Ask the grumpies: When did you realize you were an adult?

Leah asks:

When did you first realize you were an adult? And what were some of the major growing pains in becoming an adult?

#1:  Sometime during third grade.  Then again shortly after age 30.  Growing pains:  the awakening of cynicism, followed by reluctant acceptance of other folks’ frailties.  Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.  (And yes, I see the irony there.  But sometimes that feeling of superiority is all that keeps a person going in the face of stupidity or intolerance.)

#2:  This is a weird question for me to answer.  I pretty much always felt like an adult cruelly trapped in a child’s body.  That caused me troubles in school.  I moved away from home in high school, to go to boarding school, and never missed it.  I had a checking account and managed my own budget.  When I got to college I thought the other freshmen were seriously immature; well, to be fair, until I hit senior year I felt like most people my age were more immature then I was (I had this feeling strongly throughout childhood).  Maybe a marker of being an adult was buying real furniture?

For me, the major growing pain in becoming an adult was the fact that I wasn’t one for so long!  Also, of course, I did the usual complement of stupid-romance-crap in high school.  Everybody’s gotta get their heart broken sometime.

In other words, I’ve pretty much always felt like I was an adult, even though of course I wasn’t.  I’m enjoying my 30s for the sense that my external appearance is finally starting to reflect the age I’ve felt like I “really” was.  Getting older is awesome!

#1:  You can see why when I first met #2 I thought, “Kindred spirit.”  Though even better than Diana, since Diana got kind of silly as she got older.  I did think it was weird that I was the only freshman on my hall who showed up sans family (my family could only afford the one plane ticket– they did drive my sister up to the college she went to, but it was only a couple hours away).  But everybody else there was on their own for the first time.  And the number of people I taught how to do laundry… (seriously, just follow the instructions on the washers!)

How about you all?  What’s your answer to Leah’s question?

36 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: When did you realize you were an adult?”

  1. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I also learned how to do laundry and manage a checkbook upon going away to a residential high school. So in that sense I felt fairly grown up. But in some ways I still don’t now. I just bought my first car last year – part of living in NYC for so long – so I’m still getting used to “adult” things like putting gas in the car.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think you need a car to be an adult! I was doing my own laundry when I was 12, so I’m of course in favor of that. I didn’t have a car until later than the American average, either.

      • Debbie M Says:

        I do remember being scared about the gas–at any time, your car could just stop working if you don’t pay attention and notice in time to put in more gas. Nowadays, a lot of things have to be recharged on a regular basis, so that’s kind of similar, but back when I was driving my first car, it was the only thing like that.

        I am actually one of those people who learned to do laundry at college by reading the detergent bottle and washing machine lid. No problem. I learned to use a checkbook and register by reading the directions on the register. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20, and even then, mostly because I was going to be embarrassed if I hit 21 without one. (I lived in a place with basically useless mass transportation.)

        I suspect most of us have plenty more room for growing up. You’ve heard about kids that grow up too early because they live in a harsh environment–I haven’t done most of that kind of growing up. I mean, I do know how to cook and help little kids be happy, but not how to appease abusers, escape bad guys, or operate weapons.

  2. Debbie M Says:

    The answer would have been easy if you had picked the loaded term “grown-up.” (Never.) Adult, though? I’ve felt like I am approaching adulthood in stages:
    1) Basic functioning in society – At age 10 I felt I could do pretty much anything that adults could do that didn’t require being tall (like I did have the math skills to balance a checkbook, but I could not reach the pedals in a car).
    2) Moving away from home – I never had a problem with leaving home–I went on camping trips, etc. with no home sickness. We moved all the time so I was well practiced in leaving friends behind. And in fact, going across the country to college was no problem.
    3) Supporting myself financially – I got my first “real” job (full-time non-temporary) several months out of college. I started paying my own rent (instead of living with my parents) from my own money (instead of college financial aid) about a year after grad school.
    4) Getting married – not yet.
    5) Having kids – not happening.
    6) Other – Being a camp counselor felt very adult-like. Buying a house as a single person did, too. Paying off the house felt pretty good. Investing felt good. Exceeding 100 pounds, exceeding 5 feet in height, and becoming strong enough to serve a volleyball over the net (instead of into the net) felt very good. Turning 28 felt like I was a real adult and not an overgrown teenager, which was a bit scary, because it seemed like I really should have gotten my act together by then.

    I still sit at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving, because only the folks with kids sit at the grown-up table, but that’s good because the kiddie table is way more fun. We do not talk about time shares and trips to Vegas there.

    I’ve always looked very young for my age, but now, at age 49, I do look like a real adult, even when wearing make up and high heels, which is very handy when you need respect for something.

