Am I a Real Adult?

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Just because you moved out of your parents house doesn’t mean you’re a full-on adult. College is advertised as the place to find independence, maturity and adulthood. But as you sit down for dinner on the floor of your apartment, pull up Netflix on your computer and tuck into your dinner of Kraft mac and cheese, dino nuggets and a Capri Sun juice pouch, “adulthood” feels pretty unattainable.

What qualifies as “adulthood”? Is it something that can be quantified? Some people measure adulthood in legal terms.

Technically, we’re all adults in the eyes of the law when we turn 18, but I sure as hell didn’t feel like an adult as a senior in high school. At 21 you can drink alcohol and at 25 you’re finally allowed to rent a car without an age penalty fee. Are you an adult then?

Most medical studies seem to be on board with car rental agencies with 25, the age at which our brains have fully developed. Maybe Taylor Swift can write a really boring follow-up to “22” that details the ins and outs of adult responsibilities. Play that at a reasonable volume before you go to bed at 9 p.m.

Except that’s just one more misconception surrounding adulthood—that you transform into some sad, quiet homebody who forgot how to have fun. While that’s definitely me during finals week, I know that’s not the kind of adulthood I want. Sure, adulthood comes with great responsibility (great power unfortunately not included), but it also comes with the freedom to go out into the world and enjoy life.

When you’re young and new to the whole adult gig, you feel like everyone around you has all of their shit figured out and you’re the only one still microwaving Hot Pockets at two in the morning because you forgot to eat dinner. The thing is that you’re not alone.

I’m 99 percent sure one of the best kept secrets in life is that no one knows what the hell they’re doing. Everyone just pretends to know until they actually figure out adulthood. We’re all pulling long cons on each other. Suddenly, “making it up as we go along” becomes an actual life philosophy, and not just for college kids.

In one of my creative writing classes, we did an exercise that involved writing a one-sentence story, and I produced this gem: “Schrodinger’s 20s: The time when you realize you are an adult, but very much not an adult at all.”

When I got it back, my professor had written, “Bad news: This doesn’t end when you turn 30.” I remember rocking back in my chair and rereading his comment in disbelief. The idea that someone out of their 20s could still feel caught in a state of awkward pseudo-adulthood was unthinkable to me.

But then, if you’d told 12-year-old me that I wouldn’t feel like a “real adult” at 22, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I pay bills, buy my own food and mastered the basics of maintaining the necessities of life (though “mastered” may be a generous term considering how tight I am with my microwave). I’m still learning, though.

Unlike what I was led to believe, you don’t wake up and understand adulthood one day. There’s no ceremony where you get handed a briefcase and acquire a complete understanding of how a mortgage works—it’s a process. And you don’t need to lose any of your childish glee in that process either.

Adulthood doesn’t mean you can’t go see the new Star Wars movie three times in the same night; it just means you have to pay for your own tickets and popcorn. So hang in there, young padawan. You’re real and you’re an adult. One day you might even feel like one.

Senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying English with a creative writing emphasis. Lover of movie scores, thunderstorms, and superheroes. And dogs.

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