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What does it means to be an adult and how do I become one?
May 9, 2007 6:54 AM   Subscribe

What does it means to be an adult and how do I become one?

I've been bumping into the notion of "adulthood" a lot recently -- usually when castigating myself for (what I consider to be) my own puerile or juvenile reactions to life. But what does it mean to be an adult? Obviously, I am referring to emotional, intellectual, and moral adulthood, and not physical (a lot of adults are not "adult.")

When I exhort myself to act like an adult, I think I am demanding that I be more emotionally graceful, patient with other people, and more okay with myself and my life than I actually am. That I deal with things that upset me in a more modulated manner. And that I get less upset to start with. (For the record, I am reasonably good at restraining my juvenile emotions -- but I wish that I didn't feel them. I've also got major depressive disorder and bad self-esteem, which I'm working on, but I think it has had a stunting effect on my emotional maturity).

It has occured to me that a lot of adulthood may be predicated on being secure with your place in the world; your more "mature" interactions with the world may have to do with the fact that you have yourself pretty much resolved. But then, do juvenile feelings and behavior

I realize I haven't gotten this very well thought out. I'd stem from insecurity? I'd appreciate other ideas on the matter. Extra gratitude to those who can tell me how to get more adult, and quickly.
posted by bluenausea to Human Relations (48 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why do you want to be more "adult"? What's the importance of this particular word to you?
posted by Malad at 7:02 AM on May 9, 2007


I always felt I'd be a proper adult when I had a job, my own flat, paid bills, and did other grown up things like that.

but I do all that now (well, kind of!) and still don't feel like a grown up.

In short, I don't think you ever really do. and I don't know that it matters so much.
posted by jonathanstrange at 7:05 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


To me being an adult has meant being prepared for little things that come along, and more importantly chaning behaviour when I relialize that I am not prepared.

The list that follows is "grown-up stuff", it may sound trivial, but whatever.

Grownups have:
umbrellas
nice tote/briefcase
a basic tool kit
scotch tape and a stapler
the ability to change a tire
a tire gauge and jumper cables in the trunk
Decent pens
something to write on
a calendar
the ability to read a map and take a train/bus to wherever they are going
The ability to articulate their thoughts to someone else without getting visibly angry/sad/bitchy.
all their tax/real estate/insurance papers together and safe
have at least one pair of shoes that cost over $50
know how to dress/speak appropriately for different occasions
a good handle on how much money goes out in relation to how much goes in.
etc
etc
etc
posted by stormygrey at 7:12 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


IMO, there are two things that make you be "an adult":

1. You are comfortable with who you are as a person, and recognize your flaws and work to improve them.

2. You think about others before you think about yourself (others could be family, friends, even co-workers and strangers).

Many people (myself included) aren't fully "adults" by these definitions, at least not all the time. The fact that you ask this question says that you are trying to work towards reaching these goals, so I would say that it is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it isn't something you can "get quickly". Figure out what the thing you are least happy with about yourself and work to make it better. It takes time, but that's what life is about.
posted by jtfowl0 at 7:14 AM on May 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


For me, being an adult is something that everyone has to learn themselves. Some people don't ever learn it and I've seen some very immature "adults" in my day. It also encompasses all of what's been said previously.

But, if I had to sum up in one word it would be responsibility. You are responsible for your actions and their consequences and for the people who rely on you, be they friends or family or coworkers. Good luck.
posted by LunaticFringe at 7:17 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm going to throw some random observations out there. Take with a giant pinch of salt.

Maturity is a process, not a state. You're never going to "get there" as long as you're still learning and growing. I hope you never stop learning and growing.

An extended childhood is an extraordinary thing. Take a look at some of the pictures of WWI soldiers going off to war. Everyone's reaction today is "they were so young!" As long as you don't abuse the privilege society will let you play and learn and generally behave like a child right out until your mid-20s and even beyond. Forget the angst, grab an opportunity that none of your ancestors had and don't let go.

