Friday, August 20, 2010

"Emerging Adulthood" (or a Reflection on a NYTimes Article)

According to some Sociologists (or at least the ones the NYTimes works with) there are fives stages or milestones that I have to tick off my to-do list before I can consider myself fully "adult". These are: 

1.) Completing School (no mention if this means HS, Undergraduate or Graduate school...I'll go ahead and count this one as completed.) CHECK!

2.) Leaving Home (now I've done this a few times, have come back and now am trying to leave again. Hm? Maybe I'll give myself this as 1/2 a mark.) half a CHECK!

3.) Becoming financially independent of parents (now this one I know I'm good one) CHECK!

4.) Getting married (nope.)

5.) Having children (do my cats count? Probably not.)
Well there you have it, with only 2 1/2 out of 5 milestones - I'm not an adult, can I go back to bed now?

*     *     *

No, in all fairness the article does go on to say, "Some never achieve all five milestones, including those who are single or childless by choice, or unable to marry even if they wanted to because they're gay.   Others reach milestones completely out of order, advancing professionally before committing to a monogamous relationship, having children young and marrying later, leaving school to go to work and returning to school long after becoming financially secure."

Reading the article did bring up some interesting internal questions and conundrums. 

Why are these the milestones I (and other 20-somethings) must check off our lists before being no longer a "young-adult" or having crossed the "Emerging Adulthood" line and into "Adulthood"?

Where are the milestones of being happy with who I am? About confident and comfortable in my own skin? Where's the checklist that includes surviving your parent's divorce and not letting it impact every adult romance you encounter? Why are archaic, and downright selfish, life goals still being used to determine where I am in life? 

I'm not saying that the mid-late 20s aren't an individual development stage.  I'm not arguing that scientists shouldn't be studying our brains and determining if physically and psychologically we are still in transition. But leave the Silent Generation social standards out of it!

"It's somewhat think about all the things I'm supposed to be doing in order to 'get somewhere' successful: 'Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financially responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition' When is there time to just be and enjoy?"  

...This is what a 25 y/o named Jennifer wrote in an anthology called "20something Manifesto" edited by an LA writer Christine Hassler (the NYTimes article doesn't mention how old Hassler is or why she created the manifesto)

See? This is what I mean. When did I miss the handout that said I had to do all these things in life? Did I miss that day in school somewhere? Was I too busy coloring outside the lines in Kindergarten (haha who are we kidding you know I stayed inside the lines)? 

So what if 20-somethings aren't getting married (or "settled down" monogamously) until later in life? Maybe we'll start a trend of not mimicking Hollywood and marrying every wo/man that comes into our bed and then...heaven forbid...decrease the divorce rate?

Who cares if we aren't ready for children until we've crossed that 30-something marker? Maybe that means when we finally do have children won't be raising them to xenophobic  and prejudice of the unknown because we'll have had time to travel the world and explore cultures outside of our own? 

And I'd much rather start six or seven careers in my lifetime looking for one that I'm passionate about then settling into one that "makes sense" and dying of a cardiac arrest in my 50s.

*     *     *

As you continue to read the article (a whopping 10-page online article - which is long even for the wordier NYTimes) it isn't until page 10 that we read these words: 

"The 20s are when most people accumulate...their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years. This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with abandon that probably will not happen again....There is time enough for adulthood and its attendant obligations; maybe if kids take longer to choose their mates and their careers they'll make fewer mistakes and live happier lives"

Hm? Didn't I just say that?

So here I am: approaching 28 years old, thinking against graduate school, looking to move away from home for the second time, in debt but paying my own bills, and being in love with a man 7,000 miles away with no foreseen cohabitation date in place. Being 20-something may not be easy but here's the thing...I don't remember anyone promising us it was going to be.


  1. This reminds of the comment I heard this morning on the radio. The topic was children and how some 20-30 year old women are waiting to have children but feel pressured despite their internal desires. The comment was along the lines of "some people grow up, become adults and THEN have children...some people have children and then are forced to grow up and become adults, learning life's lessons along the way through trial and error." I think these milestones although somewhat ideally socially are not any measure of adulthood. Some of the most mature decisions one can ever make is to delay marriage and/or children until they are ready both emotionally and financially. We shouldn't feel that in order to be big kids now we need to have a ring and a family on the way, without the necessary foundation.

  2. Well, according to them I'm good on 1, because I'M counting highschool LOL... DEFINITELY good on 2, now I can safely say I have 3 under arm as well with my new job, and no on the later 2 so I'm 3/5 complete LOL

    I think everyone has different circumstances as to what will make them an adult, for me.

    1. is STRUGGLING, not having everything handed to you, having that experience of living paycheck to paycheck, eating a "mustard and mayonaise sandwhich" because that's all you have in the cabinet or a cup of ramen... no it's not healthy for that to be your diet, but I know so many people who never had to do that and they don't appreciate what they have near as much as I do

    2. living alone and paying my own rent and food and bills of all kinds

    3. having a car that >>I<< paid for, not one that was handed to me

    4. learning to let go of the past and the things I've done and the things that have been done to me and know that it's okay to forgive but you don't have to forget everything

    5. finding an inner peace and being "ok" with yourself even if you're the only one who is single out of all of your friends.

    I am 24 and I have soooo much growing to do still, who knows when I'll consider myself a true adult, I think I'm getting there tho, I'm a lot closer than I was 3 years ago, or even 1 year ago.

    I'd love to settle down and have a family, but I want to make sure it's done right, I want to be married and be able to support us both and have him be able to support us both too just incase something happens to one of our jobs, and I don't want kids that I can't afford.

    I don't WANT my life to be easy, I'd like a little help here and there sure, but what do I learn with an easy life? I wouldn't be the guy I am today without the past and present I've been given but not neccesarily asked for!

  3. counting high school, I'm good on all 5! Wow! they think I'm an adult? that's hillarious!