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Defining “Adult”

by Anastasia Strgar

I think Britney Spears said it best when she said “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” At 23, I’m a bit loth to call myself either a girl or a woman, because I don’t quite feel like either. Thus, as I’m training in the archaic fashions of ladylike behavior, I deign to consider myself a lady. However, all this talk about appropriate titles of my current role in human development, have gotten me thinking about what defines  being an adult?

Well, if you want to get really technical about it, being an adult means that you’re eighteen and thus can (at least in the U.S.) vote, go to war, buy cigarettes, lottery tickets and porn. Another way to think about it is that for hundreds of years, you were an adult after you got educated and got married. Unfortunately, about 40 years ago, it got a bit more complicated with the arrival of the women’s liberation movement. Now it’s gotten even more complicated… These days, 20-somethings go to college, but a lot of them don’t necessarily get married right away or even get a job… Some people go back for another degree or two, other people join the Peace Corps and others just travel endlessly, becoming professional gypsies. Thus, as you can see, the lines are a bit blurred.

This is a particularly interesting query as there’s a big debate in the psychology fields of late about whether to add “emerging adulthood” as the human developmental stage following adolescence. The New York Times can define it much more eloquently than I can.

I’m not sure what I think about the emerging adulthood trend, but to satiate my own curiosity, I contacted many of my friends and even asked my parents about what defines being an adult to them. Answers ranged from being financially independent to being emotionally mature to being able to make your own decisions. I think the best answer I got was from my friend’s husband. He said, “Being an adult means having to choose between different options and then committing to your choice.” He went on to explain that children expect that they can have it all, whereas a true adult knows they cannot, and therefore makes a (sometimes) difficult decision (or sets of them) but ultimately commits to his/her choice(s).

I myself am a big believer in this definition because I think it can be applied to the 18-year-old who has just moved out or to the 30-year-old who, for many a reason, doesn’t have a job and is living with his parents. While it may be difficult to not judge, external circumstances can create many less-than-desired situations for previously independent adults. While in this case, it may be less than desired to move home, this adult may be showing the ability to make difficult choices and commit to them.

Another case to consider may be a man who has to choose between his dream job and the love of his life. Many a person has had to make difficult decisions about whether to pursue one’s life dream or the love of one’s life. It’s both courageous to love and to choose being alone, as Life rarely allows you to have everything.

But that’s just my opinion. What do you think defines being an adult? Is the definition to you simple or complex? Do you feel like you would consider yourself an adult? And, if you’re feeling a little unsure of yourself, check out this blog post a co-worker showed me. After all, we all can’t be adults all the time.