The chemicals sloshing around your brain have more influence than you think. I've never met a teenage boy who could really feel empathy (myself included), but most of them managed it both before and after puberty. You can't force your brain chemistry to be that of a 40-year-old, so why try?
posted by Leon at 7:18 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


We define what it means to be a grown-up
posted by unixrat at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2007 [11 favorites]


For me, being an adult means doing what you have to do to take care of yourself and the people around you. I finally felt like an adult when I stopped dwelling so much on my own feelings and insecurities and started concentrating on my responsibilities. I don't mean to sound harsh...it's just that I've always felt juvenile when fretting about my own development and I've always felt adult when I take on responsibility at work or at home.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:22 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


To me, being an adult means consistently acting out of love and not out of fear. Unfortunately it seems that very few people achieve the kind of confidence that is needed in order to reach that state, I certainly haven't (yet). I guess doing at least one love-motivated thing every day would be a start.
posted by teleskiving at 7:28 AM on May 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


In my mid-30s here. I like to think I'm a lot more well-adjusted now than I was in my teens/early 20s, and there are a few key things that I've realized.

First, teens/young adults often tell themselves, and others, that they don't care what anyone else thinks of them, when in fact they desparately care what everyone else thinks of them. Now, first, I actually do care somewhat less what people think of me than I did when I was in my teens, but second--and much more importantly--I admit to myself that to some extent I still do care what other people think of me, and I accept that part of myself, and acknowledge that my decisions are to some extent influenced by how other people will view them. And I'm fine with that.

The other thing that's really helped my growth into an adult is learning to pick my battles. That many things are not worth arguing about, even when I know I'm in the right and the other person is wrong. (Don't look through my posting history for evidence of this; I do better in real life at this than I do here at MeFi, really!)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:29 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I personally think xkcd says it best.

In my opinion, adulthood isn't all about maturity or paying bills or cleaning toilets or holding down a job or not making/laughing at poop jokes. It's about having reasonable reactions to life situations. Your only method of transportation breaks down right before you're going to buy an expensive entertainment item? Well, you fix the car. Maybe as a juvenile, you'd buy the entertainment item instead.

Being an adult is partially sacrificing what you want for what you need sometimes, but it's a lot more than just that.

I can tell you that it's not about being stuffy and lacking a sense of humor. Personally, I think those people are more immature since they're acting the way others expect them to act, rather than in a reasonable way. Being serious all the time isn't reasonable; but laughing at everything all the time isn't either.

Does this make sense?

Anyway, I really don't know exactly what reactions you deem immature, so I can't really say much else except that "maturity" is overrated. I'd rather laugh at a poop joke than be all stuffy and humorless.

Of course, this is all coming just from my own experiences, so YMMV
posted by Verdandi at 7:29 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm working on something stabilizing, "grown-up-ish." Patience, honesty, and good communication.

I'm trying to know myself, to be honest with myself and with the people close to me. Honest in terms of solid communication, not in terms of hurtful "brutal honesty." Trying to find solutions in interactions that benefit all participants.

Trying to be generous, kind, and as thoughtful to others as people are to me when I most appreciate them.
posted by entropone at 7:34 AM on May 9, 2007


You make your own dentist appointments. And you go.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:38 AM on May 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'd recommend reading David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, esp. this part:

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
posted by mattbucher at 7:43 AM on May 9, 2007 [14 favorites]


Do what you must when you must.
Do what you want when you can.

Know the difference.
posted by jaded at 7:48 AM on May 9, 2007 [7 favorites]


having to deal with bad shit happening to your loved ones or to you personally is instrumental in quickly growing the fuck up. it is also not advisable.
posted by matteo at 7:55 AM on May 9, 2007


1. No public temper tantrums.
2. No spending all your money on candy and then eating it.
3. No crying when you don't get your way.
4. No expecting anyone else to feed you or take care of you.
posted by ewkpates at 8:02 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I am reasonably good at restraining my juvenile emotions -- but I wish that I didn't feel them It's the self-restraint that's the important part of being adult. This is a specific instance a more general adult trait: the ability to anticipate the consequences of your actions, act accordingly, and take responsibility for them.