    Major growing pains – My college financial aid plan required me to get jobs. Figuring out a career – they don’t hire people who look like 12 year olds to teach secondary math; turns out I’m not good with large groups of people (who don’t want to be there) anyway. Ugh, I suck at taking care of a lawn. I don’t like make-up and high heels, but fortunately I live in a casual city and work for a causal employer. Mostly I don’t have growing pains–I love being an adult and allowed to make my own decisions.

    Examples of decisions I love: I get to live somewhere warm. I don’t have to move all the time anymore. I get to have my own car, whenever I want (except when it’s broken). I get to live near big libraries and a culture of literacy. (So although I am overqualified for my clerical job, so are most of my colleagues.) I get to have friends with big brains (even though I myself do not like computer science or engineering, do not make their incomes, and cannot afford to live in their neighborhoods). I get to have my own stuff and know that it will be there when I am looking for it (usually). I get to eat chocolate chips for dinner if I really want to. I get to do the exercise I want and not whatever the gym teacher is organizing. I get to watch only good TV with no commercials with excellent sound and picture quality.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I love, love, love those perks of being an adult.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I love being able to eat ice cream for dinner. Just because I want to.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Yes, ice cream for dinner. I usually make it slightly more nutritious by adding peanuts (to the ice cream and chocolate syrup). I occasionally also add a banana. Actually, nowadays, I almost always serve myself ice cream in a tea cup. Portion control! But I will have a baked good + milk for a meal. And I do still consider ice cream to be a staple.

  3. Linda Says:

    I recall an incident when I was in my early 30s where the thought popped into my head: “I’m really a grown up now.” I was doing something very mundane: driving to pick up a carry out order and bring it back to my mother’s house where we were doing holiday baking with my sister, neice, and nephew.

    I’m not sure why the thought popped into my head just then. I’d been living away from home since I was 18 (although there was a period of about 8 months where I lived with my grandmother or my mother after I graduated from college). I was working at 15, had a checking account when I was 17, and had been doing my own laundry since I was about 12.

    What makes one a grown up?

  4. rented life Says:

    huh. I’m not sure. Like Debbie M I look young for my age, so while I feel my age, (in fact I ususally feel older than my age), I’m rarely treated my age or even close to my age. It feels like a battle to convince people I really am 31 and not 22. It gets old, at least in the workplace. Most people assumed my last job was my first job EVER and my assigned mentor called me “kiddo” often. dude, when you’re 10-15 years older than me you’re not older enough to call me kiddo.

    Anyway, I remember having the realization of how much more I had grown up than others around me a few years back. My brother had moved back home, had no bills and responsibilities and was griping to me about his life…I remember thinking “Man, when I was his age…” That’s when it hit me…when I was his age I had been married a few years, moved far away from everyone, moved back, bought a house and was part way through grad school. No one showed me how to be an adult, how to cook (despite my asking–though we both learned cleaning and laundry at a young age!), how to budget, how to navigate any adult things. I figured it out, mainly beacuse I had to once I got married and realized I was responsible for more than just my own whims. Even as a teen I always hung out with kids 2-4 years older than me, I really didn’t get along with people my age. And adults had always commented that I was “mature” for my age. To this day I don’t really have friend my age (even my husband is older than me).

    Unfortunately without children many around us seem to think we haven’t grown up yet. (Despite the fact my cousin has a kid and is the most immature 30-something I know but hey…) It seems if you don’t follow safe societal paths you’re not as adult. We took a huge risk, sold our house, moved, and moved back, and have no kids. “Adults” our age and older had no problem telling us how foolish what we do/did is/was. So at the end of the day I don’t know what adult or grown up really is….

  5. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I’m not sure adulthood is something I’m too eager to claim. I identify strongly with children, and i know that makes me sound somewhat idiotic and immature but for me being an adult has nothing to do with maturity. I know many immature adults. I prefer to think of myself as a grown-up child. And that’s a different thing entirely. I felt grown up somewhere in the middle of raising the kids and moving towards the decision to divorce and actually letting go of a lot of friendships and relationships during that time was a big one for me too as I realized I didn’t need to have friends for the sake of having them. I do remember being excited about turning 30 because I felt my age finally matched me. But I do maintain an affinity with children, in the good sense. At least I think I do, I try to. The Little Prince is one of my favorite books because, to me, that’s part of the central message– growing up without losing the perks of childhood– imagination, curiosity, joy, and trust.

  6. monsterzero Says:

    I was probably in sixth grade when it really started to sink in that grownups mostly didn’t know what they were doing either. It could have been liberating, but it was actually kind of terrifying.

  7. Leigh Says:

    “In other words, I’ve pretty much always felt like I was an adult, even though of course I wasn’t. I’m enjoying my 30s for the sense that my external appearance is finally starting to reflect the age I’ve felt like I “really” was. Getting older is awesome!”

    This. It’ll be awhile before I’m 30, but I’m hopeful that what you say will come true. Although at work, people guess I’m a few years older than I actually am based on my work experience and leveling, which is pretty awesome.

