I think adulthood scares the crap out of us because we can’t see it happening. It doesn’t hit you until you look back four years ago and realize that most of those clever fucked-up people you went to diners with at 4 AM could be replaced by more promising people who are just as interesting.
You probably miss the old you sometimes. I know I do. I can remember pretty clearly back to about five years ago. But I’m writing a college memoir so I have to go back almost ten years. I have to look at old pictures, read old Facebook messages, and listen to music I liked back then to get back into that headspace. It’s hard for me to admit this, but I can sometimes relate to entirely different people now better than I can relate to who I was in 2007.
Maturity creeps up on you when you’re not looking for it. Here’s some signs you’re almost there:
1. The Immediacy is Gone
You still want to go out, but it will be just as fun next weekend. You can watch that Vikings marathon you TiVo-d and go to bed. Your friends are in relationships and you are (or at least try to be) more happy than jealous. Just because you’re single right now doesn’t mean you’ll be alone on the couch in 20 years watching TV Land. Life isn’t that consistent. You’ve had enough things happen to know that this thing that’s such a big deal today is going to fade in importance tomorrow. Life goes on.
2. People Don’t Look Enormous To You
Remember those people you thought were so huge, so special, so one-of-a-kind that the world without them would cease to exist? It won’t.
I learned that lesson the hard way when a guy I used to hook up with died. He had this preternatural charisma that set him apart from everyone else. But it didn’t save him. We’re all subject to the same rules. We live, we die, and a peaceful life is guaranteed to no one. It’s brutal, but it does look a lot like equality.
3. You Don’t Blurt Out Your Feelings All the Time
You look at old Facebook statuses that say “I just don’t CARE anymore” and you laugh. Back in 2007 you thought you’d be pretending not to care for the rest of your life. Or at least until you were 25. But that didn’t matter, because 25 didn’t exist. You also thought it was other people’s duty to tell Facebook that those bitches have nothing on you.
Your emotional life was much larger then than it is now. Now you know that feelings are pretty much universal. You don’t have to assert that you have them or compete for exclusive ownership of them. Which frees you to be less dramatic. And more honest.
4. You Love Yourself With Flaws
Someday you were going to have the perfect body. You’d be the kind of girl who immediately took your sweaters to the dry cleaners when they got stains on them. Your real life would not begin until these things happened.
I’m still hoping they do. But I’ve lived a full life while not being perfect. And if I never quite reach the level I set for myself then I’ll continue to exist in relative peace. And so will you. Don’t use your idealized view of the future to placate your anxiety about the present. Just start taking those non-flashy little steps to move forward.
I remember how happy I was the first time someone tweeted that one of my Thought Catalog articles described his feelings perfectly. It wasn’t the kind of glee I pictured when I imagined quoting my first novel to Princeton’s graduating class, but meaningful achievements are really just a combination of little things.
5. You Forgive
Your parents, for not doing whatever they didn’t do for you. The kids who bullied you in middle school. That sanctimonious prick you went out with in college. All of those people had their own demons to fight. The way someone treats you almost always has more to do with them than it does with you.
If the good about someone outweighs the bad then the connection is worth having. And if you don’t value someone’s qualities then chances are somebody else will. You know now that everyone else’s existence is as valid as yours.
6. You Realize You’re Separate From Other People
You used to look at other people and think that if you did what they were doing you’d be as popular/sexy/accomplished as they were.
But not really. Everyone’s feelings are more or less the same, but everything else is different. Ethics. Tastes. Values. Just because Derek found himself in New York doesn’t mean you will. You have to consciously ask yourself why you do everything you’re doing. That’s not easy. But if you don’t you’ll realize you’re just following a script that somebody else wrote.
7. You Take the Long View
This is an obvious benefit to things not being huge and immediate. You probably miss that gigantic world very much, even if it was the result of you not understanding yourself or anyone else.
But now you know cause and effect. You can weigh outcomes. Children can’t see past whatever they’re feeling right this second. Adults try to be a couple steps ahead. You can want things, plan how to get them, and then sometimes they happen. It’s great.
8. Things Don’t Always Work Out the Way You Think They Will
Hopefully you always knew that. But you didn’t know that it could be a good thing.
You didn’t know that the guy you started seeing just to pass the time would make you fettuccine alfredo while you bonded with his pug. You didn’t imagine showing your work to him. And you definitely didn’t know you’d still be with him a year later, feeling a quiet sense of contentment because he’s the best man you’ve ever known.
You’ll always want the same types of things. They just might be presented to you in ways you didn’t know you liked them. We say people get more closed-minded as they get older. I think a lot of us get more open-minded, both to other people’s possibilities and to our own. The only things that change are the details.