So it might be nice to not experience those juvenile emotions in the first place, but I don't think that's the determing factor in adhulthood here.
posted by adamrice at 8:07 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of being a grown up is about going the extra mile: giving someone a head's up, sending a thank you card, returning a phone call when it's not required. I don't even like going the first mile, half the time, but when I push myself to do more I often feel really good and mature, like my life would be much easier if I did this all the time.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:12 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


As a 43 year old going on 17, this is a tough question to answer but I'll try. Things that tell me I'm an adult:

1. I know my limitations and although I may be uncomfortable with some of them, I don't wear it on my sleeve.

2. I own a home. Materialistic? Yes but it's a far cry from the days of impermanence when I could (and did on many occasions) say "fuck it", pack a box and go find a new place to crash - sometimes in the course of 24 hours.

3. I have a kid. Again, this may rankle a few but for me it was the ultimate test in taking the focus off self which is traditionally seen as a twenty-something trait, and placing it on something larger than me. It forced me to look at my/our future in a more serious manner; something I didn't give a shit about in my twenties.

4. I'm a little more hunched over than in my svelte early 90s self and have much less hair. My vision isn't what it used to be and some nights I'd rather sleep than do the nasty. Sad, yes but it's a reality that I have no control over. My days of pulling down some 20 year old tang after a night of sushi are over.

Things that tell me there's a 17 year old inside, trying to break out:

1. I eat a bowl of cereal and call it a meal.

2. I stay up til' 2:00 am goofing off on the internet

3. Sometimes I forget to pay a bill.

4. Sometimes when my wife and I fight, I slam doors instead of talk.

5. Etc...

Point being, you will always be somewhat of a man-child. The stuff I do that I'd consider immature, I won't beat myself up over because you gotta have a little fun and live dangerously but - and here's the "adult" part - you have to do it sensibly. Never let these two states of being intermingle with each other for too long. Pick your spots. As you grow older, those spots will become more evident. That, to me, is a sign of adulthood. Damn, I want some cereal now! ;)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:21 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


being an adult means doing what you have to do to take care of yourself and the people around you.
christinetheslp has it.

You're an adult when you suck it up and do what you have to do, even when it's unpleasant, without anyone telling you to.

Clean your own bathroom, rather than leaving it hoping that someone else will do it. Clean up after your friend who got sick all over the bathroom. Go visit your demented elderly relative. Show up for a memorial service, even if you're not sure what to say. Keep up the maintenance on your car or house. Take on a task at work that you know will be a pain, but it's your turn in the rotation. Break up with the person you know you're not really that into, rather than trying to goad them into breaking up with you. When you're talking on the phone to someone, don't be making faces that ridicule them to the person you're physically with.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:22 AM on May 9, 2007


Being an adult means getting to be a kid whenever you want.

I think what you're really asking is how not to be immature. I dont think anyone ever really considers themselves to be an 'adult', you're either still young, maybe with the responsibilities of adulthood and then one day you wake up and 'omg I'm old'.

Being an adult really just means you're over a certain age (whatever that age is in your country) then legally, you're an adult. You can be an adult without being mature or responsible.

My partner is in his 30s but he still giggles at Bevis and Butthead and can be very immature but that doesnt make him any less of an adult, he can be sensible and mature when he needs to be.

There is no easy answer to becomming an adult, for starters, what makes you think that you're not an adult?

Having a mature/adult attitude doesnt mean completely suppressing immature thoughts, just knowing when it is necessary/appropriate to do so.

I'd say the fastest way to adulthood is to get a house, a wife/husband and a child - throw yourself in the deepend and you'll either sink or swim.

