Ask any Confirmed Adult when they knew they had leapt the threshold from baby child into responsible human, and they will probably say something along the lines of:
Wait, who told you I was an adult?
I have no idea what I’m doing.
Why are you looking at me like that?
Very reassuring! Excellent fodder for my night sweats! The nebulous nature of adulthood seems very pressing at the moment, as I am knee-deep in an anxiety swamp about my seemingly stagnant career, and have an open ovulation kit in the bathroom and an extra bedroom we’ve started calling “the nursery,” even though currently its only contents are seven vintage silk slips I bought off a woman standing on a street corner and a broken baby-blue typewriter.
The fears are real, and gnawing: That I won’t ever know if what I am doing is right or simply easy; that my decisions are not made of a hard-earned mixture of wisdom and self-knowledge, but were rather rash, impetuous, and wholly incorrect. With each year that passes — and I’ve lived a lot of them! — I grow more and more certain of only one thing, and that is that I will never feel like a grown up.
I haven’t landed my dream job or bought a house, and even my marriage seems sometimes like a thing another version of me did, one that thought, Sure, I understand the serious implications of hitching myself to another person for the rest of our lives. So in the absence of any adulthood metrics, I’ve started looking for other measures of growth, small signposts that signal change — anything to reassure me I might be moving in the right direction. Such as:
Embracing humiliation. I auditioned for a choir this past year. It was horrible! But now, once a week, I get to sit in a room and sing with other humans, and that feels amazing. Over the past few years I’ve done things I would never have had the gumption to do when I was younger, like take a Beyoncé dance class, or use the word “gumption” in an article that other, much-cooler individuals will read. But there’s true beauty in realizing no one is watching to see if you’ll fail, because we’re all too worried about our own failures to look up.
Taking food out of the Tupperware before heating it up. Did you know you were supposed to do this? I did, but also, I’m hungry. This year, however, I got a bit of cancer, and while I’m completely fine, I have committed to taking the extra two seconds required to dump my three-day-old soup into a bowl before shoving it into the microwave. Caring for your old bag of bones is important. (See also: Remembering to pack your own water bottle when you travel.)
Telling a stranger I love her skirt. It’s such a nice thing to do and it feels so good when someone does it to me and no one has ever thought I was too weird for doing this and even if they do, so what???
Wearing the wrong thing because it feels right. When I was living in New York I started a practice I called Sequin Sundays, wherein I wore sequins on Sundays. I wore sequins to the laundromat or to the Key Foods or to the dive bar for an afternoon hot toddy. I was trying to balance my fear of overdressing with my desire to be happy, and thankfully, my hunger for happiness won out. On that note, there’s a dress you love deeply hiding in the back of your closet because your mom told you it didn’t flatter you, and I think you should wear it today.
Quitting a book I don’t like halfway through. THERE’S JUST NOT ENOUGH TIME.
Throwing away the apple sticker rather than just leaving it on the kitchen counter because I simply couldn’t be bothered and what’s one sticker, anyway? There are probably lots of things you meant to do that you haven’t done yet. Doing one little one, though, like tossing that apple sticker in the garbage, or putting the spoon in the dishwasher rather than in the sink, could be a sign that your relationship to procrastination has started shaking hands with follow-through.
Letting my body have what it wants. I’ve recently started adding an extra spoonful of sugar to my tea, because that spoonful won’t make a difference, because I like it a little sweet, because at 34, my body knows what feels good, even if my brain tries to fool it sometimes. This could be letting yourself have ice cream for breakfast and then remembering there’s a reason you don’t have ice cream for breakfast. It could be giving yourself a bedtime because sleep feels delicious, like being wrapped in a cloud of fur by your favorite Game of Thrones sex object. Getting older means paying closer attention to what your body craves, and quieting the voices that want you to believe they know better.
Accepting ignorance. I’ve never seen The Sopranos, but I guarantee that if you asked me about it five years ago, I would have nodded along and pretended I had. No more! It’s nice to accept that there are things that are categorically not for you, or that you may have missed through the course of your extremely busy life. A strong shrug feels good, like giving your shoulders a little massage. Nope, never heard of that documentary. Shrug. Guess I didn’t read that New Yorker article. Shrug. Yeah, everyone keeps saying Breaking Bad redefined the genre, but it’s just Not My Thing. Shrug. The world is large and luminous, and part of growing up is accepting you can only eat so much of it, and you get to decide what tastes best.
And you? What in your life has signaled real change? How do you know you’re growing up?
Collage by Madeline Montoya.