I ran into a high school acquaintance this weekend. Let’s call him Colin, because that’s his name. Colin was a senior when I was a freshman. I remember looking up to these seniors like they were the coolest beings on earth. Colin and his group of friends were the kind of guys I wanted to surround myself with, the kind of guys I wanted to want me. How that worked out, you’ll all just have to guess. But my story today isn’t about high school, it’s about running into each other 6 years later.
Today, Colin is still cool. After graduating from college, he worked hard, got a great job and a great apartment. He has a girlfriend, but they don’t live together. He talks about working 60 hour weeks, has a Blackberry constantly buzzing at his hip and goes out to the bars almost every night. He’s the epitome of late 20s cool: successful, busy social life, relatively unattached. We go through all this, with a little, “Wow, that sounds great,” and “Good for you,” on my part. Then comes the question, “So what are you doing now?” Well, I have a moderately fulfilling job, an amazing husband and a beautiful little girl. All of sudden, Colin has nothing else to say. He doesn’t even know where to start. He’s staring at me with wide eyes like I’m an endangered species and he’s not sure that I should be out in the wild. After a little more small talk about our work and the people we still keep in touch with, Colin says, “You’re like… older than me, now.”
Now, what I really want to say is, “Actually genius, I’m four years younger than you, just like I’ve always been.” I’m really not that mouthy, so I said something like, “Well, kids will do that to you.” But it made me think a lot about what makes a grown-up. And to be honest, I don’t think that I’m weird one here. I wanted to look at this cool, put-together man and say, “Aren’t you a grown up? You’re 28 years old. If you aren’t an adult, when are you planning on turning into one?” In actuality, we talked for about 45 minutes and it was a nice talk. We enjoyed catching up, said good luck and went our separate ways. But this isn’t just about Colin, it’s about a whole group of people who were born the same decade as me, yet they look at me as old.
Obviously, having a child makes people grow up. It gives you a responsibility that you might not feel otherwise. Responsibility can make a person more cautious or thoughtful, but it doesn’t have to make you old. I may not stay out at the bars until 2 AM on a weeknight, but my family and social life are active. We simply choose activities that fit into our schedule. We spend weekends camping. We have friends over for a barbeque in the afternoon instead of drinks at 10pm. In general, we have a good time and enjoy ourselves. Parenting didn’t make me boring, it just made me change my schedule.
I know that I feel like an adult. My real question about this whole situation is, how can a 28 year old man not? You graduated college, got a job, presumably pay your bills. These are all responsibility-building accomplishments. What is it about getting married and having kids that designates adulthood? And Colin, what if you never get married and have kids? Are you really going to spend the rest of your life thinking of yourself as an adolescent? And do you realize how much that feeds into the twenty-something pre-adult stereotype? You are a successful man! You should not feel like a young kid when presented with a woman who has a child.
I’m not sure why it bugs me to be seen as the old one. I’m proud to be a responsible adult. But even if I didn’t have a beautiful daughter, I would still want to feel like an adult. At some point in time, spending every night at a bar would become tedious. No matter how nice and worry-free apartment living is, owning a home is a wonderful feeling. These milestones can occur with or without a nine month hormone boost. And for you, Colin, I hope they do. I hope you get to feel like a grown up soon, because it’s kind of fun.
But to all of the old acquaintances running around out there, I’m not old! I’m an adult. And if you don’t understand the difference, you should start looking into it. Because being old may seem boring, but being a 28 year old non-adult seems kinds sad. And I’ll go for boring over sad anyday.