“Adulthood” Is a Myth


Fake it 'til you make it. Or something.

by Hayley Cotter, Contributor

Back in elementary school, I had two teachers in a row go through major adulthood milestones while I was their student. One teacher got engaged, and the other got pregnant. At an age where merely spotting your teacher outside his or her natural habitat—the classroom—was sort of like spotting a unicorn, these exciting facts were mind-blowing for us all. Coincidentally, both the newly engaged and the pregnant teacher happened to be twenty-four years old. “Ah,” I remember thinking, in my childhood mind. “Twenty-four is an age where some very grown-up things happen.”

Fast forward to my own twenty-fourth birthday, when I was—blessedly—neither engaged, nor pregnant, having only just met the man who would eventually become my husband. When I turned twenty-four, I thought about those teachers I had back in the day, with their jobs and fiancés and babies on the way. I felt so young compared to them, even though I had reached the same age they had been when I last saw them in my elementary school classrooms. At twenty-four, I was still in school myself, but I was pretty sure I’d start feeling like a real adult when I finally graduated in a few years.

(many) TINY STEPS TOWARD ADULTHOOD

Graduation came and went, and this “adulthood” feeling I had been waiting for failed to materialize. Maybe it’s because I’m still unemployed and living at my mom’s, I decided. It’s hard to feel like a proper grown-up when you’re sleeping on a futon mattress and asking for rides from your parents. But then I got a job, and Nick and I got our own apartment, and we even bought a car. Then we got married—one of the true hallmarks of adulthood, as imprinted in my elementary school-mind. And yet, I was still left with a nagging feeling that I wasn’t really an adult yet.

Maybe I just needed to get some more adult-type things in order, I thought. When you remain a student until your mid-twenties, you fall behind on tasks like opening a savings account and securing life insurance and establishing a retirement fund. Over the past year or so, we’ve worked diligently on making these tiny steps—no, more like giant leaps—toward adulthood.

The question is, how will I know when we’ve actually arrived at our destination?

FAKE IT ’TIL YOU MAKE IT?

I’m not sure what’s missing from the adulthood puzzle I’ve been trying to put together in my mind. On the surface, we’re basically model grown-ups. We have steady jobs, and show up to work on time. We file our taxes and pay our bills and buy (mostly) reasonable groceries.

But then sometimes, when I’ve done a ton of laundry and it’s all piled on the bed waiting to be folded and I’m just too tired, I’ll convince Nick that we can just push it to the bottom of the bed and deal with it in the morning. As I drift off to sleep, curled in a tiny ball at the top of the bed, I wonder, is this something other grown-ups are doing? Do other grown-ups have scrambled eggs and Pinot Grigio for dinner, three nights in a row? Do most adults have to reset their password to pay their student loans every. single. month. because they don’t want to write it down, and at this point they’ve reset it so many times that the only new passwords they can come up with are gibberish that they have no hope of remembering again in thirty days?

Occasionally I’ll start to feel like I am really getting the hang of this adulthood situation. A nice man came to install a new thing for our cable box (if I were a real adult, maybe I could be more specific than “install a new thing”), and I offered to make him a cup of coffee. For me, this strikes me as a very grown-up thing to do. Someone is in my house, and I am offering him a cup of coffee, which I brewed myself! I am basically June Cleaver right now. But as I hand him the carefully prepared coffee, I see his eyes drift to the side of the mug, which says, in bold letters: “Shhh… there’s wine in here.”

Moments like these—when I fall asleep amidst a pile of clean clothes that I am too lazy to put away; when I hand a visitor in my home a mug emblazoned with a slogan that is decidedly un-adult—I feel like I am not a real grown-up, but an impostor. And I wonder if that will always be the case.

ADULTHOOD: YOU’RE DOING IT RIGHT

Maybe the problem isn’t that I’m failing at being a grown-up. Maybe the problem is that I set the “adulthood” bar a bit too high. I assumed that all these external markers of getting older—job, apartment, spouse—would be accompanied by some massive internal shift, where I’d suddenly become flawlessly responsible and meticulously organized. I thought that I’d learn to seamlessly balance work and play; I thought that managing the never-ending dishes, laundry, and bills would become streamlined and simple.

But if anything less than absolute perfection feels like a failure, the solution isn’t that I need to try harder to be the perfect adult—whatever that even means. The solution is that I need to adjust my expectations of what it means to grow up. I’m a functioning member of society, and in the grand scheme of the adulthood spectrum, I think I’m doing pretty damn well. Having breakfast for dinner and owning sassy coffee mugs doesn’t make me less of an adult, but it does make adulthood a bit more fun. Balancing greater responsibilities and the demands that come with growing up will surely become slightly easier in time, but I’m starting to let go of the notion that a day will come when it will all fall into place and I’ll manage it all effortlessly.

We have these friends who seem to be really nailing adulthood. They established careers and bought a house and had two kids before any of our other friends were even thinking about doing these things. (They don’t seem to be the sort of people who, for example, fall asleep with a pile of clean laundry at the foot of the bed.) On holidays, they have people over to their lovely, clean house for hors d’oeuvres and fancy drinks, and I feel like I might as well be at a costume party, here in my grown-up costume in my fake grown-up life where my friends have terrifying grown-up things like kids and houses.

On one recent holiday at my friends’ house, though, I excused myself to use the bathroom. After I shut the door behind me, I took a quick peek behind the shower curtain (as I always do, because I am paranoid, and like to make sure no one is hiding in there). Upon pulling back the curtain, I found the tub filled to the brim with stuff – toys, picture frames, trash, you name it. This was a classic case of the pre-party panicked cleaning frenzy! This, I could identify with. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief knowing that even the most put-together grown-ups I knew had a secret stash of decidedly non-adult messiness lurking just behind the curtain.

