As a single, childless, 30-something woman, I have been thinking hard about ways Western society defines “adulthood”, “being grown”, or “grown-up”. I believe this to be especially relevant for women, who tend to be infantilized, and remain so, as long as they are unmarried and/or not mothers (and sometimes are still treated as children even then).
Recently, I was visited by a younger woman who came to my house for dinner. I cooked some pasta with a red sauce, accompanied by a salad, and we opened a bottle of wine she had chosen – a Chilean cabernet, maybe, or a malbec – I’m not great with wines – and poured it into a couple of regular glasses. “You don’t have any wine glasses?” she asked, surprised. “No,” I replied. I never seemed to have a need for them before. “You have to at least get a couple of wine glasses,” she chided me, as if I was missing out on some adult household essential by not having them.
Some time after, I saw “wine glasses” mentioned on one of those corny Buzzfeed lists – “26 things every adult should have in their home,” or something. Now, I don’t hold on to everything that other people tell me, but strangely, her comment, reinforced by some random clickbait list, stuck in my mind. I found myself looking at wine glasses at every home furnishings store I was in, thinking which ones were nicest, and which ones I should get, because, of course, I am a grown-up and want to be seen as such by others.
But when it came down to actually purchasing the glasses, I stopped myself. Here was my reasoning: at this point in my life, I have no need for wine glasses in my home. If I buy a bottle of wine for myself, which happens occasionally, I am happy to have it in a regular glass. I rarely have people over for dinner, and if I do, there are few I would invite whose impression of me would be improved if only I had the proper tableware (this young woman being the exception).
I thus came to the realization that owning a set of wine glasses is a very arbitrary symbol of adulthood, and is irrelevant to whether or not I consider myself to be grown. What WAS relevant was my ability to think the situation through and make decisions for myself, based on what I believe to be important.
Being grown, and feeling grown, shouldn’t be determined simply by the presence of a partner, marriage, children, or by ownership of so-called “essential” things (e.g. wine glasses, a little black dress, a house, a car, etc). This heteronormative, consumerist vision of adulthood 1) defines women as we have been measured throughout history, not on our own merit but by our relationships to others, 2) overlooks the unequal distribution of resources throughout society, and 3) ignores the key abilities and skills I believe really signify participation in the world as a full-fledged adult. How you know you’re grown has less to do with what you own, and a lot to do with how honest you are with yourself, and how you structure your life to both take care of yourself and look out for those around you. This can include the following:
- being emotionally responsible. getting to grips with your history and working on healing from your past traumas. challenging denial in yourself and others. learning how not to hold grudges, to clean up your own messes, and to grow emotionally.
- being realistic about your present life situation, exploring options for your future and taking steps, however small, to get you where you want to be.
- being prepared. having an up-to-date CV, a system of organization (diary/phone calendar/planner) that actually works for you, and keeping track of your important things so you can find them when you need them
- managing your time according to your priorities, capabilities, and “spoons”
- making decisions that are based on your best judgment, reasoning, and gut feelings. taking advice, but not following it blindly. thinking things through. getting a second opinion if it seems necessary, but listening to yourself in the end.
- making informed choices regarding your health, nutrition, and overall well-being. doing things in moderation. seeking help if you need it. knowing when to go, when to rest, and when to stop.
- being accountable for your own decisions – accepting responsibility when it is necessary, and recognizing when things are not your fault/not in your control
- setting and maintaining healthy relationship boundaries (in all kinds of relationships – friends, family, colleagues, and intimate relationships). recognizing who nourishes you, who drains you, and adjusting your boundaries accordingly.
- developing a good relationship with yourself. refusing to engage in negative self-talk, setting positive goals for yourself, being kind to yourself.
With the above list, I recognize that people who have certain medical conditions and disabilities may not be able to engage in more of the physical aspects of self-care. This is why I haven’t included being able to cook for yourself, getting exercise, etc. on the list because although I believe they are important aspects of many people’s adulthood, not everyone is able to do that kind of stuff to the same degree and in the same ways.
I also recognize that we have differential access to resources, which means that some will have more finances and time to look after themselves, and others will have very little. But free, low-cost, community-based, and DIY solutions to many grown-up problems do exist, and we should be sharing that kind of information with each other.
What kinds of things signal adulthood to you? How do you know you’re grown? Do you have some good DIY strategies for tackling your grown-up problems? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.