As my 32nd birthday looms large on the horizon, this little voice that has taken up residence in my brain is starting to get louder. It’s always nagging me, asking me, “Why aren’t you a grown-up yet?” I hate that voice. I ignore it as much as possible. Mostly because I hate that there’s this one-size-fits-all set of preconceived notions about what an adult is: what you should have, what you should do, what you should be. And every time I realize that my life doesn’t match up to those notions, a little feeling of failure creeps in.
What I’m realizing more every year, and what I’m trying to remember so I can drown out that obnoxious little voice, is that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all life. For every way I don’t feel like I’m a “real” grown-up, there are ten ways that I’m glad my life is exactly the way it is. I don’t own a house, sure, and that bums me out sometimes. But I see my friends who own houses, and it can consume their lives. Every weekend is a new household project. Taxes and insurance are outrageous. And while renting doesn’t build up any equity, there’s something to be said for realizing your boiler is broken, picking up the phone, saying, “The boiler’s broken,” and having someone else be responsible not only for getting it fixed, but for paying for it as well.
I’m married, which is pretty “grown-up,” but I don’t have kids, which sometimes makes other people see me as not a real adult. I won’t get into all of my reasons here, (mostly because I already have), but I see a bunch of positives with not having kids, where others see it as a giant negative. My Facebook feed is clogged with people lamenting not having quiet time, a parade of birthday parties and school functions, and assorted other complaints that come with the territory of having a child. For all of these people, it’s worth it. For me, it wouldn’t be. Being a childfree adult means I can nap at will, don’t have to provide a nutritionally balanced dinner, and can wander away for the weekend on a whim (well, as long as the dogs are taken care of). It’s all the best things you dreamed being an adult would mean, back when you were a kid: ice cream for breakfast, never getting out of your pajamas, and playing video games until 3 a.m. Sure, people with kids can certainly do these things, but not without a certain amount of effort. So +1 for being an adult my way, I suppose.
I don’t have a “real job.” This one bugs me the most often, I think. A “real job” being one that has prestige, pays outrageously well, and uses my expensive higher education in even some small way. Instead, I work in customer service, and have for the past 15 years. When I start getting depressed about my job, though, I remember a few things. Like, I can pay my bills. I have health insurance and a retirement plan. I have a schedule that I love and that allows me to work full-time in four days, instead of the standard five. I don’t take my job home with me. Sure, it stresses me out from time to time, but I don’t spend all my time at home checking emails and freaking out about work-related shit. I leave the job at the front door of work, and there’s something to be said for that. I’ll never be rolling around on giant stacks of cash strewn over my bed, but quite frankly, that’s horribly unsanitary, and I choose to believe that having a lot of money brings its own set of problems.
Everyone I talk to who is around my age has the same feelings every so often: that they aren’t doing something they’re supposed to; that something is missing; that they aren’t as adult as they should be. And if we all feel this way, how valid is it, really? Maybe this is the new way to be a grown-up: pick and choose the parts that you want in your life, and disregard the rest. Because, seriously, what good is it to be an adult if you aren’t having any fun?