Growing up is harder than imagined. But not necessarily for the reasons they tell you. It’s not hard because you have to do your own washing. It’s not hard because you’re responsible when the toothpaste runs out − or the toilet paper or your go-to breakfast food. These are not characteristically hard circumstances to solve. In fact, when you live directly across the road from Coles like myself, topping up on everyday items which have surpassed their final squeeze, proves quite underwhelming on the responsibility radar. In fact, it’s an excuse for a pleasant stroll; to some, even, a very welcomed opportunity to explore the depths of IKEA.
What’s hard about growing up has little to do with the mundane tasks we’re forced to add to our schedules. Sure, these are frustrating. Absolutely, life would be better without them. That ironing takes about an hour and a half − and usually, still results in a wrinkly tee − is indeed an excruciating joke. But even the incessant wrinkles − or worse, the temporary state that is a post-vacuumed floor − on long reflection, isn’t so bad. If this is it, coming to peace with the arduous road that is “adulthood” is not so arduous, after all.
And so I’m a bit confused by the weight society puts on a not-so-difficult step [granted this is just my experience and opinion]. I’m not saying household responsibilities don’t define adulthood, at least to some extent. Any more than that, however, and I’m not really sure what does. When I wake up to my first alarm, am I an adult? Or is it when I complain that it went off at all? Is that when I embody what it is to be in this new sphere?
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced there probably is no bona fide distinction between childhood and adulthood. There’s just being a child, followed by a weird, blurred phase, in which you spend most of your time unsure what’s actually going on. You don’t feel like a kid, but you’re faking being an adult. Or at least, what you think is an adult.
Wait, do they drink? Do they go out? Will I show my age by revealing that I do? Wait, what the fuck does an adult actually do?
This state of confusion, I can only assume, takes you to parenthood, wherein you lack the time to further digest or debate the blur. Just enough to wade yourself and your family through it.
I’m taking a long time to reach my point, I’m aware. But I feel the need to touch on the ambiguity that is adulthood for a minute. I now understand not only why 20 year olds express a disconnection with “being an adult”. But why 25 year olds and 30 year olds do the same. It’s because there’s no such thing. No one definition. No single becoming moment. There are only adjustments. And these adjustments look completely different for us all.
But beyond the adjustments − and here’s when I bring us back to my point − lie the realities of growing up. They’re stark. Some of them are cold. And here’s one of the most difficult ones. It’s the realisation that the same people who once encouraged our growth [even begged it, in the darkest of times] are the people who continue to define us with a single most stagnant definition.
With them, you don’t wear the title of an adult nor a child. The title you wear.. reads YOU. And whilst you may be changing, to the people who’ve known you for the longest, those three letters will always read the same way. Why? Well, because it’s easiest if they do.
In many ways, it’s as if our fourteen year old selves − his/her motives, interests and ways of being − have been archived as a reference for the closest people we know. In conversation, you’ll often find them searching through this file for ways to connect to us.
Ah, yes, she loves books. “How’s reading going?”
“I don’t really read anymore. I listen to podcasts.”
Podcasts. Podcasts. Podcasts. Searching. Searching. No files found.
“How’s reading going?”
“I, really − I don’t read anymore.”
“Oh, um, okay. Still party a lot?”
“No, I’m super into my fitness now.”
Fitness. Fitness. Fitness. Searching. Searching. No files found.
“That doesn’t sound like you?”
And so the conversation goes on [or equally as often, it comes to a haut]. Worst of all, you can’t really blame anyone. Not the people you love. Not yourself. Not your new friends, neighbours or lifestyle either. It truly is just an inevitability of growing up. As much as your own interests and values are changing − and it feels inherently obvious to you − there’s no flashing sign above your head to indicate these changes to anyone else.
To them, you appear the same person. Who smiles the same way. Who speaks with the same voice, and who laughs at the same things. The reality that you may spend your time entirely differently. That maybe you surround yourself with different people. This can be disguised. And even a 90-minute catch-up isn’t always enough to convince an old friend to remove the mask. That is, the one they’re placing on you.
At the beginning of this post, I wasn’t overly certain why it was I wanted to talk about this topic this week. Now, I think I know. The fact that people are looking for similar personality traits and trends in us − and seem to do it even more, the more we grow − makes us want to integrate those traits.
We want to make the people we love happy, right?
And we know that when we show them our old sides. Sides that they know and can relate to and laugh with and share old memories with. This makes them happy! It offers them a sense of satisfaction. That maybe they could still predict our next move and thought and feeling.
But here’s the thing: to pretend for the sake of others that you’re still someone you no longer connect with.. is SO unsatisfying for you, the individual. It’s also detrimental to your relationship with these people in the long-term. The more you don’t show someone your changes, and the more you don’t demand that they take this new and improved version seriously, the more you’ll gravitate away from them when they don’t.
It’s like anything. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you don’t show people, you can’t expect them to see it. To see you.
People take time to adjust, and in many ways, I’m not even sure they ever fully do. As I mentioned previously, there is no single definition for adulthood. There is no definition that encompasses the people we are either. With that said, we often try to define the undefinable as means for making things easier. It turns out this does quite the opposite.
If you can resonate with any of the words I’ve put on this sheet of digital paper, you may like to adopt the solution I’m trialling. To BE the old friend we’d like to share our story with. To be open and invite change in other people’s lives. Let’s be PROUD of them for that change. Even if it’s not necessarily “characteristic” [because who are we to decide what is anyway!].
At the end of the day, this change may be incredibly important to who our friends and family are in the long-term. And you mightn’t know it yet, but you could be the single person supporting it now. Make the role you play to a loved one truly count, by being open.
What’s important as well is to have patience with this process. I’ll be the first to admit, I find this the hardest part.
It’s good to remind ourselves that people like to connect with familiar things, because familiar things make us feel good. If someone wants to remain apart of our journey, however, they will start to open themselves to the less familiar. Give them a chance to reach this stage, before in frustration, you cut them off.
Often, we have to let the people know how important it is to us, that they recognise our change. If we downplay it, people will react accordingly. They too will downplay the need to notice and to embrace it.
Be the leader of not just change, but of its embrace in your life and in the lives around you. I can’t guarantee this is an important element of embracing adulthood, but I’m almost certain it’s an important element of embracing you [in the short and the long term].
Whether this “you” should last five minutes or three years, let it be known that I accept him/her. Just in case no one else is saying it right now, take it from me. I think how you’ve changed and how you’re growing is awesome. I think you should keep loving what you’re loving and seeking what you’re seeking.
I’m glad you could hear it here first. The question is: will the second time you hear it.. be the sound of your own voice?
Images by Julia Krivoshev.