But perhaps the real answer is why should you care? 'Adult' is just a perception. It seems to me like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to 'grow up', maybe it isnt your time yet? Unless your behaviour is particularly inappropriate, then just let yourself develop naturally. You will become an adult when you need to and if your public behavior is particularly inappropriate then you should probably discuss it with your therapist
posted by missmagenta at 8:31 AM on May 9, 2007


Since you're comfortable with introspection, how about this excellent book.
posted by Phred182 at 8:47 AM on May 9, 2007


For me a big part of being an adult is accepting the consequences of, and responsibility for, my decisions, even (especially) where those decisions have turned out to be unwise.
posted by essexjan at 8:48 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


In many cultures that preceded ours, there were myriad traditions, rites of passage through which young people became fully realized adults. These rituals could include a period of preparation, periods of isolation, a physical and/or emotional trial, and finally a celebration. At the end of such a ritual, the person in question was to shed the behaviors of youth and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. He or she is left with no uncertainty about what being an adult means.

In our current culture, there is essentially no analogue for this. The transition from youth to adulthood is gradual, and may happen much slower than it would have in earlier cultures. Our concept of freedom brings with it the responsibility of finding your own way toward your own definition of adulthood. It's been called the paradox of choice, that is, that the more freedom (choices) you are given, the less likely you are to be happy with what you've chosen. Since there is no obvious definition of adulthood, you're forced to confront yourself: to what ideals do you hold yourself?

I'm reading a book right now, which I highly recommend to you, called Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. The book presumes a certain level of open-mindedness regarding spirituality and consciousness; it's common today to be biased against this, so I'm not sure how well you'll receive this. The author presents methods for confronting your soul (your inner nature) and discovering your purpose. He refers to the modern concept of adulthood as your "first adulthood," a sort of adolescence in which you appear adult, but are not a fully realized person. At some point, you'll hopefully undergo a metamorphosis in which your self-centered ego dies and your true nature takes hold. The book contains stories of many people going through these changes, and presents a variety of techniques for following the path yourself.

I write all this as someone who has long felt as you do. Something inside me has always insisted that there must be something more than this. I'm just beginning to explore the techniques for soul encounter, but I'm still a novice. I'm also coming at this as someone who's been an atheist and a skeptic for years, for whatever that's worth.

Good luck!
posted by knave at 8:49 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]



Do what you must when you must.
Do what you want when you can.

Know the difference
What Jaded says.

Hopefully you will always be able to be amazed/fascinated/enchanted by the world around you - in short enjoy life like a child.

But as adult you know how privileged you are to do so and that sometimes you have to pass on the fun stuff!
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:53 AM on May 9, 2007


I think real adults take responsibility for and clean up their own messes (emotional, domestic, culinary, environmental, whatever), unless physically or mentally incapacitated. Juveniles, whatever their physical ages, make someone else clean up after them.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:01 AM on May 9, 2007


IMO, the most salient thing about your post is [paraphrasing] your "wish that you didn't feel your juvenile emotions".

To me the biggest difference between an adult and child's perspective is that as an adult, you realize that you are not in charge of what you feel, but you are in charge of how you act. All feelings are legit. Not all acts are.

At the point where reason wins more often than emotion, you are on the threshold of adulthood. You can hurry it a little, but it mostly comes from age and observation, with a big dollop of self control if you can manage to scrape it up when needed. I'll bet you can see a trend in your behavior over time if you examine it. There are probably a lot of examples you can identify of when you were acting 'adult' as you define it. Think of it as playing piano... almost everyone benefits from practice. Give it some time and work on it.

The biggest challenge of aging is not to let adulthood get in the way of fun, love, growth, risk, happiness, joy, giving, and feeling. Giving the healthy child within a chance to express itself from time to time is essential to keeping the adult healthy and happy.

Good luck!
posted by FauxScot at 9:14 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


It has occured to me that a lot of adulthood may be predicated on being secure with your place in the world

you are already well on your way
posted by caddis at 9:31 AM on May 9, 2007


Want to be an adult? Have a kid, or just borrow one for a while. The differences become painfully obvious. We often have babysitters that are in high school come over and I find that I absolutely cannot relate to them in any way.

