How You Know You’re A ‘Real Adult’

Often in my daily life, I find myself measuring my choices against a sort of imagined ‘maturity metric.’ Whether it’s drinking orange juice out of a carton, or wearing shoes with a hole on the heel, or staying up until 2:00 AM to browse Twitter, I always think the same thing: “This isn’t something a real adult would do.”

It makes me wonder how I even came to develop this archetype in my mind, because I don’t think my idea of adulthood is universal or even grounded in reality. We all have our own conceptions of what it means to grow up, derived from both those who raised us and what we learn from pop culture. And whether we emulate or reject them, these ideas haunt us well into our lives.

The adults in my life, for instance, never slept in past 6:00 AM – something I’m yet incapable of doing. Since this was pre-Starbucks, they made coffee at home. Nobody knew about lattes. They took it black or with a drop of half and half. And since this was pre-internet, they read the newspaper, which seemed always to be spread out like an ominous blanket on the kitchen table, images of the Gulf War and six-car pile-ups staring up at us at breakfast. A crossword often lay half-completed, dabbled with drops of spilled milk and cereal crumbs. The familiar din of news and The Today Show woke us up like the church bells of an older time. They chattered away while we fought for the bathroom, blew hairdryers over the voices of Katie Couric and Al Roker. In the car, we listened to NPR, and to this day, the “Morning Edition” music still makes me feel calm and secure in the way that I imagine some people feel about the hum of crickets.

In my world, there were demarcations between “grown-ups” and the teenagers who almost resembled them. While babysitters often had long, pretty hair, moms cut their hair short. They wore practical black shoes and practical pants, and because it was the nineties, they sometimes wore blazers with turtlenecks. They seemed to have mastered the art of small talk, chatting for hours and yet always within a parameter of removed decorum. They had “phone voices” – the crisp, courteous tone they reserved for other adults (and dropped the second you pulled on their arms, attempting to interrupt whatever seemed so mysteriously funny – “Shh! Go back to your room!”) Now an adult myself (and generally a responsible one), I don’t look anything like this memory…I wear jeans nearly every day, I don’t read a real paper, and I often don’t make myself coffee at home. And for all these small reasons, I sometimes feel like I’m not yet a ‘real adult’ in my mind. It has nothing to do with reliability or competence. It has to do with an absence of shoulder-pad blazers.

The irony is that many of those things I associate most strongly with adulthood are becoming increasingly obsolete. The sixty-somethings I know are now posting on Facebook, navigating dating sites, grabbing vanilla lattes, and reading their news in snippets on their iPhones. The image I harbored for so long, that I imagined would someday solidify my status as a fully formed human, will never be fulfilled. Partly this is because of my personality, but partly it’s simply because times have changed.

Of course, the adults in your life might’ve been nothing like mine. Maybe they played Solitaire every night at the dining room table, or hosted elaborate potlucks, or shot hoops in your driveway ‘til the sun went down. Whatever their lifestyles may have been, it’s impossible not to consider them while we’re crafting the people we’d like to become. I wonder which habits I’ll consciously continue, which I’ll adapt, which were simply a product of the times. I wonder if I will ever wake up and finally feel like a ‘real adult.’

The world is changing so fast now.  I wonder what I’ll pass on to my children, if anything. How will I impart any wisdom I’ve gained, any wisdom I’ve inherited, if all of the little routines have changed? Should I print out my favorite memes to save for them in a chest somewhere? Should I burn a CD of my favorite songs? My parent’s house is filled with records and tapes, but all of my music is streamed, and my laptop can’t even play CDs. I own hardcover books that I cherish, but what of my favorite bloggers? Will my grandchildren know who they are?

I’m already so removed from even a few generations before me, from my non-American ancestors, from villages I will never see, from languages I will never understand. I wonder if anything from those individuals still holds, if subtle habits have been passed down without anyone having noticed. I wonder what my grandchildrens’ mornings will look like…if they’ll make their own coffee, or take it with cream, or take it in some kind of compact pill. I wonder if they’ll know anything about how I lived. And if they do anything like I do now, will they even know why they do? Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Keep up with Ann on Twitter

More From Thought Catalog