s, Vivian Dang shares her story and life lessons on coming to terms with the the past decade of her life.

I was 14 when I first became enamored with the allure of the 1920s. 

The beautiful flapper was sophisticated and carefree, the type of woman that I aspired to be when I grew up.

It wasn’t until I did a more extensive Google search that I realized The Roaring Twenties — as it’s often referred to — was a historic time of change for women. 

Behind the flapper’s cool glamour, her short hair and dress sans corset was a blatant rejection of constraining gender roles and traditional moral standards. Instead, she fought for equality, economic and sexual freedom.

Entering my own twenties, the clash between cultural expectations and Western ideals challenged my identity as a woman. Happiness always felt like a compromise, and I questioned whether I could ever truly live by my own standards and fearlessly rebel, much like the flapper did. 

See also: Asian parenting and beauty ideals: The road to self-acceptance

Society’s guarantee of the supposed “best years of my life” were hollow promises that angered me for a long time.

My twenties were a far cry from the glamour I thought they’d be. 

Much like the flapper, my twenties have been a pivotal era that demanded that I fight for my independence and persevere through every disappointment, heartbreak, and uncertainty that has riddled the last eight years of my life.

Rebel with a cause (2012)

At the ripe age of 20, I perceived my own roaring twenties as a cool era that would usher in glamour, ease, and independence. 

This decade would be life-changing and everything — disposable income, endless savings, marriage and children (if you’re lucky, these all happen in quick succession) — would magically fall into place. After all, it’s a guarantee of being a twenty-something year-old, right? 

When I turned 21, the talk of marriage quickly emerged as my mother teased the idea of a suitor that she was convinced would be “the perfect husband” for me. 

Marriage with this particular, albeit older suitor, meant a secure life — free from any financial worries. He had a respectable profession and generously donated his earnings to the church – what more could you ask for in a partner? 

Well, I didn’t want a marriage based solely on practicalities. I wanted love.

Photo credit: Maria Ellorin

For my pragmatic mother — who grew up through war and political unrest — you were lucky if you married for love. For the first time, I realized how conflicting our views of love and marriage were. 

Her fruitless attempts to convince me otherwise were plainly rejected.

My frustration over her traditional and cultural expectations of me drove me to assert myself in small ways: bleaching my hair in front of her as she protested, ignoring her calls to stay past curfew, and — her worst nightmare — drinking beer straight from the bottle, erasing any ladylike image she reserved for me.

Her negative reactions fuelled my rebellion even more as I reached my mid-twenties.

The Naive Romantic (2018)

Raised in a conservative Catholic family, I always believed that my life was primarily ruled by two figures: my mom and the church. What I didn’t realize was that I could choose to challenge my already-waning faith, without feeling condemned.

I was 25 when I lost my virginity. 

Contrary to the eyebrow-raising shock amongst my peers, losing my virginity wasn’t just about sex for me. It was emblematic of the freedom I felt towards all the cultural constraints that I never resisted against.

I knew that if my mother found out, she would be ashamed of me. So I hid it from her and came up with elaborate lies about date nights, when I was really at my then-boyfriend’s house.

Here I was at the mature age of 25, sneaking around and lying to my mother like a teenager. It was hypocritical of me. 

Photo credit: Maria Ellorin

Every time I came home, I felt a nagging sense of shame and anger towards myself. Although I secretly resisted my mother’s sexist, archaic ideas of what she deemed to be “proper” or “respectable,” I grew tired of the effort it took to present a version of myself that she expected of me.

When the opportunity to move out came up, I immediately signed the contract and paid the deposit without consulting my family. 

For the first time in my life, I had chosen myself. The usual guilt and anxiety that would often torment me was instead replaced by an overwhelming sense of  empowerment.

I used to believe that if I bent towards my mother’s will or proved my maturity to her, she would eventually support my decisions. 

I realized, maybe a little too late, that in order to be truly happy and live my life according to my own terms, I needed to stop asking for permission.

See also: Forbidden sleepovers and tampon usage: How my Asian upbringing shaped me as an adult

The Work in Progress (2020)

I’m still drawn to the allure of the 1920s, but now, for different reasons. 

At the core of the flapper’s carefree lifestyle, she was always fighting for freedom and independence.

Much of my twenties have been spent defying other people’s expectations of me. 

By standing up for myself, I’ve learned that happiness often comes with sacrifices that, until recently, I wasn’t ready for — including losing the people that I loved. 

When I moved out, I hurt my mother deeply and, for a while, our relationship was strained. 

When I experienced my first heartbreak, I had to let go of my ex even though it grieved me to do so. 

And most recently, I ended a 15-year friendship, a decision that I didn’t want to make. 

Throughout all of these challenges, the crushing pain I experienced created opportunities for happiness, even though it didn’t always feel that way.

Photo credit: Maria Ellorin

As I write this article, it’s my 28th birthday. 

So far, I haven’t hit all the conventional milestones that my friends or peers have attained at 28. And sorry to disappoint, mom, I still don’t have a boyfriend. 

Right now, I’m cherishing this pivotal moment in my life, where I continue to feel more self-assured about who I am, and finally living my life to my own standards. 

The lessons I’ve learned — and are still learning — have made, and continue to make my twenties the golden decade of my life. 

I’ll proudly raise my glass and “Cheers!” to that.

This article is part of a monthly column.

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