That's how I know I am an adult.
posted by quibx at 9:32 AM on May 9, 2007


Adult is a term that describes behavior. Simply put, adults act and react with kindness, compassion, and reason.
posted by mharper3 at 9:43 AM on May 9, 2007


I think part of being an adult is balancing the ability to change your mind and the ability to express it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:22 AM on May 9, 2007


Adult is a term that describes behavior. Simply put, adults act and react with kindness, compassion, and reason.

My 4 year old acts and reacts with these behaviors. I don't think your definition stands.

My internal maturity clock stopped at about 9. I freely admit that one of my goals in having children was so I'd have someone with whom I wouldn't have to excuse my love of Legos.

I personally resent anything in my life that society has told me defines me as an adult: Obligations to work, responsibilities as a citizen, paying my freaking taxes, doing the dishes, etc. I think any other definition based on age is arbitrary.

Personally, I'd rather be defined as an adult by my ability and inclination to be a caring daddy. Any man with a few spare sperm out there can be a father -- I'm a freaking playground.

If you feel that the only way you can be externally defined as an adult is by doing all the mundane things that other "adults" are required to do, then I say you need to reject that definition.

Me? I think I'm taking the kids out for ice cream this afternoon, and you can't stop me from getting a cone myself and not using a napkin.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:44 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I live in a rural location and, on my journeys this time of year, see lots of young animals. It's currently lambing season, for example, and a few horses have foals.

Young animals spend their time feeding and playing. I'm always surprised by how much young animals play. For carniverous animals, this is all about rehersal for hunting. I've no idea why herbivores play so much.

The other day I saw a group of lambs playing "King of the castle" on a mound of earth. One would climb up, and the one at the top would push her off. It was funny but really hard to understand on an evolutionary basis.

What's also fascinating is the stage at which animals stop being young. I've never seen it happen, but one day they must just stop playing. And start being older.

Adult animals spend their time eating and, if food isn't available, staring into the distance (or staring at me, staring at them). I sometimes see adult horses playing together, but it's only every now and again, and it seems to be more like exercise (running from one end of the field to the other). Most of the time they eat.

Ummm... I'm not sure what the wisdom is here. Eat something?

Maybe maturity is a state of mind. I think being mature is a lot harder work than being young, and that's probably a good indicator of maturity—are you faced with really difficult decisions for which there is no answer? Then you're an adult. All the rest is periphery.
posted by humblepigeon at 10:45 AM on May 9, 2007 [8 favorites]


One indicator of adult maturity is finding stuff interesting that used to bore us to tears as kids. No1 for me is museums and art galleries.

I've recently discovered the difference between enjoyment and fun. I always thought they were the same thing but I can enjoy something without it being fun (ie something that's hard work but fulfilling). I think that's the kind of thing you start to realize as you mature.
posted by humblepigeon at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2007


I think being an adult means being solely responsible for your own happiness, and not placing the burden of that on anyone else, a parent with whom you have unresolved issues, a spouse, a job, etc.

You are aware that you are the one in control of your life's choices, and that is both a very empowering and highly terrifying thing to realize.
posted by np312 at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


My boyfriend is more of an adult than most people I've ever known (and he's only 24, which makes me feel bad about myself). I think what's really striking about him is that if there's something that needs to be done, he'll do it even if it isn't necessarily fair or his turn. Also, he doesn't hold any opinion that he hasn't thought through carefully and logically, and when he decides that his thoughts were incorrect, he changes his opinion.
posted by crinklebat at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


One thing that I learned long AFTER becoming an adult is the fine art of being accepting of oneself while at the same time striving to be better. You are "castigating" and "exhorting" yourself to be better. It doesn't work to demand that you be more okay with yourself - you get there by relaxing, accepting and forgiving but sometimes with the thought "I'm learning from this - next time I would like to do it differently."

