A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Adulthood

20130801

I've talked to several friends about a problem that's bothering me. We're getting the sense that our elders--parents, grandparents, etc--don't view us as "real" adults. This despite the fact we're in our mid-to-late twenties, financially independent, and college graduates. Some of us are working while others are pursuing graduate or professional degrees. And yet I half-expect to be patted on the head every time I end a conversation with someone over the age of 45. 

Marriage, a mortgage, and children seem to represent the Adulthood Trifecta: check them all off and voila!  Maturation: Complete. I can understand why these are the metrics, but what I have trouble with is this pseudo-Pokemon attitude of GOTTA CATCH 'EM ALL...AS QUICK AS YOU CAN...LIKE RIGHT NOW...NO SERIOUSLY WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU WHY HAVEN'T YOU CAUGHT THEM ALL

A funny thing happened on the way to adulthood. Actually, several things. The Internet, a recession, the housing bubble, an education bubble, some really sucky Presidents and even suckier Congresses. They make the Adulthood Trifecta considerably harder to obtain at 25, 30, or even 35. I'm not trying to cast all the blame on external circumstances, but that doesn't mean they're irrelevant.Yet here we are--navigating an extremely more complicated (and competitive) landscape all while being judged on the metrics of yesteryear.

I have plenty of friends who've achieved the trifecta already, and I hope this doesn't sound like a caustic tirade against them. But homeownership does not represent the apex of fiscal responsibility. Getting married is not the tell-tale sign of a person's emotional or social maturity. There are innumerable ways to plan a family, and some of them include not having children until your thirties (I'm not saying that's what Brock and I are doing, but it can be perfectly reasonable). Hell, I don't think you don't even have to be employed to be an adult these days--I have dozens of friends in law/PhD programs working much harder than people with "real" jobs.

That's why it's frustrating to hear comments like "What a fun time this is for you!" or "Double income, no kids--living the dream!" Or to hear people tell my friends "Single in the city, what a life!" Comments like these are infantilizing. I'm not living the way I am because it's "fun"--to avoid responsibility or because I don't have a plan. Quite simply, some plans--family plans, career plans, educational plans, relationship plans--depend on factors outside of your control. I feel dumb even writing that because it's so obvious, but people forget it.

Look, 30 is not the new 20. I read the book before the TED Talk went viral, so call me a Dr. Jay hipster. I wholeheartedly agree with her. But adulthood circa 2013 is a helluva lot more complicated than adulthood circa 1980. We're the generation that'll retire at 82, not 62. And just because I'm not struggling to run after a toddler or struggling to pay a mortgage doesn't mean I'm not . . . struggling. (My last blog post was totes emo--PROOF!)

That being said, I am enjoying [air quotes] where I'm at right now [air quotes]. It's a good life, and I thank God every day for it--even though He doesn't seem to be getting the message on, y'know, GIVING ME EVERYTHING THAT I WANT RIGHT NOW. But being happy in spite of that? I think that's adulthood. No trifecta necessary.

3 COMMENTS:

  1. Bravo, Kristi.

    What is odd to me is that the trifecta you describe continues to be the benchmark despite what we've witnessed in the US during the last 10 years. Home ownership is sometimes a sign of a LACK of fiscal responsibility and acumen, particularly for many of the people I know in their 20s who are in houses with very little equity and working in fields with very little upward earning power.

    For many people, having children in early 20s is either extremely financially risky or requires government assistance (and I'm not criticizing the latter option, but it does work against the notion that this is a reliable sign of adult independence).

    The 2013 economy is not the 1970s or 1980s economy in which baby boomers reached adulthood. Those who plan to provide high standards of consumption for families over the next half century need more skills and differentiation than those who planned for the last half century. That means more education or more entrepreneurial avenues or more strategic planning, in any case. Buying a house early, without a large down payment, is extraordinarily risky as it entails not only high leverage but also a commitment of net worth and most future cash flows to a single, undiversified asset. The rules of thumb that worked for the last generation may not be optimal for this one.

    This is not a pessimistic view--our generation HAS benefited from a dramatic expansion of American standards of living over the last century, despite what many people think. Growth of purchasing power will probably continue. But there are reasons that the trifecta milestones may be flawed.

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