In 2021, The Bar Couldn’t Be Lower


Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, most of us enter the new year with a pretty high set of expectations. “This is the year I will…” Learn German, make gnocchi, learn how to say “gnocchi”, get promoted, run a marathon, buy a house, move to Amsterdam. And while we know the probability of any of those things actually happening is low, it feels exciting to think that – just like most things in life – there’s always a small chance that it could.

This year, come December 31st, I’m anticipating that most of us will skip the setting of new year’s resolutions. I actually got really close to writing an article about goal-setting a few weeks ago before realising how detached it felt: I’ve spent most of this month just trying to muster the energy to cook dinner – I don’t give a flying fuck about learning German in 2021. If I’m honest, I’ve let my English slide a little.

I know I’m not the only one who has thrown in the proverbial towel of personal growth in 2020; one reader recently told me that 2020 “has felt like falling down ten flights of stairs.” Which is why I feel confident in saying that 2021 will be one of the best years we’ve ever had. Just hear me out: In order for 2021 to qualify as “a good year”, or even measurably better than 2020, all it has to do (!!) is show up on time and not make us want to stick safety pins in our eyes. The bar for 2021 is so low that it is has become the heterosexual male of time periods. You know when a guy asks a girl how her day was, or texts her after a date to check that she got home safely, or holds eye contact for longer than three seconds, and the girl’s basically knocked over by his chivalry? That will be us in 2021. My friend once came home from a date and hailed the guy a hero because he “asked her questions about herself”. 2021, just like straight guys, will have to do so little to be celebrated.

If I was to set a goal for the upcoming year, I think it would be to stop dress-rehearsing tragedy – a term coined by Brené Brown to describe the pattern humans often fall into in the wake of trauma (so, basically this entire year). Last week, my best friend messaged me and said, “Do you remember____ from high school?”, and my brain went: She’s had a cancer diagnosis; a car accident; a death in the family. I was gearing up to be told something horrible. I was dress-rehearsing someone else’s tragedy. Instead, Georgie was messaging me to say that the girl was pregnant. I audibly exhaled. Brown’s research shows that, in the aftermath of tragedy, as we start to uncover those small pockets of joy and happiness in our daily lives again, humans often find themselves vulnerable to how good they feel, and therefore seek to remind themselves of the ever-looming presence of sadness and scarcity. We feel obligated to remind ourselves that, even in the middle of a good life, we can still lose everything.

So, in a year where doom seemed to give way to misery, and loss seemed to give way to mass grief, I’m looking forward to spending the next few weeks sitting in those small pockets of joy when I find them. And I’ll try my best to stay there – not tempted by the nudge of grief or remembrance of everything we’ve lost these past twelve months. And, if 2021 only lives up to the expectations of an underperforming male – if 2021 is but an average-looking-ill-mannered-guy to a girl who’s just walked away from a death-by-a-thousand-cuts-relationship….well, we’ll take that as a win.

Happy new year, I love you, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club