On Being Adult

Recently a couple I know that’s been together for six years has decided to go their separate ways.  I was assured it was mutual, amiable, and all that good stuff.  It just wasn’t turning out to be what they both wanted.  There are no children, they aren’t married, and there’s no huge shared property like a house or car so there won’t be any of those worries, but it’s definitely made me think.  I spoke with my sister about the break-up seeing as part of this couple was a mutual of ours (not that we didn’t like #2, but we were only really acquainted through mutual.  Also let’s see how many times I end up saying mutual in this post. XD) and I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that they have different wants from life right now.  Mutual is looking to concentrate on school and career and Significant Other (SO from here on out) is probably a little too busy being “young” for a given definition of young.

At this point you can make the argument that Mutual is ready to “grow-up” as it were, but here’s the thing, I don’t agree with that premise at all.  If I had to phrase it in any way Mutual is probably looking for a bit more stability or predictability particularly where work and career is concerned and this wasn’t as big a concern for SO.  Now, don’t be confused because SO has a job and it provides enough for them to support themselves and they meet all current responsibilities.  As far as I’m concerned SO is an adult because they make an effort to and currently meet all their obligations as far as providing themselves with food/shelter, etc.  There may be thin months and they may not have lots of savings (and truthfully neither do I), but that doesn’t make them any less adult.  SO has invested calculated risk into their living situation that allows them a great deal of flexibility in their work schedule, the trade-off is slightly less predictable earnings and more unusual hours.  This is no less valid than Mutual wanting to seek out a more stable, but less flexible lifestyle.

There is (in the United States) this idea (and it is a VERY modern and also generally pretty damn white idea) of what adulthood looks like and when young adults don’t appear to fall in line to these ideals they can often feel like failures or not actually adult, even among their peers.  The chronological idea that you finish compulsory school, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids… It ignores that this isn’t realistic for many people and sometimes just plain what people don’t want for themselves.  But suddenly because the idea of marriage seems trite or having kids isn’t for us or *gasp* alternative career options that may or may not pay off long-term are being pursued, we’re suddenly not adults, but “prolonged adolescents” with “emerging adulthood”.

There’s also a persistent idea, in America particularly, that if you need help financially in the way of a roommate or other communal living situation outside of a standard monogamous one partner relationship, you aren’t REALLY an adult, which is just ridiculous.  You could make the argument that being really adult is acknowledging the realistic limitations of one’s finances and making decisions accordingly.  Even being a financial dependent doesn’t mean you aren’t an adult or what does that say about stay-at-home parents?

At 17 (in the United States) teenagers are considered adult enough to watch R-rated movies without supervision.  At 18 teens are adult enough to vote and join the military as well as be tried as adults in a court of law (there are exceptions to this depending on state, age, and nature of offense), but you aren’t adult enough to drink until you’re 21 years of age.  As this article in the Atlantic points out, adulthood and childhood are both social constructs, albeit useful ones, but they’re still constructs.  Maturity only has so much to do with age (because a 16 y.o. is still a 16 y.o. no matter how mature) and even then it’s subjective.

So let’s stop with this idea that somehow a willingness to prioritize certain “frivolous” things like a work schedule that allows you to stay out to 3 a.m. at the club with some regularity or the continued love and enjoyment of children’s programming somehow makes someone less adult. You can’t “fail” at adulthood for these things or for not washing the dishes or doing the laundry.  Are some adults more mature?  Sure, but it also takes a certain kind of maturity to see that a responsibility, like a 9-to-5 job for example, conflicts with the chosen priority of being able to go out spontaneously given that it would result in possibly not meeting the expectations of the 9-to-5.  Being an adult is a simple matter of reaching a certain age, no if, ands, or buts and there are as many ways to BE an adult as there are people.




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