Originally published as Caught in Adulthood in QMUnicate Issue 146, 28 November 2020
Taylor Swift sings “Our coming of age has come and gone” in her song ‘peace’. And I believe she is right. There is a moment when we realise that we are well past our youthful days. But what exactly marks that moment? And is it a singular instant that forges the transition into adulthood or is it more of a process? I have tried to get some answers: I have asked many of my Internet friends, because, after all, I am still a 19-year- old and I can’t consider myself an adult without stifling a small laugh in the bottom of my throat.
Some of them have mentioned that they had stopped feeling portrayed by media. A friend told me: “I think I realised the other day, reading a book where the protagonists were 16 years old, that they were having teenager-like experiences, something I hadn’t done to the fullest and which I will never get to experience now that I am 20 years old”. Another friend told me: “I was watching this movie (Dating Amber) and I got suddenly very sad because I realised that they are teenagers, and I am not one anymore. I’m no longer the responsibility of anyone: I am completely alone”. These statements ring true to me, but at the same time I couldn’t help but try to dig deeper, what other things are the real steppingstone into being an adult?
Starting to do alone something that you used to do with your parents or family was also a very common answer. Taking the first passport photo, completing the University’s paperwork, creating a loyalty card in your regular supermarket or going to the doctor, psychologist or gynaecologist on your own. Likewise, learning to cook and making food for yourself is a part of survival, but also growing up, some of my friends said.
For a lot of people who helped me find answers, the matter was essentially economic. My mother, after pondering on the question for a while, declared that the moment when she had to pay her first bills, was when she felt like a real adult: she was independent not only in spirit but also financially. A friend who went to study abroad told me that when the responsibilities started to pile up (like paying with your own credit card and doing the weekly trip to the supermarket) was when she started to acknowledge that she was an adult. Additionally, a few Twitter acquaintances told me that having to work while studying to be able to afford new things like a computer, a small vacation or a driving licence was also a breakthrough.
Being an adult (apparently) also means that you can literally have the world at your feet: for example, you can take a plane to wherever you want without anyone stopping you. One of my friends had this thought when visiting a town not even 200 km from her hometown: “I could also go even as far as Japan, because I’m an adult now and I don’t need my parents’ permission anymore”. Another friend had an identical revelation: “I travelled with a friend to Finland after buying some plane tickets on an impulse and I thought: I’m independent now”.
An answer that I found specially enlightening was this one: a girl told me that she was very conscious that her life now depended on how she organised her time and her day-to-day actions. Similarly, my father told me something along those lines: there was a moment when he suddenly realised that his actions had a considerable impact on other people because of the interpersonal and work relations that we all come to have. Likewise, a guy my age realised that he could choose to do whatever he wanted with his life for the next few years when he retook for the third time the exams to access the Medicine degree in University. And, frankly, I liked all of these answers, which paint us as the captains of our lives and our destinies.
Basically, observing how time passes is also a moment of ‘coming of age’. A girl confessed that watching how her family was growing older made her feel older as well: seeing time go by on others makes you reflect on how this time isn’t lenient on yourself either. For many, the end of high school years and the beginning of university is what marks the difference from the teenage rebellion stage and the “I guess now I’m an adult” stage.
As far as I’m concerned, although I feel like I’m still faking adulthood, I first started realising that I’ve become a grown up when I got sick on my first year of University. I was living with eleven other people in a UofG residence, but I still felt very alone. I had to wake up extremely early to call my GP and then walked in the early hours of the morning to get some antibiotics. I had to shop for basic food and texted a few of my friends for things that I forgot. I called my parents more than I had in the past weeks. It was hell. But I survived.
Mum & Dad, am I an adult yet?