Feeling Like an Adult (and Relating to Them)

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

It’s only been in the past year or so that I started thinking of myself as an adult. Until I reached my late 20s, even though I’d been making big, life-altering decisions on my own for years, I never felt like I was completely in the mindset of being a grownup. All the things I’d done up to that point, although they shaped me into who I am, weren’t quite enough.

The reason I didn’t feel like a grown-up didn’t have anything to do with feeling — or acting — irresponsible. I’ve been taking care of myself ever since I graduated from a rural Virginia high school a few days after I turned 17, and the following month I moved 60 miles away from my family, to Richmond, with a friend. I went to college for a year, then I took a break from school for a few years while I worked. I stayed at the same company for seven years, between the ages of 18-25. During that time I made the decision to go back to school, and while I was in college I studied abroad in Amsterdam for a semester. I bought a brand new Civic when I was 19 years old, and I used it to take several cross-country trips across the U.S. by myself.

But while those things were happening, there were other factors holding me back from feeling like an adult. I always lived with other people, for instance, so I never felt like I was handling things completely on my own. I lived with my older sister for a number of years, and then my younger sister was my roommate for a while. When I moved to California for a year after graduating from college, I lived with my aunt and uncle. There was always someone to fall back on if I needed it.

I was also struggling with my raging quarterlife crisis — I always thought I should be doing something different from whatever I happened to be doing at the time. I didn’t date anyone at all for a number of years, and even though that was my choice, I felt separate from other people my age who had boyfriends, and that whole “I’m sharing my life with someone else” experience.

In addition to all that, I had an eating disorder. I’ve heard this theory that one of the reasons females develop eating disorders is because they’re scared of growing up. If you weigh less, you don’t have womanly curves. Your breasts shrink; your body is more childlike because you’re straight up-and-down and not filled out in all the places where women tend to be filled out. If you lose enough weight, you’re likely to stop menstruating (over the course of a few years when I was underweight, I had my period about three times). While I wasn’t scared of growing up (it was more a feeling of powerlessness about my future), I can see how not feeling like an adult could have played a role in my body issues.

Being an adult, or feeling like one, doesn’t lend itself to neat age categories. You can’t hit 21, or 25, or 30, and automatically put a checkmark in the “adult” box. It’s based on your life experiences; your mindset; all kinds of factors. If someone gets married at age 22 and has children while they’re young, they might feel more adult than someone ten years their senior who made different choices in life.

I started thinking about all this when I read a post on BlogHer not long ago. It was written by a single woman who is almost 40, called BlogHers of A Certain Age Who Aren’t Mommies. What stood out to me was a comment someone left on that post. The commenter is a 30-something single woman who said she often finds it hard to relate to fellow single ladies who are still in their 20s.

I think many of the blogs that talk about being happily single are written by 20-somethings, so while I often find individual posts I love, there are many that reflect that younger stage of life and are less relevant to me now. Maybe all the single not-quite-middle-aged women bloggers are writing about things like politics or social activism, rather than life as a single, not-quite-middle-aged woman?

I started thinking about all this — feeling like an adult versus not feeling that way — after I read that comment. I’m not saying that older women see all females in their 20s as non-adults, but I do think it’s harder for them to relate. And that makes sense. Women in their 20s tend to struggle more with questions about their life and where they’re going than women who are in their 30s and above. Age differences will always be a factor, even if you have other interests in common. I can already see examples of this myself at age 28. Even though it doesn’t mean I don’t understand them and what they’re going through, it’s easier for me to relate to bloggers who are closer to my age than those just recently out of high school.

But the nice thing is, regardless of age, we’ll always be able to relate to people who have similar interests. For instance, my blogroll expanded once I became interested in reading fitness-related blogs last year — I add new ones all the time simply because we share an interest in that topic and I like reading what these people have to say.

When did you start feeling like an adult? And if you still don’t, what do you think has to happen in your life first before you do?

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