Another thought that might be useful is to recognize that this is a life-long process. If you hope to be a better, more mature person at 50 than you were at 20, that means that you need to cut the 20-year-old some slack . After all, if the 20 year old had the wisdom of the 50 year old, that would mean that you had been stagnating for the thirty years in between.
posted by metahawk at 12:17 PM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


You have your entire life to be an adult. Adults get old and then they die.

Stay young.

(but make sure you take responsibility for your actions and keep obligations)
posted by ZackTM at 12:22 PM on May 9, 2007


I think an adult has the confidence and the ability to rely upon himself or herself for anything other than companionship.

I am not encouraging anyone to live a solitary life (no man is an island, as it is said), but when you start taking care of things for yourself, that is when you are no longer a child.

When you can face any problem and intuitively say "yeah, I know how to go about tackling that... maybe i'll succeed, maybe I won't, but I know how to try, and its up to me", then you are adult.

When a child (or child-like adult) faces a problem, the first question is "who can fix this for me?" or "who can help me with this?"

I should add I know many "adults" who's reaction to problems is most assuredly child-like.

Semi-relatedly, Benjamin Barber's latest book "Consumed" has a great chaper on the infantalization of adults in modern society... his classical example is Shaq, who for his 25th bday or something had all the elements of a party that we would associate with 9 year olds -- cake, balloons, superman posters, etc.
posted by modernnomad at 12:33 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Like more than one person above, I also would say taking responsibility for your actions is the difference between childishness and maturity.

People are different from animals in that we can still be childlike, at any age (if we're lucky). Not playing anymore doesn't make you an adult. Doing what's right for yourself and the people around you does.
posted by mattpfeff at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2007


According to the seminal transactional psychology book, "Games People Play," there are three distinct states that people exist in: child, adult, and parent. We are not locked in these states. Life would be pretty fucked up if we were. Instead, we have situations where we transition into one of these states. Just because you're of adult age does not mean you can not engage in play, which is a child state activity. Also, just because you're a child does not mean you're not able to make rational decisions, a hallmark of adult behavior. To be a mentally healthy person, you should understand when to transition into the appropriate mental state for the situation. Being an adult just means behaving rationally. If you're not sure what this entails, find people who you consider to be rational and spend time with them.
posted by mullingitover at 1:39 PM on May 9, 2007


I knew that I had achieved adulthood when I found myself saying things like "Turn that music down!" and "Slow down, you'll crash the car!" and "Get off my lawn!"

Mostly this happened after I got a major promotion at work and also bought a house.

But a lot of adulthood comes simply from the accumulation of years and therefore experience. With the passage of time, you learn to show up early at the airport instead of the last minute, but you also learn what to do if you miss your flight. You achieve an ability to drive long distances in silence without the radio/CD player blaring because you have plenty to think about. You realize the benefit of car/home/appliance maintenance to lessen the chance of expensive repairs arising from neglect. You understand what home equity means. As someone above noted, you know how to pick your fights and when not to sweat the small stuff.

Also you know when you've reached adulthood because you start regretting the missed opportunities of your youth.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 1:52 PM on May 9, 2007


I think you might not know when you're growing up, until you look back on it. When I was 18 I started having more responsibilities, college, work, and such, and I thought of myself as an adult. Now that I'm 27, I look back and realize that I really didn't start becoming an adult until I was 22-23. My behaviors, heck, my whole world view changed.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, for me it was realizing that I listen to NPR, clip coupons, and enjoy stationary. YMMV.
posted by nerdcore at 4:50 PM on May 9, 2007


It was when I had graduated from college and begun working in a professional, structured office environment that I realized there is no such thing as adulthood. Adults are only adults in the eyes of children. I have worked with people of various ages and backgrounds and have seen in them wildly varying degrees of maturity, wisdom, and personal responsibility, unrelated to having children, owning homes, maintaining successful careers, or possessing other commonly accepted trappings of adulthood.