Grown-ups. They’re just like us. Maybe—just maybe—they even are us.

Hayley Cotter

Hayley is a Boston native who lives in the Caribbean with her husband, Nick. Their engagement spanned the better part of three years, six address changes, and countless flat tires, and they recently tied the knot at a “reverse-destination wedding” in Ohio. When she’s not busy at her grown-up job, you can usually find her in a hammock, napping, reading, or pondering married life.

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  • Mira_Mira

    ‘Maybe the problem isn’t that I’m failing at being a grown-up. Maybe the problem is that I set the “adulthood” bar a bit too high. I assumed that all these external markers of getting older—job, apartment, spouse—would be accompanied by some massive internal shift… The solution is that I need to adjust my expectations of what it means to grow up.’

    You’ve hit the nail on the head right here! I agree that we tend to identify these external markers as The Things That Make Us Adults, when in reality it’s more about internal development. It’s harder to compare our own internal development to that of others though, so maybe that’s why we fixate on those externals and drive ourselves crazy in the process… hmm…

    • Mary Jo TC

      I was about to quote the same line. I feel the exact same way, not only about adulthood, but about parenthood. I feel like I’m always failing as a mom because I haven’t felt that internal shift yet, almost 16 months in. I guess I need to change my expectations and realize that I’m always going to feel incompetent and like I’m just barely keeping all of us alive. But I hate feeling incompetent and not knowing what I’m doing, especially when the stakes have just been raised exponentially. Sigh. Any wise words, anyone?

      • Shotgun Shirley

        16 months in is when I started exercising, finally, after a bad muscle pull at 14 months was obviously not going away, plus my major ab hernia was still major, so I kinda has to get myself back together. Anyway, point is, I felt like that was finally when the kid thing felt manageable. Things were no longer happening (changing) as fast as during the first year and we were getting used to a toddler. So, it gets better, is what I’m saying! You got this, lady!

      • Kelly

        This seems like a good place to share a lovely essay that a writer friend of mine wrote. It’s a quick read and so, so good. “Are You the Mother?” http://americanshortfiction.org/2014/08/19/bourbon-milk-mother/

        • Sara P

          That’s a great essay. Thanks for sharing.

    • I 100% agree. I used to fixate on the externals, but now I try to focus more on the internal development portion of things and less about externals.

    • Laura C

      My husband totally did a version of this for a long time — to him, adulthood meant marriage and a house in the suburbs, and until he felt ready for the whole adulthood package, he wasn’t an adult. And I was like “you don’t wait until you feel like an adult and then do adult stuff, you start feeling like an adult because you do the stuff. It’s a gradual process, like how I have a few really nice pans and a food processor, but I’m also still using a measuring cup with the measures 90% faded off that my college housemate probably got at Goodwill.” (And I kept using that measuring cup until we got married and registered for new ones.)

      I think now that we’re married and living in the nicest apartment we’ve had, but also clearly not planning on the house in the suburbs anytime soon, he’s relaxing a little.

      • “You start feeling like an adult because you do the stuff.” YES. Both my husband and I had to slowly learn this one.

        • I totally agree. If I look at all the adult stuff I do, I seem like I’m doing pretty ok. Honestly, I haven’t had to peer behind the shower curtain to see the imperfections of my friends terribly often. I’m lucky enough to have friends that are openly imperfect in a lot of ways. For me the comparison comes from a place that I can’t control – many of my friends just have more money and better jobs than I do. That’s where my adulthood insecurities lie.

          • My friends are that way too! And I know a lot has been written about comparing ourselves to our friends or our internet friends, but I’ve found it’s actually not terribly hard for me to remember that everyone has their own bathtub full of ridiculous crap (so to speak)…I’ve just literally never met someone who didn’t have SOMETHING.

          • Right! I have the table setting for 16 at thanksgiving (a potluck dinner) but on a regular basis, neither my husband nor I can deal with the laundry. My husband argues that the reason to have people over for dinner is to clean up beforehand. Then we really look good.

          • Erin E

            That’s a good point… and a nice way to make the bathtub of crap a meaningful metaphor. Everyone has their own tub of crap… it’s just hard sometimes to see or remember that it exists for everyone.

    • Hayley

      “It’s harder to compare our own internal development to that of others though, so maybe that’s why we fixate on those externals” – this is such a good point.

  • Stephanie B.

    “Having breakfast for dinner and owning sassy coffee mugs doesn’t make me less of an adult, but it does make adulthood a bit more fun.”

    I said recently, after getting really excited about buying caramel apples, that they were for my inner 8-year-old. And then I stopped, and said, “No they aren’t. They’re entirely for my outer 43-year-old.” Adulthood means I pay the bills and walk the dog and clean the toilet…and I get caramel apples. Because I say so.

    • Sarah

      I still get excited about candy floss :) I love this thought!

    • Laura C

      Oh, hell, a few months ago I was in an airport with a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and I said to my mother “great! I can have a caramel apple. That’s got fruit and nuts — healthy for airport food.” And I stand by that position.

    • Jess

      Do other grown-ups have scrambled eggs and Pinot Grigio for dinner, three nights in a row?

      YES! We regularly (no seriously, regularly) have popcorn (ooh, or ice cream!) for dinner. Because we can. But then sometimes we voluntarily cook vegetables, so it evens out.

      I HATE doing laundry, and I don’t know why I am able to wash and dry (and even fold!) my clothes with no problem, but taking them from their folded place in the laundry room to the closet where they belong sometimes seems like an insurmountable task. So you know…you win some, you lose some.

