What Adulthood Means For Me: “When I Grow Up . . .”

When you move into your first apartment.  When you move in with a partner for the first time.  When you start grocery shopping for yourself.  When you start paying the utility bills.  When you finish your degree.  When you get your first job.  When you get a job in your chosen field.  When you have children.  When you decide you’re not going to have children.

When do we become adults?

As always the feminist media critic, I look to the influence of those mediums on our collective psyche.

We seem to have learned that the media tropes of other life stages (namely how we should be living our teenage lives and how our college experience should have been) don’t apply to reality.  We know that no one walks to English class clad in Betsey Johnson and that Jason from Chemistry is not interested in talking to us about his deep childhood traumas while shirtless-ly displaying his six-pack.

But when it comes to our adult lives, we still remain dazzled by the simplistic ways in which our favorite fictional characters transition from childhood.  Mary Tyler Moore is throwing her hat in the Minneapolis air because she’s ‘gonna make it after all’, damn it, and it’s as easy as that – buy a train ticket and go girl, go!

The thing is, those fictional characters always know exactly how they want their adulthood to look.  Moore is going to be a big-time television producer (and she’ll have to deal with some office politics along the way but so what).  They have well-defined dreams and paths – they know what kind of career they want, what kind of relationship they want, what kind of place they want to live in . . . and all they have to do is get going.

The reality is that no one is hiring and your career choice may entail hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of graduate school loans.  Are you hundreds of thousands of dollars sure that this is the right choice for you?

The reality is that, in your desire for stability, you wind up torturing yourself and your romantic partners with those unanswerable questions – “Where do you see this going?  Because I kind of have to make plans.”

It is terrifying to suddenly be in a place where we are letting life happen to us.  Maybe the committee will grant me the scholarship.  Maybe the boss will hire me.  Maybe my boyfriend will be with me for another six months.  Our lack of agency is combined with a sense that, when we are presented with the opportunity to make a choice, the impact of said decision will have far-reaching consequences.  No longer are we making small, and, in a sense, pre-determined decisions such as what class to enroll in this semester or how late to stay out at the bars the night before an exam.  This stage, the adult stage, and all its decisions are not for a semester or a year or four years . . . they number in the decades.

So what do we do with that? How do we not paralyze ourselves with anxiety?  Unfortunately, dear readers, I don’t have an easy answer for you.  When you wake up every morning and things are just the same as they were the day before and the day before that, you’re bound to spiral down into frustration and depression.  To pull yourself out of that – by dancing to a Pink song, keeping a gratitude journal, sending in another job application when your last twelve have been rejected – this may be what really separates the adult from the child.

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