There seems to be a lot of buzz about “millennials” lately. It’s everywhere. “Why can’t millennials get jobs after graduation?” “Why are millennials always texting and tweeting?” “Millennials are the first generation to grow up online! What will happen!?” While every other generation talks and writes and reads about us, we all sit around, unemployed and lazy (allegedly), and text each other and tweet about “real adulthood.” You simply can’t get into a conversation with a fellow member of the generation without talk turning to what it means to be a “real adult.” “I just don’t feel like a real adult!” “At what point do you become like a REAL ADULT?” “I’m graduating next month but I’m so not ready to be a REAL ADULT.”
I’m 100% guilty of using this term constantly, but what does it even mean? Are we “fake adults” from our 18th birthdays, until some magical moment happens and we become REAL adults? On your 13th birthday you don’t wake up and suddenly feel like a teenager. You don’t sprout boobs and body hair overnight, and wake up with the poise and class of the teenagers in movies (who are typically played by 28-year-old actors). Becoming a teenager was a gradual process: it started when you noticed that stench coming from your armpits when you were ten, when your mom let you go to the mall without parental guidance when you were eleven, when you watched PG-13 movies when you were twelve. Your experiences built up, and you became a teenager step by step. The process is similar for adulthood. You don’t wake up on any certain birthday and suddenly change into a stiff, mortgage-paying, mini-van driving adult. It’s a gradual process that has been happening for years.
There are many little defining moments in young adulthood that aid in the transition to “real adulthood.” If you’ve done even one of these, welcome to REAL adulthood: where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter!
1. You’ve written a check.
As a child, for whatever reason, I thought check writing was the coolest, most adult thing to do. You pull a checkbook out of a fashionable purse, write down a number, write your name in cursive, and your goods are magically paid for. Simple and glamorous. I realize now that check writing is not a glamorous art form, and that you must actually have access to the money you’re writing a check for, but it is still a stepping stone of adulthood. If you’ve written a personal check for rent, tuition, bills, groceries (does anyone besides my mom still do that?), or any other such grown up necessities, you can consider yourself a real adult.
2. You own a queen size bed…and a bed frame.
I made it through years in a twin size bed, knowing that on the other side of adolescence was an adult me, who could buy her own queen size bed and lay diagonally across it forever. If you have bought yourself a queen size mattress but it lies on the floor of your apartment, you get half a point. If you also invested in a bed frame and your mattress is atop it, you’re living a very adult lifestyle. (If you have purchased your own KING size bed and it’s on a bed frame, you clearly already know you’re an adult, so you can stop reading here.)
3. You’ve lived alone.
The quickest way to grow up is to live alone. You suddenly are the sole vacuumer and spider exterminator. You realize that if you don’t wash your dirty dishes, no one will nag you about them, and they will sit in filth and attract bugs. You realize that if you don’t grocery shop, you don’t eat. You realize that all the annoying chores your mom always made you do were actually necessary to a functioning household (but you’ll never tell her). You learn to always buy toilet paper and tampons in bulk. You learn to rely on yourself and to be responsible, while learning just how much behind-the-scenes work your parents always did to keep the house running smoothly. If you’ve lived alone, you’ve made it as an adult.
4. You can walk in high heels.
This is a very adult and lady-like achievement to be unlocked. Bonus points if you’re wearing heels for work, rather than just to a school dance or bar mitzvah. (I’m not sure what the male equivalent would be…tying your own tie?)
5. You’ve saved money.
My first job ever was babysitting when I was twelve. I was ridiculously overpaid, but did not appreciate it at the time. Each week, having a new wad of cash was a challenge: how quickly can I blow through this money on tweeny bopper crap I don’t need? It was pretty impressive actually. I’d buy CDs, DVDs, jewelry, picture frames I’ve yet to fill, polo shirts from Aeropostale, and cheesy pooka shell necklaces. I’d go to the movies NOT during a matinee then go to Friendly’s, where I’d dine like a queen. Ten years later, the regret sits heavy in my sad little savings account. Twelve-year-old me did not grasp the concept of saving, but she was by no means a real adult. If you don’t immediately blow through your paychecks on worthless goods, you’re on your way to adulthood. (If you’re still buying polo shirts from Aeropostale and pairing them with pooka shell necklaces, you need to reevaluate everything.)
6. You know your body.
It takes a lot of years of trial and error and experimentation, but at some point you realize that you know yourself pretty damn well. You know that Chinese food makes you bloated, wine makes you giggly but vodka makes you cry, excessive cheese makes you gassy, and caffeine after 4pm keeps you up all night. After so many years in your body, you start to understand and respect it. You’ll make choices that your body thanks you for. At some point, you decide that you don’t want to cry in bar bathrooms anymore, so you’ll say no to the vodka shots tonight. This is a huge step toward adulthood.
7. You’ve learned to let go of toxic friendships.
Throughout your childhood and teenage years, there was a lot of petty drama. You got into stupid fights with friends, primarily through hand written notes or AIM. It would eat you alive when people changed. You went through a lot of friends, until you found the ones that stuck. As an adult, you’ve realized that you no longer have time for the petty drama and AIM fights, because you have important adult things to do. Over the years, you’ve crafted your own definition a good friend, and you’ve made some tough decisions to ensure all your close friends fit these requirements. If someone made you angry, sad, embarrassed, or annoyed more than they made you happy and you removed the toxic relationship from your life, you’re a strong adult who knows what you deserve. Good on you.
8. You’ve been on a vacation without your parents.
As a kid, vacations were fun and stress-free. All you had to do was show up, ask “are we there yet?” a few hundred times to ensure maximum annoyance, eat ice cream, and enjoy yourself. As an adult, you see the other side; you realize how much planning, budgeting, money, and effort goes into vacationing. You learn why your parents always bickered on vacation- it’s stressful! You realize why your mom always packed granola bars in her fanny pack for lunch- buying every meal is super expensive! If you have successfully planned, budgeted, and paid for your own vacation, you’re a real adult. (Bonus points if you made it through the trip without a mental breakdown from your dwindling checking account.)
9. You can hold your own in grown up conversations.
At some point, you’ll notice that people are including you in their adult conversations about politics, current events, and taxes. At first, you may shy away from these topics, and insist on discussing reality TV instead. One day, you’ll make an insightful contribution to a grown up conversation and you’ll surprise everyone, especially yourself, with your knowledge. This impressive moment is a huge leap into adulthood.
10. You’ve gotten promoted from the kids’ table at family holidays.
Let’s be real…this is the only one that actually means anything. You can be married, own a house, have a full time job, and drive a Mercedes, but if your Grandma still puts your place setting at the kids’ table on Christmas, none of it means anything. Someday you’ll arrive at a holiday dinner and see your name at the adult table, right next to the wine and ham, far from the Coke and chicken nuggets, and that’s how you really know you’ve made it.