Ultimately, I've decided it's more important to be a self-actualized person than an adult. It doesn't matter how I live my life or even how I interact with the people and situations in it. Am I more consistently "me" now than I was five years ago? Do I know myself, and am I able to identify my strengths and weaknesses and operate effectively within those parameters? I really don't worry about whether I'm operating effectively for a a particular age. As long as you have your shit together, and you're not a burden on someone else, you're fine.
posted by lunalaguna at 7:00 PM on May 9, 2007 [13 favorites]


In short, I don't think you ever really do. and I don't know that it matters so much.

I dunno, I think you definitely change as you age, anyway. Whether there is a line you cross that we can call "adulthood" is another question, but I am in my early-mid thirties now, and I no longer feel the need to say I'm not an adult... In my twenties I would joke about how we're all playing grown-up, or there's really no such thing, but these days I forget to joke about that, just doesn't really seem relevant - I'm not even sure what I thought I meant.

In my mid-late twenties I went through a couple somewhat difficult things, and I do feel like I was quite different at 25 and at 30, but I don't know if that's because of stuff I went through, or the change of age. The biggest difference for me is that I know I used to care a lot more about what other people thought, whereas I really think much less about that now. I'm not saying I have no interest in human opinion, but just that I would never feel self-conscious about going out for dinner alone or something like that. I care what people think insofar as it is relevant to my life - ie, what to wear to a job interview is something I will think about, although not purely to please the interviewer, as my own preferences for workplace attire are also part of the equation (as the interview is also a way for me to present who I am to them, etc). But I don't care what people think just as observers of me. It seems utterly unimportant if members of the general population will consider me a loser if I go to see a movie alone, for instance.

Another one that seems like a big change is self-pity - I think I used to spend a lot more time moping about what was wrong in my life and not recognizing my own responsibility for it - imagining that I was just unlucky or life was unfair or whatever. Well, sure, but that's how it is; you've gotta get over that and work with what you've got (and if you've got a life in the western world yadda yadda, you've reallly got plenty).

I don't know if these things in themselves are signs of being an adult, but I do know that their absence in people who are meant to be grown up is a sign of immaturity. Being comfortable with, confident about and responsible for who you are seems to me to be an important aspect of reaching a certain level of maturity.

And in a way, I don't know that you can force that to happen. It's easy to claim that you're comfortable, confident and responsible - I think I always thought I was, more or less. It's only in retrospect that I see a difference. But even saying that seems condescending to younger people, even though obviously I was a younger person too and obviously becoming an older person involves no greater skill than continuing to exist, etc... It's just the weird dynamic of presuming your experience is anything like what someone else's will be, I guess.
posted by mdn at 8:33 PM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Being a kid often means having fun now fucktheconsequences and thinking you are (or wishing you were) the bestestcoolesthottesthippest kid in your very thin slice of your very thin stratum of society.

You're probably an adult when you stop worrying so much about fashion, about pointlessly keeping up with all the unimportant things, and you start concentrating on the long term. Groceries rather than snacks. Retirement savings and house payments and college savings (to make your current or future family secure and happy) come before buying a motorcycle for the weekends. Visiting your family rather than going on a road trip to see your favorite band play 13 cities. Ecology rather than waste. Using something until it breaks rather than just until the next model comes out. Staying home because you like staying home because you've made a good home.

From a kid's point of view, such an adult is "settling for" mundane, normal life, something a lot of them will scorn until they do it themselves, but it means you're thinking ahead and thinking of others, things kids often have a hard time doing.

(By the way, adults want you damn kids to stay off their lawns because adults have worked hard for a long time to pay for the homes that came with the lawns they take such good care of so their grandchildren will be able to crawl around in soft, thick grass without finding themselves in mud and broken glass and dog shit and cigarette butts. Kids, who generally don't do much work and don't own anything they can't put in their pockets and just want to have fun now fucktheconsequences and fuckyougrandpa, have a hard time seeing things this way.)
posted by pracowity at 1:36 AM on May 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


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