When I was 7, I defined adulthood as the day I could eat an entire batch of chocolate chip cookie dough without anyone (i.e., my mom) trying to stop me.
That day came and went, and I learned two things:
1. Eating a batch of cookie dough isn't that fun, after all.
2. Eating a batch of cookie dough does not make you an adult. It makes you sick.
I was forced to re-define my view of adulthood. Throughout my formative years I came up with a five-point definition for the term adult:
1. Has full-time career with benefits and a 401(k), whatever that is.
2. Is married.
3. Owns home and car, bought with own money.
4. Has kids.
5. Is 30 or older.
This definition was created right around the time Britney Spears was at her peak, and I thought "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" was so insightful. It spoke to my soul. All she needs is time, people! Give the girl a break.
I never considered what would happen if I became an adult purely on the basis of No. 5, which is what happened to me. According to my definition, I'm an adult now. I say this more because I'm 32 years old and less because I feel like an actual grown woman. In fact, every time I refer to myself as a woman it makes me cringe.
My first indication that others viewed me as an adult was when I was 26. I was in England, getting off a crowded bus to check out some Guy Fawkes fireworks. I stopped to let a child and her mother exit in front of me. The girl tugged on her mom's sleeve.
"That lady was nice, wasn't she, mum? She let us get out."
I almost fell over. Lady? Ladies wore floral frocks and white gloves. Ladies were not young and carefree, as I was. I wasn't a lady. I was a... girl? No. Woman? Maybe, but it didn't feel right. Britney Spears? No.
Oh my god. I was a lady. It was a reality check.
Does That Make Me An Adult?
Now I'm at an age that teenagers perceive as old, but older people see as young. People often tell me that I don't look 32. They follow this up by saying, "That's a good thing!" because I'm never sure if I've been offered a backhanded compliment and the person's never sure if they've offended me or not.
News flash, people: I do look 32. This is what a 32-year-old lady/woman looks like. We aren't all the same and there is no mold. Adulthood doesn't look or feel that different from ladyhood or even girlhood, which makes it really confusing to figure out where you stand.
I'm still not convinced that I'm an adult, but the numbers don't lie. So I made a list of recent actions from the past couple of years and determined whether or not they were "adult."
Did my own taxes with the help of Turbo Tax. (Adult)
Paid off credit card debt from years of reckless, un-lady-like behavior. (Adult)
Squealed uncontrollably when I saw a moth in the apartment. (Non-adult)
Got a Master's Degree. (Adult)
It was in Travel Writing. (Non-adult)
Debate cancelling my Facebook account. (Adult)
Can't bear to go through with it. (Non-adult)
Made cookie dough. Ate one-third of batch because I'm my own boss. (Adult)
Felt sick. (Non-adult)
Baked one-third of batch, froze one-third of batch. (Adult)
Ate frozen one-third the following day. Felt sick. (Non-adult)
As you can see, my system is somewhat flawed.
So I re-read this article in the New York Times about the changing nature of adulthood. I was curious about the "the five milestones to adulthood," but then I saw that the article was 10 pages long and I just don't have that kind of attention span these days. (Non-adult)
Which made me realize: I don't really care what it means to be an adult. Because striving to be a textbook adult means adhering to a world of shoulds.
You should settle down -- aren't you tired of traveling?
You should buy a house.
You should get a long-term career.
You should save money for something sensible, like retirement.
In layman's terms: You should stop enjoying your life and start keeping up with the Joneses.
Pushing the Button
My No. 1 reason for changing my perspective on being an adult is this definition, from the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary:
Adultlike, noun: One that has arrived at full development or maturity especially in size, strength, or intellectual capacity.
In high school, my friend Ben posed this scenario: Say there is this button, right? You push it and it will transport you back to any period of your life, where you can spend the rest of your days. What year do you choose?
It blew our teenage minds. I thought about the question very seriously, as if I might one day find myself in this situation. Which of my 17 long years would I return to? Oh, the agony of choice! Then it came to me. I wouldn't push the button. Ever. No matter how good life is at any given time, I'd hate to think that I'd peaked.
That's the whole point, isn't it? The belief that life isn't going to plateau, that everything can just keep on getting better. If being "adultlike" means hitting all of the expected milestones and achieving the limits of my intellectual capacity, then I'm not really that interested.
Somebody pass this lady some cookie dough.