      • Kara E

        Maybe not three nights in a row, but scrambled eggs (or more likely an omelet with whatevers in the veggie drawer) is a week night staple. I love em, my husband will eat them, and the toddler eats them too. Plus, I’m usually too tired for more by mid-week.

        BUT, if the toddler goes to bed early (or I have to feed her before the hubby gets home), it’s good night for either cheese and crackers with apples and wine, or popcorn (and wine). Ahhh, adulthood.

        • Honestly, I don’t know why I never think of omelettes for dinner. That’s a genius idea. And totally healthy too. I do eat crackers and cheese and apples for dinner way too often. And wine, because wine is an adult thing, right?

      • I would love if someone in APW land could provide tips for getting through the folding and putting away stage. Because it’s SO hard to motivate myself to do it.

        • Ruth

          I always do the folding while I watch Netflix or TV. Putting away is better during TV shows, because then you just put a bit away at every commercial break.

          • sandy

            Podcasts, man. Also, I recently discovered that with the magical powers of a laundry basket, laundry can be brought into the living room, and folded while I watch TV at the end of the night when I’m too tired to do anything else and there is a new season of The League on Netflix.

          • Oh podcasts are a great idea!

          • I tried this this morning and you’re right…it went by so fast!

        • TeaforTwo

          I am by no means an expert on the follow-through aspect of housework, but here is what I have found with laundry:

          When I just can’t get myself to put it away, it’s usually because my closet is already out of control, which makes it really hard to put stuff away. We live in a small urban condo and don’t have a ton of closet space. My dresser drawers are overflowing and my closet is so crammed that I sometimes break my slimline hangers trying to shove everything in there. It’s madness in there.

          I can’t afford a bigger apartment or more closet space, but I can get rid of all the clothes that don’t fit/aren’t seasonal/have been needing repair for 3+ years etc. etc.

          That may not be your issue, but it’s definitely mine, and I find that putting things away is a thousand times easier when everything has a place and is in some kind of order.

          • laurasmash

            YES. I realized that I will basically rotate through the same five outfits for months and ignore all the other clothes no matter what. Getting rid of stuff I didn’t wear made putting clothes away so much easier. Also, this is really weird, but organizing my closet by color was really satisfying and it makes putting everything in its correct color-coded place more fun. I’m disorganized and clutter prone, but that is the one thing I manage to keep organized for whatever reason.

          • This is DEFINITELY my issue. I actually did tackle the folding and putting away this morning and realized that the closet/drawers issue is a big part of why I hate it so much.

        • Heather

          We used to do our laundry every weekend, without fail. If we’re going away, we do it the night before we pack so we have the clothes we wanted (like undergarments, etc.). Otherwise, Saturday or Sunday morning was laundry time. We’d do it together, with all the other chores. So cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming or dusting was happening while the washing machine/dryer was running. Then we’d sit on the couch and fold together while we watch TV. Or if we needed to run out, we’d dump the whole dry load on the bed so we have to fold it and put it away before we go to bed (never slept with clean clothes, just not our thing). Making something a mandatory routine is good for productivity, I find.

          We had three loads every weekend: towels/sheets (washed and dried on hot), t-shirts/undies/whatnot that can be dried on medium, and hang-dry only, which generally made it to the ironing pile immediately after drying. Simplifying that way, vs. by color, made a HUGE difference for us. Maybe it’s a different pre-sort that you need? Makes it quick and easy to only have to fold t-shirts, boxers, socks, you know? Small piles of the same kind of clothing. And we usually fold on the bed or the couch so that it has to go away before we can relax. I also have been known to sternly talk to myself so that I don’t walk away without finishing the job. “Two minutes, this will take *two minutes*” and the like. :)

          Now we don’t even need the routine and will just do it throughout the week, as the hamper looks full. The habits became ingrained pretty quickly, and we both just pitch in as we hear the machine buzz or see the towels in the dryer. It’s nice.

          Neither of us has ever had a hangup about laundry though, so it was pretty easy for us to get that situated. But cleaning the tub or mopping floors, or dealing with piles of important paperwork, or purging magazines? Those are our Insurmountable Tasks. That’s our cluttered bathtub for sure. Somebody find a way to make us mop and I’ll be eternally grateful.

          • Jess

            The only thing that makes me mop is just how effing clean it looks afterwards. Our kitchen floor tiles are white (WHY?????) so mopping, even more than sweeping, makes a HUGE difference in how clean it looks. Otherwise, seriously, it would never get done.

        • Whitney S.

          1. I hate ironing way more than I hate folding. If I hang things up/fold them while they are warm, I don’t have to iron as much.
          2. I fold all at once while watching some trashy TV on my bed. Things go quicker while watching something entertaining and things must be put up in order to sleep.

          • Hayley

            I haven’t ironed since I started dating my husband. Luckily he is better at it than I am and doesn’t mind doing it. I’d rather clean the toilet than iron!

          • Whitney S.

            I’d rather clean the toilet than do the dishes! Have definitely contemplated throwing away all the dishes in the sink during a toddler grade fit. :-)

          • Hayley

            Nick is really bad about bringing his dirty Tupperware home from work, and I sometimes catch him throwing it away when the contents have just turned too horrifying to even deal with!

        • Erin

          Just don’t sit down until it’s done. Fold it as soon as you take it out of the dryer.

        • Aj

          our washer and dryer are in the ground floor of our building so there’s some incentive when I’m doing the laundry (R has a different method which results in the clothes/sheets/whatnot not getting folded…I’m not saying it’s an inferior method but…) to just fold it when I’m down there before I can do anything else. Our “hang dry’s” obviously get brought upstairs without folding. My problem is the putting away…our unused guest room is such a fantastic place for clean laundry. Really I should just convert it to an enormous walk in closet and I would be set. So yeah, no solution, just commiseration.

