Many of us can remember the feeling of counting down the days until our 21st birthday. And an even better — or worse, depending — memory is of the actual day you turned 21. The day you were allowed into those 21-and-up bars that had previously been denied to you. This changing of age, of course, also comes with a slew of other perks, quirks and sometimes setbacks, something my newly 21-year-old boyfriend is coming to realize.

Turning 21 officially marks you as an adult. At least in the eyes of bartenders and sales clerks. I can’t speak too much for others, like the sweet elderly couple standing behind you in line as you buy your first pack of Bud Light, but that aside, the world really does evolve into a different kind of beast once you hit the 21-year mark.

Something about knowing that you have the power to walk into basically any establishment and buy things previously unavailable to you is sometimes enough to keep you from actually buying any of these restricted items. I know for myself, at least, it took me many months, maybe even up to my 22nd birthday, before I started wanting to and feeling comfortable enough to order a drink with dinner.

The sheer amount of choice that I had previously been unaware of is somewhat overwhelming. I still don’t really know anything about alcohol, and I’m turning 24 this year. So, imagining someone else who hasn’t ever seen many of the options at a place like ABC or another liquor store, it is understandable that they would be a little lost. It would also explain why a lot of fresh 21-year-olds actually end up buying alcohol they don’t particularly like, just to give it a try.

Another thing that changes once you turn 21, is that you may begin to feel like you’ve got to step up your game as an adult. After all, you’re allowed to buy alcohol now so you might as well cook like an adult and spend money like an adult — or at least try. For me, this meant buying an influx of food I would have to cook, versus pre-made foods, and trying to work on budgeting, which was difficult as a server.

Over time, after the newness wears down, you realize that turning 21 really just means that you get to join the rest of us trying our best to make a life we enjoy for ourselves. And you also realize that you’ll probably be doing this for a long time, so it’s better to make the best out of it. Maybe even look forward to what the rest of your 20’s and really the rest of your whole life will bring. It’s a day we all get to experience, one of the big birthdays. Turning 21 means you’re officially on your way to being a real grownup, even if you aren’t able to see it yet.