On Being an Adult
Starting this post by saying that I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be an adult is like pretending that I don’t think about it all the time, or that I just began to ponder if I’d every really grow up (wherever this elusive “up” should take me). The truth is much more common, I think, because I hear people talk about it all the time as they watch, as I have, their friends get married, have children, buy houses, and generally take steps that make sense accordingly to the chronology of life most of us have understood since childhood.
And here’s the thing – for all of my daydreaming, I am a pretty practical person, so I know as well as many of you do who are reading this, that “adult” is just a word, and I may never, as many never do, feel like one, but that’s not really what this is about. The question of what it means to feel like an adult isn’t rational at all, and if it was, getting married would have changed something about how I felt, big promotions at work, moving across country, large purchases, and milestone birthdays might all have nudged me toward feeling more adult that before. This question of what it means to feel like an adult is about seeking a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of calm that comes from making it to the next “level” – a kind of goal setting not unlike unlocking the door to Mario’s princess; it isn’t about whether or not it should matter, it’s that it does, somehow, and even more so because it can’t be easily defined. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure she ever wants the home or children, eliminating the options of markers along the way, the elusive title grows ever more faint and out of reach.
This is a long winded way of saying I’d almost recently succumbed to the fact that I would never feel like an “adult” regardless of age or position, and that fact, ridiculous as it may be, left me frustrated and a bit sad (though just being sad about it bothers me, too). And of course this is when the tide turns, which I am sure after all that puttering you saw coming, or maybe hoped was coming – I realized I’d had it wrong all along. This being an adult – adulting as I’ve seen on every Pinterest t-shirt – isn’t really about paying for insurance or changing a diaper or paying your mortgage. This being an adult, though I am not certain the name really makes it or matters, might not be about any of those things, but instead, how we behave, what we understand, how we treat people, how we love people, how we love ourselves.
I downloaded the first episode of Lena Dunham’s new podcast on a whim, searching for something different to listen to, but assuming it would be great, but necessarily my taste in the end. The episode is all about friendship, with stories that were lovely and witty, but it was one line, the first of this post, that set off a light bulb in my mind and left me running home to grab my computer and write. “The most adult and beautiful thing…” she says, and it’s in that moment that the word “adult” is used for the first time, finally, in a way I am elated to hear, and it’s something I want to be again, an aspiration instead of a social status. “…that we can do for each other” she continues, and that’s when it hits me, though I knew it when I was little watching my mother, unwavering to my childhood pleas to hate this person or that for being mean or stupid or weird, bringing me back, constantly, to the middle, where I suspended judgment long enough to understand where the other person is coming from, and then inevitably longer because once you understand, it’s nearly impossible to keep on with your quick, short sighted, though immediately comforting judgments. It’s so easy to say someone is mean and awful after they’ve said something hurtful, but before you’ve taken the moment to find them, listen to them, and to see them again on the terms of their life and not yours.
I am realizing as I write this that you might have already come to the same conclusion that is now hitting me, that you knew, all along, that the act of becoming an “adult” if we have to title it (which, come on, some times we do), might have nothing to do with a list of the external statuses we so often measure or fret over, and instead rests on the way we are willing to engage with the world around us.
I love the idea that more than paying my bills (which I gratefully do), or being married (which I happily am), or having children (which I willingly decline), the act of listening, really listening to someone, and letting them bring their full selves to the table without judgment might be the most “adult” thing I can do this year.
I love how beautiful and important it is to care about people enough to let them be themselves. I love that how by doing just that I might, in glimpses, be that “adult” I’ve been questioning if I could ever be.
And here’s the thing: I might be more of an adult, if we’re to agree to these terms, that I ever thought I was, and that’s a good feeling, regardless of how much I want not to care at all.
In just about two weeks a very talented guy will come to our home with a camera in order to capture who I am and why I do what I do, why I love what I love, make what I make, teach what I teach, and all I’ve been able to think since I found out is this: oh no, he’ll see how un-adult our life is. I wish I hadn’t typed that, but even more so, I wish it wasn’t true, but the reality is that I’ve been worried we’re living in limbo in our rented apartment without solid plans to move on, knee deep in a combination of our neighborhood haunts (bookshops, and wine bars, and coffee shops, oh my!), and all I will be showing is a girl with too many Legos, too many books, too many dreams, and too few plans.
Tonight, I’ve been thinking about this differently, and my hope for what he’ll see, and maybe capture on film, are different, too. Maybe in the end I will be the girl who lives an incredible full life with her husband in the middle of the city she loves, knee deep in a neighborhood she knows by heart, and a surrounded by the things she loves, no matter what they are, and this feels so different, and better.
Here’s what I know to be true: life is how we are willing to see it, and often, it’s how we are willing to define it, and I am choosing today to see and define mine as complicated and beautiful, and if I am going to be an adult, may I be the kind that listens.