        • Hayley

          I try to do it while I’m on the phone. Makes it go by a little quicker. But it is probably my least favorite household task and I always let it sit as long as possible before I get around to doing anything about it!

        • I like folding. That comes from having done it with my mom since I was a teeny tiny one… we treated it as a fun DIT craft project (mom and I also like origami). For me, most manual activities are fun when there’s more than one pair of hands… so put on some music and enlist your partner, and have a race to see who gets through it the fastest, or who has the neatest folding skills. Or youtube “how to folding a shirt in two seconds”… it’s a neat technique and pretty fun to try to master!

      • vegankitchendiaries

        Dudes, we are SMUG VEGANS, and we skip veggies and have a bag of chips (or a pint of ice cream) for dinner a few times a month…
        #IWantToBeForeverYoung

        • lottie

          Indeed. Sometimes I eat a head of steamed broccoli for dinner and other nights I make up for that healthful indulgence with ice cream and chips. I’m skeptical of people who have balanced meals every meal, every day.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I honestly just try to balance my eating over a day. I’m petite and don’t get much exercise during the work-week, so my portions are small. I could set up meals like 2 oz. of chicken, a half-cup of milk, a half-cup of berries, a cup of broccoli, and 1 slice of whole-wheat toast. Or, I can have normal-size portions, but only 1 or 2 food groups per meal.

    • Mellie

      I love this! Whenever my husband and I are trying to justify something like why we should go out for ice cream after dinner or buy a Millennium Falcon figurine or something equally delightful yet frivolous we tell each other “we can do that, because we are grown ups!” Grown ups get to make the rules.

    • Hayley

      Yes!! I am starting to think that caramel apples/sassy coffee mugs are basically the reward you get for adulting.

  • Grace from England

    I had a similar realisation this summer though I drew a different conclusion. I realised that there is no such thing as this effortless adulthood. Adulthood is a lot of effort. It would seem that the couple who never have dishes all over the kitchen actually take the time after dinner to clean up after themselves before they sit down to watch TV. That’s the only difference, and that’s when I suddenly ran out of excuses for why there was paperwork everywhere that needed to be dealt with, an endless mountain of washing up and clothes on the floor. There was no secret, I either had to enlist my partner to help me sort out our shit or that was going to be the kind of adults we were. I’m not saying it’s not ok to live like that, and some weeks are obviously worse than others, but I had been totally kidding myself that there were reasons other than laziness for this*. Also, in the housework thread I discovered Unfuck Your Habitat which I LOVE.

    *For myself and my partner, two childless 20 something’s with PLENTY of time.

    • For me, I think I feel “adult” largely because over the last 4 or so years, I’ve been working to figure out how to handle the day-to-day tasks of adulthood…laundry, dishes, paying bills, etc., and I have found and am finding solutions that work for me. Doing better at getting a handle on stuff and figuring out systems for my home is probably a bigger factor in my feeling “adult” than I think I realized before your comment. And perhaps this past difficult, challenging year has made me feel much more adult too. I’d say surviving that has given me a deeper confidence than I had before. So probably a combo of the two things, and just getting older too. People still think I am much younger than I am, but no one mistakes me for being in university anymore. :)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Oh, ability to find systems – another personality thing. For example, my parents have various habits that are supposed to save money but just cause headaches. Things like saving every yogurt tub. It’s easy to see from the outside that they don’t need all these flimsy plastic containers, that all they do is come tumbling down periodically when you don’t pull one out or put one back carefully enough, but it’s hard for them to see. (They’re not diagnosable hoarders – They just have “frugal” habits more like people 2 generations older.)

        Or when my computer’s stalling and it’s taking me 40 minutes to do my weekly check in of all our accounts, it would totally be reasonable for someone to say that just checking the final monthly statements is sufficient.

        Some people will spot such things. Some won’t.

        • Sara

          My mother saves every plastic container as well, which makes for a very confusing and disappointing search when I invade their house looking for food.

          • A single sarah

            My family doesn’t save every container, but some of the butter bowls are older than I am. (They get used too. The old containers are a better shape for pepper halves than modern ones.)

    • MC

      “It would seem that the couple who never have dishes all over the kitchen actually take the time after dinner to clean up after themselves before they sit down to watch TV.”

      SO MUCH YES to this. My partner and I are also childless 20somethings and we have recently had this realization that if we just put effort into the things that make our lives function more easily, then… our lives function more easily. Not exactly rocket science but pretty amazing. It might mean that we only get to watch the Daily Show OR the Colbert Report at the end of the night instead of watching both plus another episode of something, but I’ve decided that’s an okay price to pay for having a more organized life.

      • Rin

        My partner and I were just talking about this the other day. Getting ready for the week takes work! A lot of it, but so totally worth it when you don’t get home until 8pm (or later). And having a clean kitchen in the morning is such a great way to start the day, that it’s worth the effort to stand at the sink for another 20 tired minutes. The alternatives are not pretty, and less clutter just makes everything else feel better.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      So, my husband has executive dysfunction, so paperwork and related issues are not just laziness.

      But even apart from psychological diagnoses, there’s just personality issues that can come into play. I actually enjoy managing the day-to-day finances. I don’t blame someone who doesn’t track spending to the penny like I do. Her bathtub is probably clean, where mine is not.

      • Grace from England

        Oh sure there are other factors. This is really where compromising with your partner comes into play – he never cleans the bathroom, I never hoover. But between us those things now actually get done, which has taken years and lots of tears to achieve.

      • Hayley

        “Her bathtub is probably clean, where mine is not.” Such a good thing to remember. Everyone has their area where they’re especially responsible or organized or efficient, and “slacks off” a bit in another area as a result. Can’t win ’em all!

