It amazes me how often I find myself thinking that I’m not an adult. I’ve been employed full-time for close to five years—isn’t that adulthood? I can support myself financially—isn’t that adulthood?
I’ve signed rental contracts, had utilities under my name, given to charity, tried and failed and occasionally succeeded at creative projects, nurtured and neglected friendships, gone on road trips, rented hotel rooms, gotten lost, bought a car, had surgery, lost family members, tried new recipes, took out a loan, cried myself to sleep, graduated from college, gotten into fights, slept just five hours in seventy-two, been a bridesmaid more than once—aren’t these things that adults do?
I don’t have some of the big, traditional hallmarks of adulthood—no partner, no children, no house (that’s partly mine but mostly the bank’s). But if I am not a full-fledged adult, what am I? I’m certainly not a teenager anymore. Can I claim adulthood provided I put some adjectives out in front, like young or single or twenty-something?
Sometimes I think adulthood is something that I can earn, like a bachelor’s degree or an Olympic medal. If I can just do X, Y, and Z (though these criteria change daily in my head), I’ll unlock the Adulthood Achievement. This is nonsense, of course—by every legal measure in the U.S., I am an adult and have been for several years. (Adulthood is a very boring achievement to the government, one almost everyone gets for simply playing the game long enough.)
I don’t feel like an adult, though. Or at least, I don’t know what adulthood is supposed to feel like. Is it knowing that your fears are real and that failure is possible? Is it mourning for the lost people and places and things? Is it the hard-earned caution and suspicion after being burned? Is it the sense of wonder you get when you realize just how small you are compared to the rest of the world?
Perhaps it’s just the ability to laugh at yourself when you realize that the questions you’re amateur-philosophizing over are neither interesting nor revolutionary.
If that is the case, then sometime between the Ethiopian food and the hazelnut chocolate cake and the off-key singing, I’ll finally become an adult.