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.