  • Alyssa M

    I love that story at the end… sometimes I feel like I’m that friend everyone else thinks is an adult (getting married, buying a house, while my friends mostly live with their parents), but I SO don’t feel like I’m there at ALL when I spend the evening napping in a pile of clean laundry while my partner plays video games before heading off to my hourly wage graveyard shift…

  • Sarah

    “Do most adults have to reset their password to pay their student loans
    every. single. month. because they don’t want to write it down, and at
    this point they’ve reset it so many times that the only new passwords
    they can come up with are gibberish that they have no hope of
    remembering again in thirty days?”
    Answer = YES! I finally started doing my tax return today and had to reset several passwords so I could get the information to fill it out. I have so many online passwords these days – the only ones I actually remember are for email and facebook! Also, I’m pretty sure if I was a ‘real adult’ I would have done my tax in July and already have received my return by now.

    I’m really enjoying the discussion this month on growing up. The past two years have been extremely difficult, mostly due to things outside our control, causing us to delay our plans to get married and start a family. Over the same period, it has suddenly felt like everyone else my age is getting married and having children. It can be hard not to feel like you’re deficient in some way… it reminds me a little bit of high school, when I was sure there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have a boyfriend. On the other hand, I am doing okay when it comes to important (if less visible and celebrated) aspects of adulthood, like paying the bills on time, making sure we eat decent meals, and juggling a full time job and part-time study and actually doing reasonably well at both. Since reading all the growing up posts, I’m really starting to recognise the importance of the stuff that you are getting right (or getting better at) and celebrating even the small wins.

    • Lauren

      I just had a quick moment of panic while I tried to remember whether I filed this year’s taxes… (yes, they’re done, but I thought the doubt was very fitting with this whole conversation!)

      • Sara

        I once did my taxes early and was so proud of myself, until I got a W2 back from a waitressing job I had forgotten I had for four months in the beginning of the year. I FORGOT I HAD A JOB. And then I had to go explain to a tax professional that yes, I am smart, but I just forgot I had done this job the year before. Idiot.

    • My response to the constant forgetting of passwords was just to buy 1password, and give up any hope of knowing how to access anything without that software.

      • A single sarah

        Exactly! I got 1password for the hacking security + not having to remember or reset.

        I still know my gmail password, but it’s under 2 factor authentication, so I’m not as worried about it being hacked.

    • “Do most adults have to reset their password to pay their student loans every. single. month. because they don’t want to write it down, and at this point they’ve reset it so many times that the only new passwords they can come up with are gibberish that they have no hope of remembering again in thirty days?”

      Yes.

      But when I registered for those student loans at age 17, this is what I put as my secret question: “What was the date of your first kiss?” Just imagine how vehemently I went, “WTF?” when I was trying to log in at age 23.

      At least I’m not that sentimentally naive anymore!

      • Rin

        OMG – are you me?! Seriously, I just looked the other day at my student loans (part of being an adult: not putting my head in the sand about financial responsibilities) and came across that question. “WTF?!” was definitely my first response too! Seriously, why?!

      • Hayley

        I just spit water all over my computer because I burst out laughing. That is awesome.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My solution to the password issue is an excel file with a simple password, where they’re “written” down. (And the file name is not “passwords.”) Also, a lot of them are the same. The risks associated with a hacker getting access to Netflix and drugstore.com are minimal compared to the 100-password problem.

      Alternatively, you can write them down literally, and put the list in your fireproof box.

      My husband and I have also experimented with passwords based on random dates you can google – like our favorite authors’ birthdates. Those we noted in non-password-protected files on our computer. (“The banking password is Joyce’s birthdate.”) The problem there was I couldn’t remember the format. Was Pearl Harbor 12071941? 7dec1941? dec71941?

      • Hayley

        The problem I run into, as I reset password after password, is that the requirements keep changing! So where “password123456” (for example) used to work, now the password can’t end in a number, so it becomes “password123456!” Or is it “password123456#”? And then I have to set up a new password on something else that requires capital letters, so then it becomes “PassWord123456” and….then I am just lost.

    • Ooh! Open thread! What are we getting right? Celebrate what we are doing well and maybe learn from each other! What do you think, editors?

  • Hannah B

    Wow you leave the clean laundry pile on the foot of the bed? I usually just kick it to the floor. :)

    • Just chiming in to say “Eff clean laundry for being SUCH A PAIN IN THE ASS.”

      • KC

        We have a hamper for the dirty laundry and a basket for the clean laundry (things particularly prone to wrinkling get folded as they’re pulled out of the dryer, but still live in the basket). Sometimes the laundry gets folded and put away before it’s used again. Sometimes it doesn’t. Eh. Still adults, probably.

        • See I tried this, but then somehow everything got switched and then my husband had three laundry baskets and I had a pile if dirty clothes on the floor. One of us is really going to have to figure out this laundry thing…

          • KC

            Hm. Yeah, that would be inconvenient.

            Really, I guess I’m saying: you don’t have to get it perfect, just done well enough to work for you and your lifestyle. For some people, getting it done well enough requires doing it all the way, because they can’t get motivated to do the partial version – for others, the partial version is magic.

            Maybe laundry scheduling? A load of laundry will be run every [specific day(s) of the week] and folded [following day(s) of the week] during [TV show or phone call with family or other can-fold-clothes-during-it activity]?

            Anyway, good luck. Laundry is annoying.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          This is still the non-system-system at my parents’ house. They raised 3 kids. Mom’s a surgeon, chief of medicine at her hospital. Dad’s a teacher on his nth career. Definitely grown-ups. Never, ever have all the laundry put away.

          • KC

            To be honest, with some things, if it doesn’t save you time/effort in the long run and doesn’t cause problems (dust/mold/whatever), then having “the place clean everyday towels live is this basket” instead of “the place clean everyday towels live is folded on this shelf of this closet”… works pretty well.

