Left-Behind Adulthood

A while back I wrote a post about how I struggle to identify as an adult and why I never feel like one.

I am not entirely sure how to explain the awkwardness, but I summed it up last night by telling someone, “I almost wish I had kids just so I could have something to talk to other people about.”

Now, I’m not overeager to have children. (Though if I get married, I figure a kid or two will happen eventually.) I don’t have warm fuzzies for children—I don’t think things are automatically cute just because a child is involved—although I like many of the kids I know. That applies to almost all people, too: I’m not a “people person” and I don’t really like people as a whole, but the people I love, I love fiercely.

I just feel like I’m getting, well, left behind.

When I was in high school and college, it was my stepsisters and older cousins who were getting married. After college, my peers were getting married. Now, nearly all those married peers have at least one kid under their belt, and people younger than me are getting married. Or, if they’re not getting married, they’re getting advanced degrees or advanced job positions and other advanced responsibilities of other advanced kinds of advanced advancements. And I feel like I haven’t changed much since high school. I’m not married—I’m not even dating anyone—and I certainly don’t have kids. I don’t have enormous career aspirations, or a glamorous hobby, or uplifting philanthropic work. I’m not even saving up for a house, because I couldn’t possibly care less about having a house.

THIS House, on the other hand…

This weekend has been a perfect illustration of how profoundly awkward it is to be a single, childless woman in her late 20s. For all the reports and studies out there saying how people are marrying and having kids later in life, and how singleness and childlessness is becoming the norm, it is still a weird phase of life to be a childless, single 20-something, at least in my circles. (Even my mother, who has repeatedly told me that she never really wanted kids, was pregnant with me when she was my age.)

There is an assumption that if a late-twentysomething is childless and single, he/she is either an aimless slacker, or an aspiring executive. I am neither. I’m just … existing.

In my day-to-day life, these things usually don’t bother me. When I find myself in a social setting, however, and people start talking about their kids, or healthcare, or their new sofa or curtains, I want to cry, I’m so bored. Then I feel like a pathetic, immature slacker. I have nothing to talk to “the adults” about, nothing to offer in a conversation, and—even among my age group—no longer have any common ground.

This weekend I was at my dad’s—he and my stepmom hosted a cookout to celebrate her birthday, Father’s Day, and my stepsister’s wedding anniversary. It was nice to see them, and I like my stepmom’s family. But it was uncomfortable, as it was one big reminder that, at the tender age of seven-weeks-short-of-28, I don’t feel like an adult. (You know what doesn’t help? The fact that I look young for my age. By like ten years, to some people.) Eventually I just had to go into another room by myself and read my latest CS Lewis acquisition, because I felt so vastly out of place, like I had stepped backward 15 years and I was a socially inept little seventh-grader again.

And for good reason. Nobody can ask me about my kids, or how my boyfriend/fiance/husband is doing, how well my shrubbery is growing this year, or how I’m preparing for/enjoying retirement. None of those things are in any way relevant to my life. If you ask me what I’ve been reading, what was the last new movie I saw, or how my trip to England was, I will gladly talk your ear off. But none of that matters in the “real” world, and nobody cares to hear about that. care, and because I am interested in things that “adults” never seem to talk about, things that don’t matter, I feel I am not an adult and I don’t matter.

"You had a life-changing experience here? That's nice, but I'd really rather talk about the ivy on my neighbor's house."
“You had a life-changing experience here? That’s nice, but I’d really rather talk about the flooding in my neighbor’s basement.”

The thing is, I don’t want kids, or a house, or a big-shot job, and I’m not about to seek out any of those things just because I feel like I should. (I do want to get married someday; I’d also love to write a book that people will actually buy and give a shit about.) I just want to feel like I still matter, even if I don’t have those things. I want to feel like I have purpose, and value, beyond my relationship and/or reproductive status. I feel like nobody takes me seriously, but I’m not helping myself, because often don’t take me seriously.

People will tell me how funny I am, how they love that I make them laugh. My married female friends do enjoy hanging out with me—when they need a break from their husbands or to get their mind off serious, real-life things. Is that my purpose in life, to be single and aimless and shallow, just so I can entertain all the married people? I mean, if that’s God’s intended purpose for me, okay, but it seems a little … empty.

It seems like my problem is thus:

1.) I don’t have any of the things that I associate with adulthood—and by “adulthood” I mean “being a mature, productive member of the human race, and one that other members care about”

2.) I don’t actually want most of those things, but

3.) I still feel entitled to adult treatment.

Here’s how I see it: I was in a big group of hikers, and we all started out from the same spot. As it went on, some people wanted to walk along a particularly dangerous cliffside, a couple others wandered off to pick berries and mushrooms, someone else thought he would stomp off into the woods and create a completely new path. I paused by the side of the river to watch the water for a while, and when I looked up, everyone was gone, off on their own separate ways. When I pick up my feet and get moving again, it’s still a gorgeous hike, I’m still on some kind of route, even if I don’t know where it goes, and I can certainly still enjoy myself. But sometimes it gets a little awkward and often it is incredibly lonely. And in those moments when the hikers happen to reconvene, everyone talks about the dangerous cliff and the berries they found, but if you just sat and enjoyed the sounds of the river for a while, that doesn’t “count.”

I have no idea where I'm going.
I have no idea where I’m going.

7 thoughts on “Left-Behind Adulthood

  1. Thanks for sharing your heart here, Em. I’d love to talk to you more about some of this (only if you’d be up for it, of course) but that would be way better in person.

    1. I don’t mind talking about it.

  2. I’m a married mother of two, but despite this, I relate to your article. I love the sound of the river too, but you’re right, sometimes it is hard to find someone to share that with.

  3. I feel like you are speaking my language & giving voice to what is going on in my head, so thank you! I’m turning 30 in a couple weeks & have been telling people I have “nothing to show for it” (no spouse, children, or a home that I own.) I’m working my way through an intense graduate program that doesn’t lend itself to normal conversation very well. But I love my work, I love the community where I live, and my life is filled when yoga & exercise & good conversation. It’s just difficult when that is not “successful” according to the world.

  4. I can entirely relate to this feeling despite being married young and having children, I often feel like I don’t relate to my age group and therefor am sort of seen as off track in a way to the people my age. I kind of just flowed into the life I have while others are pursuing their fiercely, so I’ve felt the awkward, unappreciated feeling many times with the situation of my life.

    1. So glad to find other people who can relate to this. “I kind of just flowed into the life I have” is EXACTLY how I feel.

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