Wednesday, June 24, 2009

All Signs Point to Yes.

How do you know when you have reached that ever-elusive "adulthood"? I thought it was when I was 18 years old: adventurous, independent for the first time. Smoking cigarettes on the steps outside my dorm, my parents thousands of miles away, with my newly pierced tongue. "This must be it," I thought to myself. At 19 years old, my parents got divorced and I was shattered. Was this actually adulthood? Feeling the ache of a guilded and broken childhood every day, and having the courage and the strength to get myself out of bed each morning, go to class, go to my waitressing job, study, smoke cigarettes outside my dorm, and do it again tomorrow without completely unraveling. "This must be it," I thought to myself.

At 20 years old, I was living back at home with my mother. I made a new "adult" life in my childhood room, removing pictures of my childhood heroes and replacing them with pictures of my friends and I smoking cigarettes outside the dorm. "That must have been adulthood," I thought as I looked fondly at the pictures. Certainly, I wasn't necessarily happy back at college, but it reminded me of a time when I felt free, before the divorce, before the bitter realization that even in times of hardship, you have to pick yourself up (and there is no one that will do it for you!) and keep taking care of yourself.

At 21 years old, I knew I had to be there. "THIiiissss must be it, I really just didn't know it before," I thought to myself. Now that I am 21, I can drink legally -- it has opened my whole life to a new world of legal socialization. Going to bars, meeting boys at bars, this has to be it.

At 26 years old, I graduated college. After an extended stint at community college, I finally transferred to a small, private university and graduated as the oldest person in my class (I thought so at least.) I got a job right after college, and a glamorous one at that. I got to travel to New York frequently, I got to attend fancy parties. I remember getting off the plane at JFK airport on my first official business trip. I had intended to take a taxi into the city, but a nice gentleman at the taxi queue quickly assured me that he would take me into the city for "a good price" in his town car. I sat comforably in the dark leather seats and as I watched the city lights descend upon me, I thought, "Ah ha! So THIS is it! I have finally made it. And boy, does it feel good to be here." Then the driver told me I owed him $115. After a short argument in which the man told me he would call the police if I didn't "pay up", I tearily handed him the money. As I watched him speed away I thought (for I was a little wiser by now and knew there were things I still needed to learn), "Maybe this is not it. Maybe I am not really here yet. But when will I know?"

Now I am 28 years old. I feel like I should be here by now: four of my dearest friends are engaged, another of my dearest friends is well on her way to engagement (they have picked out the ring! Squealll!), I have a job that I wake up for every day (no sleeping through class anymore or skipping out on my waitressing shifts like the old days), I pay bills (a lot of bills!), I live with my boyfriend (who I adore), and my beau and I are currently in the market to buy a house. More terrifyingly, sometimes I see babies and I think for a split-second, "Aww! I want one of those soon..." Then I snap out of it. I'm not there quite yet.

Still, all of these things seem to be rites of passage to adulthood. I think I would feel pretty "adult" if I bought a house with my boyfriend. Obviously my friends feel "adult-enough" to decide to get married. And that new-found affection for children in general? Yeah, I would say that is pretty "adult." But if I have learned anything from my life in the last 10 years it is that being an "adult" isn't always what it seems, or what it is cracked up to be. How can we actually be an "adult" if we don't even know how to handle these rites of passage? I mean, could I really conceptualize birthing a child through my vagina (yes, I said vagina, I think that is part of being an adult?) and then raising the child for the rest of my life? And what about this house that I am going to buy? The economy is in the crapper, what if I can't keep up with my hefty mortgage payments? And as a long-time renter, can I really imagine putting MOST of my earnings into my mortgage payment? And marriage: I am already in a partnership. Am I less "adult" if I don't feel like getting married? Certainly, most would say "No. No. To each their own." But really, getting married has its own ethos; it legitimizes your relationship somehow. For some reason, to be a married couple carries more weight then saying "oh yes, this is my boyfriend." (That is also why getting married is such an important issue to gay people, and why should they be denied that right? But more on that another time.)

So, dear readers, how do we know we "have made it"? I wish there were sign posts along the way to help us figure it out: "This Way!" or "One Way Only (you're on the right track)". Like if you are running a long race and you have a team of people on the sidelines cheering for you, "You are almost there! Just one more little hill!" That really does make the race easier. I would be happy with even a little light-bulb moment "ding! ding! ding! You made it!" Just something tangible that I could savor for a single minute so I could breathe a sigh of relief that I finally got there.

But maybe there is no sign, no moment. Maybe it just sneaks up on you, sits down, and settles in, so subtle and so sure that it lingers with you for days, months, or even years, until suddenly you realize you never needed a sign. You realize that you have been here for a very long time after all, and you are actually doing pretty well for a gal not having any directions. I can imagine this would feel like an incredible sense of completion, pride, strength, and wisdom. I'm still watching and wondering...

Welcome to Adulthood.

1 comment:

  1. I think that it is probably different for each person, but for me, the point in my life that I really started to feel like an adult was when I first moved out of my parents house and started having to pay my own rent. That was when I became responsible for supporting myself fully. Life of course was much easier before that, but there is a feeling of freedom and empowerment that comes with the responsibility of providing for one's self.