Adulting

A while back, there was a post on one of my favorite blogs about feeling like an adult. Many stereotypical markers of adulthood — buying your first home/car/set of furniture that didn’t come from craigslist or a garage sale, working a 9 to 5 (that you hate at least a little), getting married, having children, etc. — either aren’t feasible for many people due to a janky economy, or are outright rejected as antiquated ideas.  I recently read the book X vs Y: A Culture War, A Love Story, which is full of essays by two sisters (Eve and Leonora Epstein); one is gen-X, the other, Y. Their essays, about their generation’s attitudes toward everything from music and fashion, to sex, dating, and technology, share a lot of personal and general insights on the effects of growing up in a particular time period, and the values that you either take with you or leave behind.

One essay in particular about the changing perception of marriage and divorce across generations comes to mind. In it, gen-Xer Eve writes that the high divorce rate when she was a kid continued to effect the members of her generation even as they moved into adulthood. She says (and I’m paraphrasing) that the broken homes gen-Xers were raised in lead them to enter relationships as broken people.

As a generation we grew up with a consciousness of families as inherently fragile, finite things — and this has had the effect of making many of us simultaneously leery of marriage and perfectionists about it.

In the same vein is another quote from another book (of fiction entitled The Bend of the World):

The office and the other women at the gym and the social committee at the church are not like high school, not like teenagers — rather, the opposite. Rather, the young acquire all their most iniquitous habits from the grown-ups in their lives.

The idea bonding these quotes is that the conventions of life in prior generations shape the convictions of the generation that follows. In other words, our ideas about adulthood are based on the behavior of the adults we knew growing up. We’re dragging the habits, ideas, and effects of the past into the present with us and trying to make them fit within a different context. Maybe the wrong context.

Being an adult now doesn’t have to mean what it used to mean, or even what someone else thinks it should mean. There are a ridiculous number of articles and lists online telling us what we’re obliged to have accomplished by a certain age, how a happy person (or someone who wants to be happy) should behave, why you should/shouldn’t get married/have children by age ___, what a good husband/wife/mother/father/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend/acquaintance/coworker/citizen/bank robber/balloon animal looks like. But really, how can anyone tell you how to be without knowing the ins and outs of your individual nature and experiences (which is impossible for anyone to know)? I understand these articles are only meant (by those with the best intentions) to offer guidance to those who are in a tailspin. But it’s all too easy when you’re feeling lost to turn a suggestion into THE answer, if only because you want one so badly.

I love cartoons. I have never owned a home. I no longer own a car. I do not have a spouse or children… yet. The reasons behind each of these points are valid, and my own. The ideals of bygone generations have already left their indelible mark on me. As such, I don’t really feel like an adult and likely never will. I do, however, feel thoroughly like myself.

So I’ll count that as a win.

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4 thoughts on “Adulting

  1. If there was any piece of advice I wish I’d gotten as a kid, it’s that you never feel “like an adult” and that everyone else is scared and winging it. Sounds a little bleak, but it’s almost a comfort knowing I’m not the only one.

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  2. Gianni, you are lovely – thank you for linking to my post and for naming me as one of your favorite blogs. I am so honored! This is an amazing post and a terrific, more critical approach to the notion of “growing up”. And yes, my idea of being adult is totally based on the behavior of adults who surrounded me when I was “growing up”. In particular (and this is silly), I remember looking at my mom’s hands when she was driving me to ballet lessons. I thought to myself, ‘Mom has such *adult* hands. When I grow up, will my hands look like that too?’ It’s something that I still carry with me to this day.

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    • Thank you so much! I’m happy to point people toward your blog, and that post in particular is one of my favorites on your site 😀 I definitely had similar moments as a child, watching my parents do the things that to them were mundane and zeroing in on details that seemed to be markers of “adulthood.” For example, my dad was a courier with FedEx, and his day started around 5:30am. Every morning, he’d make coffee and lean against the counter in the kitchen drinking it. Usually he’d leave before I woke up, but some mornings, I’d hear him downstairs and run down b/c I knew he’d give me a sip of his coffee. I felt like that was my glimpse of adulthood. I just KNEW that one day, I’d be waking up early to drink coffee before spending 8+ hours somewhere working myself into the ground… because that’s what I thought it was all about.

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