Extended adolescence is all the rage these days. Or extended childhood, or extended young adulthood, depending on whether your particular clock stopped during Star Wars: Episode III or Star Wars: Episode I.
It’s hard for me to relate because I’m preternaturally old. I’ve always wanted to be old. When I was in elementary school I used to listen to Steely Dan with my dad and think, “‘Reeling in the years…’ — yep, Donald, that is just so true.” As a teenager, I yearned to be an adult — not for the sex and booze, but for the checking account and the books about World War II. I’m thirty-four years old, and every year I feel more like my true self. I was born to be middle-aged, and now, finally, I can grow into the person I was always meant to be.
Like all good complexes, my precocious old age can be traced back to my relationship with my parents. It was a good one. I largely skipped the phase of hating my parents; I jumped right from adulating them to empathizing with them. I empathized with their adultness: the fretful unease, the appreciation for presidential biographies, the constant low-level tiredness like a parasitic infection. Mostly I considered them my friends, and like any good friend, I made an effort to learn about their old people hobbies. For my mom, that meant sewing and seasonal holiday decorating. For my dad, opera and The New Yorker. By the time I was in junior high, I imagined adulthood as a combination of 1930s Manhattan and 1950s Lake Wobegon, and so far, I’ve been right.
The best part about getting old is that I no longer have to pretend to be youthful. For the first thirty years of my life, there was a lot of faking it, so now I’m going to come clean. I hate having roommates. I don’t see the appeal of drugs. I have never liked going to any concert where I couldn’t sit down. I’m going to level with you: If I ever went to your house party and you had a band or a keg there, no matter what I told you at the time, I didn’t have fun.
Occasionally when I was younger I would do something fun and free-spirited, like staying up all night, getting drunk on the beach, and skinny dipping in the sea, and I’d try very hard to convince myself, This must be fun! I’m having fun! This, right now, is fun! But it turns out that constantly pretending you’re having fun is even more tiring than staying up all night drinking. I’d rather go apple picking. I am so into apple picking.
By this stage of my life, all the big decisions are made, all the boxes checked. I’ve picked a job, a spouse, a city, a home, a pet, a hairstyle. I’ve made my choices about kids, about friends, about tattoos. I have a personal style. I don’t expect to acquire any additional food allergies. There’s nothing more to agonize about, and all the time I once spent weighing the pros and cons of graduate school I can now spend reading Sunset magazine instead. I don’t need to be cool, or even date-able. I have nothing more to apologize for. I like bars with ample seating and parties where everyone answers, “No, thanks, I’m fine.” The other day I went on Pinterest, opened a link called “90 Ideas for Holiday Wreaths” and clicked through all ninety. I recently had a dream where I went to Costco and found a good deal on some glass food storage containers. That’s it. I found the storage containers, and I bought them, and I went home, and it was a great dream. Next month I’m buying a minivan and I don’t give a fuck. I have nothing left to lose.
The appeal of youth is its limitless potential, a potential that I never really believed in, even as a child. By first grade, I was already cautious, self-limited, resigned. It was the Eighties, so adults were just getting really into self-esteem, and teachers liked to say things like, “You can be anything you want to be!” But I knew better. When I was a kid, my dream jobs included bank manager and hotel concierge – both fine careers, but neither exactly a magical fairy astronaut.
When I watched Peanuts, I always identified most closely with Linus. In most ways, Linus was a way bigger loser than Charlie Brown – he carried a security blanket with him to school in the third grade – but without any of Charlie’s Brown’s doomed striving. Linus didn’t need to kick the football, didn’t even try. He just dragged that filthy blanket around, quoting Scripture and hallucinating flying pumpkins, and he owned it.
At this point you may be thinking adulthood sounds pretty great. Maybe you’d like to come on board? Or, you may ask, what if I want to be a grown-up but I don’t like Sunset magazine? Well, you’re missing out on some excellent recipes, but that’s your loss. It’s easy to slip into a very narrow definition of adulthood, one focused on what you own or what kind of family you’ve created. You might ask: Can I be an adult if I live with roommates? If I file my taxes with the EZ form? What if I’d rather spend the holidays with my family of friends than my family of family? What if I own a futon, I’m going back to get my GED, I still hang unframed posters on my walls? The answer is yes, you can still be an adult, all except for that last one — seriously, get a frame, they’re like $5, you’ll thank me.
Adulthood is about acceptance – of your weird body and your clueless parents and your heartless exes, of who you were and who you are. The other day I got a Groupon offer for “50% off surfing lessons” and I admit, I paused a moment. But then I did the right thing and I deleted it. With maturity comes self-knowledge. I will never be able to surf. I will never write like Dostoevsky. I will never look good in a romper. At this point even hotel concierge is looking unlikely. Maybe I could have tried harder, but instead I chose to inhabit smallness with grace, like those impossibly gorgeous 800-square-foot studios featured on Apartment Therapy. I’m never going to be a magical fairy astronaut, not even in my dreams. But I look around and I’ve gotten what I always wanted: I’m a grown-up, and it’s awesome.