I have this very distinct memory of my eighteen-year-old self contemplating the age of twenty-four, and how it seemed impossibly far away, unfathomably old. What was life as a twenty-four-old even like? Who could even know? It was a distant mystery.
Now that I am fourteen years past this seemingly inconceivable age, I can marvel at the silliness of my young self, but it also makes me wonder about how time and age stretch and contract in the strange way that they do.
At eighteen, the age of twenty-four is six years away. Six years is a third of the life of an eighteen-year-old, so that’s actually kind of a big distance, if you put it in that perspective. As a thirty-eight-year-old, twenty-four is fourteen years in the past.
Fourteen years is a little more than a quarter of my life, but fourteen years is also a pretty big stretch of time. It’s enough time for three (and a half) different presidents, a significant wedding anniversary to pass (ten years, baby!), four entirely new humans to come into existence. Enough time to finish college, medical school and residency. Enough time for a baby to grow up and start high school.
But it also goes by in the blink of an eye.
Why is it that eighteen is considered an adult? It’s only just barely not a child (sorry, eighteen-year-olds).
When does a person really enter adulthood?
Is it when we get married? (nope)
Have children? (nope)
Pay a mortgage? (nope)
Finish paying off our student loans? (maybe, but still nope)
When I was newly married, even though I was in my upper twenties, I still identified with seminary girls, and, to a lesser extent, high school girls, more than I identified with the more established grown-ups. I didn’t really feel like a grown-up, at heart. I felt like me, like seventeen-year-old me, just I was a little older and had more responsibilities, was slightly less impulsive, etc.
I was still as insecure as when I was younger, so that was the same. I still cared about what other people thought of me, so that was the same. I could still eat three bowls of wacky mac without it having too adverse an effect on my waistline, so that was the same, too.
I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but at some point I realized that walking down the street with my children, my slightly thicker waistline, and my emergent wrinkles, I was just another lady to those high school and seminary girls. I was “other” to them, just another grown up. Just another adult, interchangeable with other adults.
It didn’t matter that I still felt young at heart. That I still get pimples just like a teenager. That I am still a little vain, that I still have dreams and passions and hopes for the future.
The difference is that I have more experience now. That I know I’m both young and yet not as young as I used to be. That with each passing year I care less about the opinions of others, that I am more comfortable in my own skin, that I am well-acquainted with my strengths as well as my failings. I am more aware that life is finite.
With each passing year, I also find I have more friendships with a wider range of people at various stages of life. As an eighteen-year-old, it would be strange to have close friends who are marrying off children, but in this weird amorphous adulthood, age really doesn’t matter that much, and having friends at different stages of adult life is a wonderful thing. It has given me perspectives that I treasure.
I’ve come to the conclusion that being an adult is not tied to an age, and doesn’t have a specific definition. I imagine that in fourteen years I will look back at this article and be amused by how young I sound. Probably in less time than that, actually.
There are people I’ve seen who are wise and “adult-like” at tender young ages, and grown-ups who, despite their age in years, act more like toddlers.
Maybe being an adult is coming to the realization that there is more to life that your singular experience, that we each have a small place and time in the world, yet we can make a big impact if we choose carefully (and sometimes if we choose thoughtlessly). Maybe being an adult is knowing when to think of others and knowing when to think of yourself. Maybe it’s stretching outside your comfort zone on a more regular basis.
Or maybe it’s just being able to eat ice cream for breakfast and watch five straight hours on Netflix with no one to tell you not to.