I have always looked young for my age. It will probably be years before I stop getting carded at bars and liquor stores. People do that annoying thing where they tell me, “When you’re older though, it will be so nice to look younger than you are.” (To which I would like to reply, “If you’re suggesting that being seen as a MILF one day will be less awkward, I think you’re wrong.”) Lately it seems like it happens more and more often. I tell people I just moved to Minnesota and they say, “Oh, are you here for school?” I can’t exactly blame them—I know I look like I could still be in college, but I can’t help the ways my eyes narrow and my fists clench in response.
But what’s more frustrating than looking younger than I am is feeling younger than I am. A few weeks ago, I walked into my younger sister’s college dorm room (she’s a freshman), and when her roommate commented on how alike my sister and I look and asked how old I was, I was so flustered that I told her I was twenty-three, and then immediately corrected myself and said, “No—twenty-four, I’m twenty-four, I’m twenty-four! TWENTY-FOUR!” in a way that definitely made it sound like I was lying.
Sometimes I forget how old I am because it’s difficult to reconcile the idea of what I think being an adult should feel like with the way I feel every day—which is, largely, overwhelmed, confused, and generally incapable of making any important decisions. I went straight to an MFA program after completing my undergraduate degree, which means this is my first year in the “real world,” despite having lived on my own the last two years. I’ve moved to a new state and found a fantastic full-time job. It even has health insurance. But sometimes I look around and think, I’m not a real person—who the fuck hired me? Two weeks ago I had to fill out budget projection documents at work, but I just learned what “insurance premium” actually means last month. We don’t have a business casual dress code at work, but if we did, every morning would be a weirdly hilarious experience of playing dress-up. Look at me wearing a blazer. A blazer! (For a few weeks, I told myself that maybe if I wore lipstick I would look like an adult, but I couldn’t even take myself seriously in it, so I changed my mind.)
Last winter, I chopped off eleven inches of my hair and donated it. I have never been a fan of haircuts and I hadn’t had my hair above my shoulders since fifth grade. The one thing I kept repeating to the hairdresser was, “Just don’t make me look like a little kid.” It’s hard to take myself seriously when other people seem not to. (Although, for the record, most people said my new bob made me look “very mature.” Unfortunately, bobs are really in, so even those damn college freshmen are running around with them.)
Maybe it’s one of those gag-inducing things like You have to love yourself first before others can love you. But, when will I feel like an adult? (And anyway, how will embracing my inner grown-up convince others to do the same?) Will it be when I buy a house, get married, have kids? (Ideally, those things are years away.) When I finally understand the stock market? When I have a book published?
I wonder if this is a problem unique to twenty-somethings, who often seem to be a kind of perpetual “lost generation,” or if this extends even into middle age. Will there be a moment or event that causes me to realize, “Hey, I’m an adult!” or will it happen quietly in the background, like falling in love or becoming a hoarder, so I won’t notice until it’s too late?
I’m new to this real world thing. So tell me, dear readers: do you feel like an adult? And what in the world does that even mean?