            I think getting all the socks paired does work out to be “better” to do on the front end, though, because it can prevent running-late-ness and it’s more efficient to do all at once. So we do aim for that, and a few other things. But generally, if a “system” works, it works, even if it’s not traditional/”adult”.

        • Ilora

          We do something similar, we have a hamper with three separate sections that we use for clean, one for socks/underwear/bras, one for work clothes, and one for other clothes, when we do laundry we just sort it like that so we can grab and go if needed, and fold when I get the urge

      • Weirdly enough laundry is one of my preferred chores (since I got my system in place). But there are other things I definitely struggle with staying on top of (typed as I look into the kitchen at the dishes on the counter…).

    • Hayley

      It probably would get kicked to the floor, if not for the lizards in our apartment :) Those lizards, keeping me on my toes! (Or, at least, keeping the laundry on the bed…)

  • leafygreen

    I enjoy the mention of “reasonable groceries,” largely because when we buy kids’ cereal, pop tarts, fruit snacks, and ice cream sandwiches, I wonder if the cashiers think we have children or if they know these things are for us.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We shop at a big chain grocery store (don’t judge) with a discount card still shared with my parents. (We’ve tried a couple times to sign up for our own, honest, but now that almost everyone in our region has one, it’s a pain to find an employee who knows how to sign someone up.) Sometimes the marketing algorithms spit out coupons for diapers or something, and I wonder what coupons Mom’s getting, and what she thinks we’re not telling her.

      • Laelo

        I read once that at practically every chain someone has registered with (local area code) 867-5309 (like the song) and it’s worked for me every time I’ve been at a store without a discount card.

        • lottie

          Brilliant.

      • Sarah E

        My favorite when I lived with my Grandma was sharing a bonus card with my mom so it was always a lottery at the gas station to see who could cash in on the bonus points. So satisfying if Mom made a big grocery trip and then I could snake the 10 cents off per gallon. Alas, alack! Now I live way outside the region for that store.

    • up_at_Dawn

      Chiming in as a former cashier. I worked as a cashier through highschool- unless I saw kids with the adults or saw them bugging for things- I assumed that the junk food was reflective of the eating habits of the people buying it.

      Also it was near a university- and pretty much ALL university students bought were frozen dinners, pizzas, poptarts, lucky charms, coke and a bunch of bananas.

      • leafygreen

        I’ve been a cashier, too, and thought about the reasons behind the various purchases/combinations thereof…but when I was a kid I ate gushers and lunchables, and my parents definitely didn’t. I usually did not go grocery shopping with them, but they got me things I liked anyway.

        “Reflective of the eating habits of the people buying it” in a larger sense, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean the fruit snacks are for the people buying them. And now I feel judged. :P

    • Hayley

      I am chowing down on some Kraft Mac & Cheese right this very moment.

      • Prue

        That was my lunch AND dinner yesterday!

      • Prue

        That was my lunch AND dinner yesterday!

  • Nell

    This is the right moment for this comic. http://xkcd.com/150/

    • “now it’s our turn to decide what that means.”

      I think there’s some truth in that… maybe there’s so much backlash against millennials not being adults, or millennials themselves not feeling like adults, because we still buy into the previous generation’s definition of adult.

      • Hayley

        Amen to THAT. And so much of the previous generation’s definition is never going to happen for us, for a variety of reasons, so it’s no wonder so many of us are still trying to sort out what our own adulthood should look like.

    • Another Meg

      This is, I shit you not, our wedding guestbook. We bought a print, had a big custom mat made for it, and everyone signed the mat. It sums up how we feel about life.
      And as if to prove the truth of this, two older cousins, grown ass adults with kids an mortgages, taped their beer mugs to their hands at the reception and had some kind of amazing drunk conversation on the guestbook.

      It is glorious.

      • Heather

        That is amazing.

      • Lily

        I wish I had seen this comment before our wedding so I could have shamelessly copied this idea.

    • I love it!

    • KateS

      and also this one. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

      it’s at least comforting to know we all have the metaphorical ball pit or tub full of last minute put away items…
      but even at 30, i still can’t believe how quickly it’s always time to grocery shop again. le sigh.

      and to your point @disqus_GQgCC4cvgw:disqus , this article i think made some really good points on why that millennial definition of adulthood is shifting: http://www.salon.com/2014/09/12/the_death_of_adulthood_is_really_just_capitalism_at_work/

      • Hayley

        That’s the hardest part, for me – that it is all never ending. Just when you think you’re caught up, and the bills are paid and the fridge is full of healthy groceries, and the laundry is even put away…it’s time to do it ALL over again!

        • KateS

          amen, sister – same here. i think one of meg’s recent articles descried adulthood as “relentless” – spot. on.

      • Ugh groceries. I either have too much food, so some goes bad, or not enough, just missing those two things, and I have to go back again. And then I still don’t know what to make for dinner.

    • Hayley

      This is awesome!!

  • Lauren

    Be okay with yourself. It’s okay to be yourself. Ultimately, I think “growing up” is about having confidence to be just who you are, no matter what age you are or what labels are being thrown around. Be you :)

    • Lauren from NH

      Yup. I feel more like the boss of my life everyday. I am the boss of my Harry Potter-reading, bill-paying, impractical-hot-shoe-wearing adulthood. #GIRLBOSS

    • THIS! This is not what we are taught, but what we should be taught. This is much more important than laundry or eggs for dinner or any of that superfluous crap that we tell ourselves we need to be and aren’t living up to (although financial responsibility is really important). To be honest about who you are and have fun, PLAY is grown up if it’s who we are, and it is. I think we all want kids (or those of us who do) because we hope they’ll bring out that youthfulness, that play in us, and without the judgement of doing something childish because we want to.
      Perhaps we’d all do a little more laundry folding if we stopped watching tv in order to have acceptable “fun” and started doing more art and hiking more trails and taking more dance classes because it’s fun.

