Okay, so, technically, I’ve legally been an adult for 7 years now – although I shudder to admit that I turned 18 that long ago. But when I think of the supposedly synonymous term “grown up,” with all of its implied ability to be responsible and serious, I don’t really feel like one at all. Mink and I were conversing last night about what it means to be considered “successful” as an adult. These factors typically include having some sort of job, not living in one’s parents’ basement, doing tedious things like paying bills, and generally being able to maintain one’s hygienic and nutritional requirements.
Of course, there are different degrees of “adultness” that accompany these things. Does your apartment look like a hurricane recently ripped through it? Do you shower only when you absolutely have to leave the comforting walls of this sty? Is there any nutritional content whatsoever in Pringles? What about Sour Cream and Onion Pringles? I mean, the dude with the moustache looks reasonably healthy, right?
In posing these questions I realize that, until very recently, I could easily bypass such queries by responding haughtily, “Yeah, but I’m a stressed-out student and of course I have no time to worry about such trivia when my all-encompassing thesis currently resembles a steaming pile of … incompetence.” I had priorities, and doing laundry at any point before I completely ran out of socks didn’t have to be one of them because I was in the process of producing (arguably) valuable insights on the thoughts of privileged white guys who died two hundred years ago. The more entrenched in the thesicide process I became, the less I had to care about paying visa bills, or wearing something other than pajama pants and an old sweatshirt, or eating something other than ice cream for dinner. Basically, I was given a “get out of real life free” card for being super-invested in my graduate studies. Such is the nature of academia. And it was awesome.
And now I am not a student, so I don’t have that ready excuse. I have a job, I have an apartment, I pay my rent like a competent adult. But am I really grown up? I abstractedly wondered that this morning, when I was dancing around in my underwear to Type O Negative blasting from my speakers and waiting for my second pot of coffee to brew itself into delicious existence. I questioned that yesterday, too, whilst eating chocolate cake for breakfast because it was a fortunate find in our tiny fridge. (How it escaped detection for that long, I have no clue – Mink and I are relentless apartment scavengers when we’re hungry on Sundays and all of the grocery stores within close proximity are dishearteningly closed.) Is there some sort of test I can take to see where I am on the spectrum of adulthood?
I’ve had some great conversations recently about how people tend to think teleologically about the supposed “success” of their lives – as if there is some end goal to life for which we are all striving, and you’re some sort of chump if you haven’t discovered and are working actively towards your telos by age 25. If that’s true, I’m probably going to be shooting in the dark for that particular target for a number of years to come. I have quite a few friends in the same position, and we’re asked constantly what we’re doing with our lives. An apologetic shrug and a mumbled, “No clue, actually,” will not suffice as an answer for those well-meaning questioners forever. My quarter-life crisis, it turns out, is based on the fact that there are too many possibilities for the future, for potential “grownupness,” including where I am going to live after August and what career I want to get into. (And I say this as if I’m only going to have one, psshhh.)
While I was working at the bar a couple of weeks ago, an exceedingly handsome man asked me whether this particular job was “a good career choice,” to which I answered, “Of course not!” Does anyone really strive to be a bar wench for their entire lives, if given the choice to move on to something different? Maybe, and I’m not judging that particular preference, but this is a temporary thing for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying my experience – it’s new, it was emphatically out of my comfort zone when I first started, I am learning German haphazardly, and I am meeting some awesome random people. This wasn’t a career choice at all, buddy – it was actually the opposite. But I don’t plan on making my job the centre of my life anyway, so quit hatin’.
“When I grow up…” – I somehow think I’m still going to be contemplating that a decade or two from now, when I’ve lived in a few different places and had a few different jobs and met some more awesome people, people I don’t even know exist yet. To “grow up” implies that as an adult, you’re done, somehow completed, in a way that you aren’t as a clumsy kid or an awkward teenager. We employ sayings to describe ourselves like “well-rounded individual,” as if representing a person as a pie graph (think Pacman) with a certain percentage of “completion” even makes sense. Will I just wake up one day as a woman in her mid-40s and think, “Well, I’ve got a house, a husband, some kids, a career. I guess I’ve grown up. I’ve succeeded at being an adult. I guess I’m done”? That sounds horribly tedious. And inaccurate.
Basically, I’m using this rambling post as an excuse to justify dancing around in my underwear to loud music and drinking coffee all day. But I think I’ll probably be doing that when I’m in my mid-40s, too, regardless of whether the husband-kids-career situation exists. Really, you’re not done growing up until you’re dead. And while that notion seems potentially exhausting, it’s also infinity exciting.