“I’m an adult, but more like an adult cat,” explains the meme. “Someone should probably take care of me, but I can sorta make it on my own.”
“I cannot adult today,” another declares.
I chime in most mornings with, “Do I have to be a human?”
There’s a whole generation of us hitting this stage—too old to pretend not to be anymore, but not really sure how to successfully adult. We navigate the dark alleys of taxes, leases, and school loans on sheer survival instinct, but we’d rather be napping in a sunny spot with some more adult-like adult preparing dinner for us. We still binge-watch Nicktoons, but now we do it in between jobs, and we feel kinda stressed about it.
Where is that magical adulthood threshold? we wonder. When will I stop feeling like a kid playing dress-up?
And yet, whether we see it or not, slowly, step by step, we wander (mostly on accident) from the playground to the workplace, from ninth grade homeroom to college graduation.
I’ve started noticing those steps.
One happened yesterday when I went to the doctor’s office all by myself. One happened two years ago when I signed my own lease and paid rent on a house all summer. One happened three years ago when I did my taxes myself for the first time; four years ago when I bought an iron; five years ago when I dealt with a fender-bender alone.
And I realise at last that there is no threshold.
There will not be the morning when I wake up and think, Ah, yes, now I’m an adult. I will not magically feel prepared or suddenly know how to navigate the world.
I will become a functional adult the way I became a functional kindergartener or a functional teenager—one tiny step at a time, so gradually I don’t notice, and mostly on accident.
Adult life, it turns out, isn’t so much different from the sixth-grade playground or the tenth-grade hallway.
I’ll make mistakes, probably walk into the wrong bathroom a time or two, lose my pencil sharpener, take notes on the wrong chapter, and recover. There will be drama and misunderstandings, laughter and in-jokes, and I will probably never stop watching cartoons or reading YA fiction.
Adulthood, I begin to understand, is not about the things you lose along the way; it isn’t about stopping eating ice-cream by the pint, giving up dumb bus games, or ending late-night giggles with friends. It’s about the things you gain along the way; it’s about taking responsibility, learning to walk alone, balancing real life and make-believe.
There is no adulthood threshold. And, really, as long as I go to work in the morning and do my taxes on time and make my own doctor’s appointments, why should I quit playing dress-up?