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Growing Up with Adele

When I was a 19-year-old college student, I was hopelessly enamored with a man who wouldn’t have known how to love me if he had taken an entire semester-long course on the subject. He was as emotionally unavailable as they come—I only ever heard from him in the dead of night, and when we were together in group settings, he was aloof and distant. These are obvious red flags, but in my youthful naïveté, I interpreted his actions as a challenge: If I were honest and heartfelt about my own emotions, maybe—just maybe—I could somehow change him.

That same year, I stumbled upon “Chasing Pavements,” a song by a then-relatively unknown artist named Adele who had landed a recording contract after her demo made the rounds on the MySpace circuit. It was the second single off her debut studio album 19, which was released in January 2008. Listening to the lyrics was a transformative experience: Should I give up? / Or should I just keep chasing pavements? / Even if it leads nowhere / Or would it be a waste? / Even if I knew my place, should I leave it there?

The idea of aimlessly chasing something—or someone—even when you know better was unbearably relatable. Not only did I feel seen, I also felt a bit called out. I knew deep down that this fling was, indeed, a waste and leading nowhere. And yet the temptation to keep chasing was so hard to shake.

It took me a year of chasing that unreachable man and listening to 19 on repeat before I gave up. I accepted my place as the woman he’d never be able to love and walked away.

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I dated around for a while until I met the next guy. Our relationship burned hot and fast; in a matter of months, we were living together, with a dog and all. Sure, we could barely afford the rent and, looking back, I have no idea what we actually ate for sustenance, but we’d convinced ourselves that none of that really mattered. We wanted to be with each other—wasn’t that all we needed?

Our connection fizzled as quickly as it had started. We spent less time together, and I soon realized the only thing we had in common was a shared living space. He was satisfied with going nowhere in life; meanwhile, I wanted to go everywhere.

By the time of my 21st birthday in November 2010, I knew we were done. Just two weeks later, Adele released “Rolling in the Deep,” the first single off her next album, 21. Once again, Adele’s life was mirroring my own, right down to the age. As it did for so many, that song hit me like a monsoon. Up until that point, I didn’t know how to articulate what I was going through—the relationship had turned ugly, marred by backstabbing, dishonesty, and infidelity. It had turned me into someone I didn’t recognize. I was rolling in the deep, and I wanted out.

After the earth-shattering success of 21—it became one of the best-selling albums of the century—Adele disappeared, presumably to take some time for herself outside of the spotlight. I evolved during this period, too. I graduated college and entered a stable, serious relationship. With my focus firmly on the future, I felt like I was on my way to becoming the version of myself I always wanted to be.

When Adele returned more than four and half years later with 25 in November 2015, I had just turned 26. 25 is an album of contradictory emotions that perfectly encapsulates your mid to late twenties. On one hand, you appreciate the progress you’ve made, but on the other, you can’t help but feel a twinge of grief for how carefree you used to be. On “Hello,” Adele accepts culpability for past failed relationships—a clear sign of growth and maturity—while on “When We Were Young,” she expresses nostalgia for her old self and mourns how quickly time passes.

For the third time in a row, Adele had managed to identify and communicate exactly what I was going through. From my vantage point, she was just as much a sorceress of emotion as she was a talented singer-songwriter.

30 is a tribute to the freedom that comes with knowing that you don’t know everything.

And now there’s 30. Adele’s latest album, released just last week, comes after her longest hiatus to date, a time of shattering personal turmoil. In the last six years, she got married and divorced, lived through a pandemic, and lost her father, with whom she had a fractured relationship. I understand why she waited so long. In fact, it’s incredible that it only took her six years. Grief, in all its many forms, takes time to run its course. Whenever you think you’ve reached the end, a new maze reveals itself to you, and the process continues on.

30 is a tribute to the freedom that comes with knowing that you don’t know everything. On “I Drink Wine,” Adele sings: So I hope I learn to get over myself / Stop trying to be somebody else. It’s arguably the most succinct description of adulthood I’ve ever heard. You spend so much time creating façades and fantasies that you lose yourself in the fraud of it all. Once you release the need for constant pretense, you can stop caring so much about what you can’t control.

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And on “Hold On,” one of the most resonant tracks on an album, she reveals many of the harshest realities of being an adult: Sometimes loneliness is the only rest we get / And the emptiness actually lets us forget / Sometimes forgiveness is easiest in secret. In youth, we often see stillness and solitude as enemies. You aren’t growing if you aren’t moving. But as you get older, you realize that’s just not true.

Even “Easy on Me,” her long-awaited first single off 30, is a song about not just “divorce, babe,” as she put it, but also about reconciling with the decisions you made when you “had no time to choose.” It’s a sentiment that feels especially relevant to me as I’ve entered my thirties and begin to reflect on my twenties, an era that often serves as a second adolescence of sorts. You think you’re an adult in your twenties, but the real hardships are still to come.

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Adele has spoken openly about her Saturn return, the moment when the planet Saturn returns to where it was located during the moment you were born. It can take anywhere from 27 to 32 years to happen, and lasts for about two and a half years. This period is about fully stepping into adulthood and usually comes with an array of highs and lows. Adele has previously described it as the point in her life where she “lost the plot” completely.

“I don’t know if it was because of my Saturn return or if it was because I was well and truly sort of heading into my 30s,” the singer told Rolling Stone recently. “But I just didn’t like who I was.”

As per usual, Adele is literally speaking to me. I’m currently going through my own Saturn return, which has seen me get married, experience two corporate layoffs, lose close friends, survive a pandemic, and move past some deep-seated familial struggles.

While I still have more work ahead of me, I finally feel like I’ve arrived at a place where I can find comfort in the now and in the not knowing. I’m less fixated on the future and having it all figured out—and to me this feels like a real, concrete sign of growth.

Even given the profound personal connection I’ve had to her music for more than a decade, I know Adele doesn’t owe us her heartbreak. We may have come to expect it, given that she’s built a career off turning personal tragedy into chart-topping power ballads. But that doesn’t mean her life must be defined solely by sorrow. With 30, it seems like she’s paving a new kind of path—one that makes space for self-love and self-forgiveness. I’d like to think I can do the same.


Mekita Rivas is a Washington, DC based writer and editor.

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