  • Jules

    I always love your essays, Hayley. Just hilarious enough and so relateable (sp?) :-)

    When I was 15, I attended the wedding of my 22-year-old [Mormon] cousin, and thought, “Wow, I’ll be married in 7 years!” At 24 I am seeing life doesn’t necessarily work like this. Haha.

    I’ve also seen one acquaintance embrace adulthood with a little too much vigor, and it’s oddly off-putting, maybe because I’m slightly worried she’s judging the rest of us for not being as caught up. Married at 21, bought a house in the suburbs and began hosting dinner parties at 23, became a lawyer at 24, pregnant at 25….

    • Hayley

      Thank you so much! Yeah, if you had asked me at 15 where I’d be now, I would NOT have guessed that I’d have been married for just under 6 months and wouldn’t have kids yet. But it feels like things are (mostly) moving along just as they should, and anything faster wouldn’t have been right (for me).

  • 39bride

    “Fake it ’til you make it.” I think that applies to a lot of situations that challenge/stress us and force us to grow–like a new job, moving to a new place, etc. For me, this really resonates in the realm of parenthood. We took on two preteen relatives 18 months into marriage and after six months with them I’m now starting to feel like I might–someday!–have a handle on this parenting thing.

  • Sara

    “After I shut the door behind me, I took a quick peek behind the shower curtain (as I always do, because I am paranoid, and like to make sure no one is hiding in there). Upon pulling back the curtain, I found the tub filled to the brim with stuff – toys, picture frames, trash, you name it. This was a classic case of the pre-party panicked cleaning frenzy! ”

    I do both parts of this – I constantly check behind the shower curtain (especially after a couple episodes of Criminal Minds late at night). When I have dinner parties, I take all the large dirty dishes and put them in the tub because my friends refuse to not hang out in my tiny tiny kitchen. I’ve tried everything to convince them to stay out of there with hanging curtains in the door way (my friend Joey now calls the kitchen “backstage”), keeping a stocked bar in the living room, reminding them I have a living room AND a dining room…but that’s where they want to be. So in an effort to look put together, the large baking pans and saucepans go in my tub.

    I also left my landry half folded on my couch for four days, and then ate ricotta cheese and crackers for dinner with a glass of whiskey. As for passwords, I stupidly use the same 4 variations of pet names for passwords, but I do keep all my work ones in Google Tasks, so that’s been a lifesaver.

    • Sarah E

      Fun fact: Almost every time I daydream about future me (like, 5+ years down the road), I imagine myself taller.

      • Me too. So future me is 5’5″ but actual me is 5’1″

      • jashshea

        Future/Put-together me doesn’t have any curl/wave to her hair, so she never gets frizzies.

        • Here’s the rub. I used to have nice straight hair. The older I get, the more unpredictably frizzy, unruly and wavy it becomes. Sigh. Older me looks so much less put together

    • Hannah

      The part about your height is great. I’ve always said that my life goal was to be 5’4… but it turns out that is never going to happen as I haven’t grown AT ALL since seventh grade when I just barely reached 5’2. Couple that with my “baby face” and I think I shall never grow up, because people still guess that I am five years (give or take) younger than I really am. Maybe one day I’ll be glad to look young, but as an engaged lady I’m tired of the judgement from the people who assume my fiance is “robbing the cradle” or that it’s a “shotgun wedding.” Puhhhlease.

      • Cleo

        I’m RIGHT THERE WITH YOU!!!

        I just barely reached 5’3″, but my dream was always to be 5’5″. I have a baby face and while I’m almost 30, when I’m in meetings with new people, there’s a 75% chance I’ll be asked something like — “Well, you’ve just graduated college, haven’t you?” in a patronizing tone.

        I’ve started wearing makeup and have upgraded my wardrobe to be more dressy than 99% of the people in my office to give the impression of maturity. It’s worked some.

        But yes, I feel you on the “you’re so young”-esque comments.

      • Sara

        My little brother just graduated from college, and at a bbq this summer someone was asking him about his post-grad plans. Then they turned to me and asked “are you graduating soon?”. I’m 28. So I feel your pain.

    • Hayley

      I’m glad I am not the only paranoid one who checks the tub :)

    • MDBethann

      Even us taller gals still get mistaken for a much younger age – I must have a baby face or something. I’ve been around 5’10” tall since my late teens but even in my early 30s was still carded, and I remember being 22 & really upset about starting grad school & the waitress in the restaurant thought I was an 18 year old college freshman. As I hit my mid-30s, it has changed a bit – not sure if it was the engagement & wedding rings at first, but now that I’m obviously pregnant, people aren’t mistaking me for a kid anymore, which is nice.

  • lady brett

    i recently stopped feeling like some kind of grown-up imposter…and in the end, it’s just because the outside world now views me as an adult (mostly due to some combination of notably greying hair and kids).

    when everyone stops looking to you at work for the “young” perspective and people are *finally* not carding you every time you want a drink, and new acquaintances don’t ask whether you are in high school or college it starts to sink in. or, really, for me it’s been a lot less about “feeling like an adult” than just not thinking about it much, because no one is making me feel like i need to justify being in grown-up-land.

  • I enjoyed this whole essay, but I particularly love this part:
    “On holidays, they have people over to their lovely, clean house for
    hors d’oeuvres and fancy drinks, and I feel like I might as well be at a
    costume party, here in my grown-up costume in my fake grown-up life
    where my friends have terrifying grown-up things like kids and houses.”

