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I can’t afford to be an adult

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Campus, Culture, Opinions | 0 comments

How do you reach adulthood when the goal posts keep moving?

I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I didn’t consider myself an adult. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been ready for the next thing and I just needed the grownups around me to realize it. I was sure that I had the world all figured out. The only thing stopping me from being a 12-year-old adult was getting permission to join the club. 

This year, I did it. I became an adult. I moved away from home,  got a credit card, and  ditched the nickname and started going by “Alexandra.” I was doing it all alone, and I never felt more like I needed my mom and dad. Really, when I go through the list in my head, I’ve hit almost all the adult markers I’d aimed for at the age of 19. I’ve got a job and a car. I pay taxes, but I’ll never own a home, and marriage feels too far away to even think about. If my parents want grandkids, they’d better be looking towards my brother. If I’ve done it all and checked all my boxes. So, why do I still feel like a baby?

I  don’t think I’m alone, but I can’t think of anyone my age I can point to as certainly not an adult no matter how hard I try. I also can’t think of anyone my age who thinks of themselves as an adult. That’s because none of us are acting like adults. We’re adulting. 

Make fun of the corny millennialism all you like, but that’s what we’re doing. Being an adult is being an adult; truly grown up and feeling like it. But adulting? That’s easier. Adulting is acting exactly like an adult would, but knowing on the inside, you’re just a really big child. There’s something fun about this sneaky, pretend grownupness. None of these real adults have figured out that I’m just a teenager in a trenchcoat. 

Adulting is performing grownupness and, as many tee shirts on Facebook tell me, it’s something that you can stop doing when you’re tired of it. Once all the grownup jobs are done, you can take off the adult hat and stop pretending. But being an adult isn’t performing. Once you’re an adult, you’re always an adult. 

I asked my friends what their favourite adult things to do were. Besides assembling IKEA furniture and being allowed to drink, the answer was always embracing the freedom of no longer being beholden to your parents. You don’t have to ask before you leave the house, can be out as late as you want, and stay up as late as you want. You can dress and decorate however you want. Even if they feel like they’re just pretending to be an adult, rather than being an adult, that freedom is real. 

But then the caveats came in. You can go out with friends whenever… as long as you can afford a car. You can come home as late as you want… as long as you aren’t waking up roommates. You can decorate your house… with whatever is renter-friendly. All the freedoms we get from being an adult have a pretty definite cost; some, like living totally alone or in your own house, are going to come a lot later for us than it did for our parents, or it might not ever come. 

I’m not living alone. I’m renting my grandma’s basement. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life renting, and probably with roommates. I’m in an arts degree, and looking at years and years of paying off student loan debt. Even when I’m grown up and working a real job, I’ll never be able to afford a home in a major city. I feel like I’ll always be trapped in this perpetual state of fake adulting.

You can’t just pretend to be an adult forever, can you? One day, true adulthood will just hit you, and suddenly you’ll have a mortgage and be really into World War II documentaries, right? But, when? Maybe it does just strike you like lightning one day, or you wake up and find your grownup card in the mail. Or, maybe this is just what being an adult is. Maybe you can’t ever be sure that you’re doing it right, and you’ll always have to find someone to help you. Maybe being an adult looks different. 

I don’t want to be the sort of person who’s still adulting when I’m 40, but maybe there are worse things than feeling like I still need my mom. Maybe being an adult is feeling mature enough to admit that. 

Graphic by Leanna Bressan

Alexandra Gauthier

The Griff


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