I offer a series of anecdotes.
1) When I was in undergrad, I spent a not insignificant amount of time in Michigan. I had friends there, wonderful friends, who were, as I considered them, “real adults.” One night, late upon arrival, I was listening to a group of them fill us in on the local gossip. More than ten years older than me, I realized what they shared was in no way different than the gossip my friends and I shared.
2) In a recent trip to CT, I met the daughter of a friend. (More on this in the future.) Before meeting the daughter, my friend and I sat and, for hours, talked. The topics of our conversations had drifted over the years–rather than talk about anime, books, music, and who our friends were dating, we talked about films, books, housing, and who our friends are married to. While there was a difference in content, the essential form of our conversations hadn’t changed. She still was the person I fell in-friends-love with back in middle school. Her child had changed her, of course, but she was still her.
3) Today I was invited to the wedding of a friend/former roommate of mine. She explained to me in a softly awkward and humorous manner that it’s not that she doesn’t consider me a first tier friend, but I am a second tier wedding guest. I won’t get a formal invitation, and I was invited only after some of the necessary family members said no. This didn’t phase me at all. It reminded me of countless situations during our time at university where we’d be invited to things because “extra slots opened up.”
In essence, what I realized, is that grown ups, adults, people who are of age, are not inherently more mature than those who are not. Sure, some of them are, but some minors are equally, or more, mature than people I know who can drink and smoke and get married. And it isn’t even maturity that’s the point, it’s that the conversations essentially don’t change. Yes, who is dating who turns into who is married to whom, but the essence of the gossip hasn’t changed. There’s no magical capstone after which I will truly be “an adult.”
This continues to astound me.
I don’t consider myself a “real adult.” Sure, I’m moving off the proverbial couch and into my own apartment, but I’m still woefully unemployed, unpublished, single, irresponsible, and poorly dressed. As a child, I considered adults–something I had no interest in being–to not be these things. I imagined them to have some sort of secret knowledge or ability to be adults, people worthy of respect and deference.
Man, was I wrong.
In teaching English, sometimes my students will ask me personal questions. I don’t mind indulging them, especially when there are only a few minutes left in class and neither I nor they want to start something new. They always seem surprised to learn how unlike an adult I consider myself to be–how I differ from their perceptions of an adult. Their perceptions are similar to the ones I once held.
I think that, as a child, had I known what I know now, growing up would have seemed a lot less scary. It would have been just what it is–a number and a set of expectations from people who don’t really matter.
Every now and then, I talk to I still consider to be a “real adult.” These are people I grew up knowing as adults: family, parents of friends, teachers from my youth. When I hear them talk about their children, or the people they knew to be my peers (or even sometimes myself!), I see this comfort and joy in an understanding that the people they saw as children they now see as adults. To them, this means not just having, but having found or created their own lives. It means taking care of themselves. There’s a joy in knowing the people you care about and love, people you have cared for, can now care about and love, and care for, others.