  • I’m married, with a house and three pets – still feel like a big ol kid.

  • I’m in my 30’s but I still say “when I grow up” or “when I become an adult” because I just don’t feel that I’m there yet. Sure I have my own place and I pay bills but that feeling of “adults do X, Y & Z” still lingers with me, and I don’t feel I measure up to that standard yet.

  • Not there yet

    I took a pregnancy test today! Just a few months into our marriage, and not planning on any kids yet, it was kind of terrifying to think I might be pregnant. Not ready for that at all, even though I am almost 30. I would like to wait some with that part of adulthood for now, and work on getting a decent job first!

  • Jen

    I make eggs for dinner ALL the time! I love breakfast foods, but I don’t want to make breakfast in the morning! Eggs for dinner are easy and delicious! A few times I have even had cereal for dinner and sat there thinking “I am an adult.”

    I’m 27 and I don’t feel like an adult at all. I will also be visiting Walt Disney Wold in the fall! But I think being an adult means getting to go to Disney whenever you want! ;) That’s the one good thing about working…saving for the vacation you want!

    • Hayley

      There are very few things I am determined to do before having kids, but an adults-only Disney trip with my husband is one of them. Disney without kids is a BLAST.

  • up_at_Dawn

    I’m in my midtwenties and I definitely don’t really feel “grown-up”. But I always attributed this to having moved back in with my parents to get my second degree. In fact I’m writing this from their couch, right now. :( Adulthood-Fail.

    • Hayley

      Oh no! No adulthood fail, I promise. Nick and I lived with family for a good chunk of time in our late twenties. You do what you have to do! And sometimes making a less-than-thrilling decision (moving home) is the responsible, adult decision for the moment, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

  • “But if anything less than absolute perfection feels like a failure, the solution isn’t that I need to try harder to be the perfect adult—whatever that even means. The solution is that I need to adjust my expectations of what it means to grow up.” THIS!
    We need to adjust our expectations of failure and perfection. None of us are perfect and imperfection in itself is not failure. Failure in itself seems so definitive and permanent that we destroy ourselves trying to get to this unrealistic and unattainable goal, not just for adulthood but for everything.

    • Danielle Marie

      1,000,000 times this!

      Why is it so hard to let go of the idea that if we can just get ourselves to try hard enough we will be perfect?

      • I don’t know. What’s the fun in perfection? Other people finding us intimidating? Being smug about how superior we are? And I think this is a primarily female phenomenon. Women take this perfectionism on, while men are accepted and unapologetic for their dirty piles and video game playing. Where is our fun?

      • Hayley

        For me, I am very much an “all or nothing” person. So I tend to throw myself into trying to Conquer Adulthood and aim to eat SO healthy and exercise 5 times a week and stick to a very strict budget and keep the house and car meticulously clean and it’s just…not sustainable. And then I burn out quickly, and crash (much like the Hyperbole and a Half link someone posted above), and have to start all over again. Finding a spot in the middle, where I get the really important stuff done, and don’t stress about the rest, is really really hard. But I’m working on it!

  • Amanda

    Adjusting expectations: the theme for our generation.

    • Lily

      This should be a theme for a future month.

  • Emily

    I enjoyed this (especially the surprise in the tub!). As I’ve read many of these adult-themed essays, I’m realizing that I don’t identify adult by the external markers. I know plenty of forty or fifty somethings who have the external markers, but I don’t see as people I want to be like. For myself, I think adult is about not looking for praise or validation from the outside, something about standing in my own shoes, ideally comfortably, but even uncomfortably. Hmm. I need to think about this more. Half-cooked comment here!

  • Aj

    I read somewhere that the most successful people (adults, I assume) do chores during weeknights so that their weekends are free for fun activities. I’ve yet to really be able to make that shift. After work, I just need to go home and not be an adult for the rest of the day…popcorn for dinner, netflix, and no pants.

    • Hayley

      I am trying, hard, to at least get the laundry done on weeknights. It’s hard to get motivated after a long day, though…

    • C_Gold

      Yipes, if that’s the case, I’m never gonna be successful. I feel inordinately proud of myself if I cook dinner on a weeknight, instead of ordering in or relying on my fiancé to cook. Additional chores? Ugh.

  • C_Gold

    I try to think of all the irresponsible-ish things I do as my right as an adult, because my parents can no longer stop me. Eat cake for dinner one night? I can decide to do that, cuz I’m an adult. I figure, I have a job and I pay my bills. That’s enough for me to count as an adult, to myself. As I’ve told my future step-son (when discussing something he wasn’t allowed to do), that’s what’s nice about being an adult–you get to make your own decisions. :)

  • Amanda

    A small suggestion for the password debacle: LastPass. It is a service that will generate very secure passwords for you and autofill them. You just have one master password to memorize. This way you can have secure passwords for banks, loans, etc and not reuse passwords. Oh it’s also free.

  • mackenzie

    Had to take a break after the first paragraph to say, exactly! My teachers were 27 when the “big stuff” happened to them and ever since then 27 was to me the age that everything BIG happened.

  • Monica R.

    I love this article – it’s quite timely given where I am with my life. And, lest we forget, there is such thing as being *too* much of an adult. Striking a balance between responsibility and being carefree is key. Also, sometimes, you can’t perfect it all and pick your battles. I may be meticulous about paying bills and the like, but let other things, like vacuuming regularly, slide.

    • Monica R.

      For the most part, I feel as though being an adult is more about having gained more emotional maturity and wisdom than it is about external markers of success :).

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  • This was awesome. And it feels so *real* and reminds me at 26 that it’s okay to not have it all together yet. And yes, I do reset the password on a lot of sites every month because I just can’t figure it out.