I was driving to work a couple weeks ago, mindlessly scanning the presets on my radio, whispering a victorious “Oh, yes!” as I stumbled upon a familiar talk show when… I had a moment. One of those, “When did this happen?” moments. You know the kind: suddenly you recognize something is different about you, and you aren’t quite sure why it’s taken you this long to make the connection. For me, this moment looked like the surprising observation that Ryan Seacrest’s Top 40 Music Marathon was no longer my morning go-to. Even worse, this arguably dry talk radio I used to dread my mother listening to every morning suddenly was. Not quite the “I’m turning into my mother” crisis I’m sure is on my horizon, but more the “When did I grow up?” crisis. A moment of realizing my tastes had changed in a direction more characteristic of, dare I say it, a full-fledged adult. The reality is I’ve known for years that yes, technically I am an adult. I guess I missed the part where I started feeling that way, and for that matter, believing it.
Based on the reports of many of my clients and peers, this isn’t an uncommon experience. We live in an age of youth who are growing up more quickly and more slowly than ever before. Things like the prevalence of technology circumscribing an ability to maintain youthful innocence for very long, to the earlier average age of onset for menses in women and other remarkable trends are pointing to a culture of teens who are ready to be adults (or so they may believe). At the same time, especially in corners of the country like the Bay Area, twenty-somethings are marrying later, living home longer, and finding it increasingly difficult to achieve financial independence from their families of origin. Many of my clients report finding themselves fluctuating somewhere in the middle of this limbo-land more formally known as “Emerging Adulthood”. A relatively newer classification, this expression marks the life-stage spanning from late adolescence to young adulthood, and for many begs the question: How do we define what constitutes adulthood, and when will I know I have made it? Especially when the answer feels increasingly fluid.
You thought it was when you moved out of the house- but then you moved back, so what does that mean? It had to be the moment you started paying your own phone bill, right? The first time you didn’t ask dad to re-schedule your dentist appointment? Better yet, how about the glorious day you filed your own taxes? In true therapist fashion, I’m not here to give you an answer, but rather validate an experience and create space for reflecting the question back to you: How is it that you define adulthood, and how will you know when you have reached it? Are there signposts and indicators you’ll notice? With that, what would it mean for you to get there? Will life be so much different once you have? Explore! And believe me when I say, you aren’t alone.