    When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a grown-up. I got along terribly with other kids and much better with the adults around. So my social life kind of sucked in elementary and secondary school. College was somewhat better, especially after first year, and post-college has been pretty awesome.

    I think the best part about living by myself post-college was when I realized that *no one* would know or care when I had boys over! Or if they stayed the night. (Minus the fact that parking was a huge pain.) That was pretty awesome.

    I still think people my age are somewhat immature. This makes dating a bit annoying. Maybe some day I’ll meet a guy who thinks people our age are immature. Or end up marrying someone way older than me.

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    This is an interesting question. As a little kid, I frequently felt like an adult trapped in a child’s body. But now as an adult, I frequently feel like a child trapped in an adult’s body. I will say that if they made adult-sized children’s clothes, I would totally wear them all the time.

  9. myscientificlife Says:

    “until I hit senior year I felt like most people my age were more immature then I was”

    I totally relate to this. Until recently, I’ve always gotten along with people a few years older than me. Of course they are now starting to get married and reproduce (on purpose!) and I don’t want to, so I can’t really relate as much now.

    I took an adolescent psychology class my last quarter of undergrad and when do you leave adolescence? (and therefore enter adulthood) was the focus of one of our lectures. The traditional answer is when you get married, buy a house, and have children. The more modern answer is when one achieves financial independence (has a job, doesn’t depend on others to pay for things).

    Personally, at 24 years old, even though I often feel that my peers are immature, I myself do not feel like an adult.

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I do remember being asked in second grade what made someone a grown-up and I answered, “graduating from college” because my mom always referred to students as college kids. I still kind of feel like that, at least for the majority of other people.

  11. becca Says:

    Whenever I have to figure out what’s going on with my health insurance, I feel like an adult.

    I try to avoid it at all costs.

  12. min hus Says:

    I recall feeling like an adult in a child’s body per se, but I’ve always identified more with people who are more mature/older. It’s nice to read others feel/felt this way!

    I recall feeling very adult when I became financially independent and had my own place, paid all my bills, etc. And then again when I bought my house (all by myself even!). Actually owning my own home made me feel more old than adult really.

    But, I’ve basically felt the same inside since I was 13/14 or so. Which is why I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m 33 and am “the old lady” to the college kids at work. Le sigh.

  13. Bardiac Says:

    I think a LOT of kids feel like they’re way more grown up, only to discover that once they’re adults, kids who pull that are pretty annoying. (Wasn’t that the theme of *The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer*?)

    For me: Getting sick and having to take care of myself by myself.

    Buying real flatware that didn’t wasn’t a handmedown or from Goodwill.

    Being in a position where I gave my Mom the warmer winter gloves (without letting her know) because I needed to watch out for her for real.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, but we weren’t “grown-up” in a bachelor and the bobby soxer sort of way. This wasn’t a “yay I’m so mature” sort of thing, more of a “why do I get along with adults but not with kids,” “some adults aren’t very grown up,” “my interests fit better with intellectual adults than they do with people my age,” “why are other kids so mean,” and so on.

  14. femmefrugality Says:

    I felt like it in high school. Especially towards the end. I had a couple of circumstances in my life that forced me to grow up a little bit quicker than the normal teen. Now that I am a mother, I look back and think how misguided I was. The dangers and naivete that probably kept my own mother up at night. But to this day, I truly can’t identify a time aside from high school when I made a major leap into maturity. Perhaps that’s a bad thing?

  15. Dr. Koshary Says:

    Wait — I’m an adult now?

  16. Leah Says:

    I suppose sometimes I feel like I’ve been “taking care of myself” (paying expenses, working for a check, traveling on my own, etc) since I was fairly young. So those things *don’t* seem like adult things to me — they just seem like responsible things to do.

    I have just recently begun to feel like an adult as I approach the ripe old age of 30. I’m married, and I’m finally making decisions without calling my parents to talk it over (not that I didn’t make my own before, but I usually called my parents anyway, because I value their input). This fall, for the first time ever, I’ll have a job without a defined end-date. To me, being an adult has meant much more than being responsible, but I’m still struggling to put a finger on what it is.

  17. hush Says:

    You’re a grown-up when sleep is no longer a punishment. I think Bette Midler said that.

    I first realized I was a grown ass adult when I became financially independent from my parents, and when I stopped double checking with them before making any big life decisions. For me that was at about age 19.

  18. Funny about Money Says:

    LOL! About in the second or third grade, when I realized I really did not like children and much preferred the company of adults.

    In actual physical grown-uphood? When I got my first apartment all by my self. Yeah!

  19. When Did You First Realize You Were an Adult? « Clarissa's Blog Says:

    […] found a great question on a blog I follow: When did you first realize you were an adult? And what were some of the major growing pains in […]


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