When we were little, my sister and I would play “grown-ups”. We were in our twenties, I had a boyfriend called Kevin, we lived in a cool apartment, we went to parties, and I cooked dinner on our hob, which was made out of four cd cases laid out in a square on top of my sister’s chest of drawers. As a child, there was something about the sense of freedom and power of being an adult that I was desperate to experience.
Fast forward about 15 years and I have become a bit overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the reality that I am now kind of a grown-up. And it seems like I’m not the only one – us millennials have started using the term “adulting” to navigate this new stage of our lives. It summarises all the grown-up tasks which, as kids, we were either blissfully unaware of or looking at through our childish rose-tinted glasses (probably a fisher price pair). Adulting is paying taxes, getting married and figuring out the dreaded puzzle of what we want to do with our lives. It’s the decision to buy a sofa on finance, updating our meter readings and not going out on a weeknight. Adulting is the boring or scary stuff that collectively marks the end of our youth.
We generally use the word “adulting” in conversations with other people our age and laugh and roll our eyes when we confess to spending our afternoon cleaning the house or sharing our mishaps that suggest we are not quite adults yet. But is this sense of humour just a front to hide the fact that we are adults and don’t have our shit together? Have we trapped ourselves in a state of prolonged adolescence based on our fears of not meeting the expectations of adulthood?
Us twenty-something’s are living in a very fortunate, yet confused route into adulthood these days. The freedom we now have compared to generations before us has left us without a set age or rite of passage that separates our childhood from our adulthood. When we leave school some of us go to work, some of us go to uni, some of us go travelling and figure the rest out later. So as we split off from our high school classmates, we end up in very different places to one another in the years that follow. Before we even reach our mid-twenties, people around us are doing some really grown-up shit – getting married, buying a house, having babies, setting up their own businesses, and we begin to play the comparison game. We look at ourselves, stuck in a dead-end job, still at uni, or painfully single, and see what we haven’t achieved yet in comparison to our peers, leaving us feeling like we’re not keeping up in the game of life. The concept of “adulting” ends up being used to talk sarcastically about how bad we think we are at being grown-ups or to show our reluctance; “God I hate adulting”;”adulting is so haaaard”! It becomes a sarcastic quip, and a way of poking fun at the harsh fact that we’re not where we thought we would be at this stage of our lives, and by comparing ourselves to other people our age.
Watching other people’s big life events and exciting bits of adulting play out on social media makes us resent the mundane bits of adulting that form most of our lives and just have to be done – cleaning the fridge, doing the laundry, chasing up that refund you were meant to get from TV licensing. This is the adulting that you can’t put a filter on and post to the gram. It isn’t #qualitycontent so it doesn’t make it’s way to the internet, and we feel resentful because it’s as if no one else is doing it. We don’t want to be seen as the boring grown-up, so instead of proudly owning our tiny victories of getting our shit together, we make fun of ourselves when we catch ourselves admitting to this bit of “adulting” we’ve done when we’re around others. Let me use a brief example; I was recently watching a blogger that I follow on Instagram stories, she was talking about where she got her house-plants from, and then said something along the lines of “ugh! God I’m such a boring adult!” when she realized how in-depth she had spoken about her houseplants. I was a little irritated to be honest. What’s wrong with houseplants? When did they become a signifier of boring adulthood? When did we become so embarrassed of the mundane little things that bring us joy, just because they’re not as careless and thrill-seeking as going out and getting wasted on cheap vodka?! If we do choose to get a little bit shitfaced every weekend does that make us less of an adult? What even IS adulting, in a real sense?! As we navigate our twenties, we’re constantly making uncomfortable jokes about ourselves either for being too grown-up or not grown up enough. There seems to be no winning, which is why I’m taking myself out of the race which, let’s be honest, only really exists in my head.
When I think back to my childhood, I realize that in some ways I’m kind of living the dream. I live in a flat of my own with my real boyfriend, who makes me a very happy little pudding (he isn’t called Kevin). I cook real dinners on a real hob and although I can have whatever I want for dinner, I make the decision not to live on sweets and pizza 97.5% of the time. I go out with my friends, sometimes with copious amounts of alcohol involved, but usually doing the very adult-y “getting a coffee” and “having a catch up”- a pastime I aspired to have as a child. I tidy, hoover, and do the laundry which is obviously not fun but I put my big girl pants on and do it. I have had many times where I’ve been down to my last few pounds at the end of the month. I constantly feel like I don’t have enough money and my savings account is non-existent. I’ve lived with friends, strangers, and on my own, since I was 17. I’ve graduated from university and quit the full-time retail life after a year to go back and do my master’s degree. I still don’t know a lot of things like who to call when the washing machine breaks or how to take out home insurance. I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford a house and a mortgage but I’ve travelled to London, Morocco, Australia, Iceland, Turkey and Prague without the reassuring presence of my parents. I have paid taxes and bills, taken meter readings, had multiple inner crises on what the hell I’m going to do with my life. I go through high high’s, low low’s and a sense of just going through the motions, wondering where the time goes. This is what adulting looks like to me right now, and thankfully, it’s far from over yet.