From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.
Growing up is such a barbarous business. – Captain Hook
As a child, I never understood the allure of the movie Peter Pan.
Sure enough, it had a rightful place in the pantheon of colorful, over-sized Disney VHS containers that my sister and I piled next to the television. But given the choice of Maleficent’s anger or Ursula’s wit, I never felt a burning desire to choose the prepubescent teen who used soap to attach a shadow.
Today, however — as a 29-year-old living in Washington, DC — my opinion of the story of Peter Pan is radically different. Why? Because Washington, in many ways, is Neverland.
Every year, thousands of newly minted graduates, waving elite bachelors, masters, law, and medical degrees, descend on the nation’s capitol for their first true foray into the real world. They arrive in a magical, boxed off land called Northwest, where the phrase “he was born in D.C” turns more heads than “he has a boyfriend.” Everyone is young, attractive, and smart — and in close proximity.
On any given day of the week, bars are hoppin’, kickball fields are packed, and pheromones are raging. Happy hours flow seamlessly into dinner, evenings flow seamlessly into brunch. No one has kids, no one has mortgages, no one knows if they’re quite ready to go to law school this year or next — and no one seems to mind.
For many, it’s almost like a second high school or college experience, tailor-made for academically driven students who grew up too fast. But that’s the catch. Those of us who grew up too fast are – in the end – the ones that have the most growing up to do. And in a city like DC, that process is as turbulent as it is illuminating.
When I moved to DC five years ago, I had two degrees, perfectly matted in expensive frames. But unfortunately, as my grandfather warned against, I had largely allowed “my schooling to get in the way of my education.” I could explain the balance of powers that created World World War I, but I had never balanced a check book. I had held a litany of internships, but never a full-time job. I knew what “rent” was from references in NBC sitcoms and Broadway musicals, but I had never paid it on my own — let alone had to furnish the space that came along with it.
We know everything — and nothing — at the same time.
In no sphere is this more accurate than the field of dating. Washington, DC is likely the only city in America where a bad break up on a Tuesday could have a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy on Wednesday.
Why? Because deep down, not one of us knows what we’re doing when it comes to relationships — and our romantic emotions. In every professional corner of the city, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings (and all the way up) are dating again for the first time in years. Some of us are starting to date for the first time at all. Tearfully crying into a Jumbo Slice on the sidewalk at 2 am is now as much a DC rite of passage as watching the sunrise under Lincoln’s gaze.
The silver lining? All of us — in our own ways — are “finally” growing up in Washington together — and that fact cannot be overlooked or underestimated. We’re all dealing with new opportunities, new challenges, new emotions, new anxieties, and new personal responsibilities And we’re doing it on our own, away from our families, in one of the most chaotic and expensive cities in America, under some of the most powerful bosses in the world.
When we remember that fact, it makes it easier to forgive each other – and ourselves – if and when we make mistakes along the way.
This column originally ran on March 8, 2012.