Being a grown-up no longer means linear progression
Having a career or a family these days is not an absolute; nor is a life filled with a pre-ordained sequence of events
o you recall the moment you entered “full adulthood”? I should, apparently, having turned 26 three weeks ago. It is at this age, a new study reports, that youngsters can lay claim to being Real-Life Adults (RLA), with plant maintenance, doing your own washing and remembering your parents’ birthdays ranking as chief signifiers. Being crushingly dull didn’t seem to make the list, though one assumes it was implied.
Half a century ago, providing for children and paying off a mortgage were more likely to trouble those who had just passed the mid-20s mark, but not today. Our notion of what constitutes adulthood is wildly off the mark. Can twenty-somethings really be considered “childish” for not owning a house spawning a few sprogs before the (once-dreaded) Three? Oh? Or is being a grown-up in 2017 best defined not by bills with your name on and a bank balance that’s not permanently in the red, but rather by how well you fend for yourself in a world in which the parameters are in constant flux?
For all the criticism heaped upon my generation, and our affection for reconstituted avocados and overpriced coffee beans hand-reared by ethical farmers (well worth the dosh), the idea that we’re meandering in a permanent state of self-indulgent infancy is misguided. I have, by most accounts, a grown-up job (read: I sit at a desk for a sizeable chunk of a day, book-ended by elbow wars with fellow commuters). Sometimes, like today, it is a job I do in £4 (Dh20) shoes, bleary-eyed from late-night Skype chats with prospective roommates I “met” via an app.
I have never paid a bill late, though I have also never cooked a meal for more than three guests. The solitary Ikea pan I bought at university couldn’t take the strain. Do any of these things make me more or less of an adult? Or are they symptomatic of the fact that things are no longer so cut and dried?
We are in an era of change that moves at an unprecedented pace; with that, our perceptions of, well, everything must change, too. Having a career or a family these days is not an absolute; nor is a linear life filled with a pre-ordained sequence of events — school, job, marriage, house purchase — that occur once and then tumble onwards until one’s final breath.
They are now things that can happen many times over, in a jumbled order — something that does not make them any less momentous, nor any less “adult”. Going back to school, retraining for a new profession and finding yourself with a second family aren’t signs of a #adultfail as they once might have been, but a more honest understanding of how being “grownup” doesn’t mean anything in particular any more when we are living so long and adulthood is likely to last three quarters of a century. This brings less stability, more possibilities.
Is it so wrong to find that exciting? To acknowledge the longtime markers of being grown up and not worry that I will not have ticked them off by 30, and may not tick them off at all? Is that not an attitude that is, in itself, rather grown-up? Charlotte Lytton is commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph.