Look at Life: Growing Up

23rd February 2018

We may be getting older – but are we growing up?

By Jennifer Lipman

I’m an adult. I mean, of course I am. I’m 31, for crying out loud. I vote. I have a mortgage, a full time job. I pay taxes. I’m married. I spent last Saturday evening looking at Ikea furniture. It shouldn’t even be a question.

And yet. For all that I am an adult, ‘home’ in my mobile phone contact list is still my parents’ landline number. I am fundamentally useless at understanding ostensibly adult things, like my tax return, or how to fix a broken fuse. I still get IDd, occasionally, when buying a bottle of wine in Sainsbury’s; while at weddings, my friends and I still distinguish between ‘the grown ups’ and the guests our own age.

Once upon a time, adult life started when you came of age; equally, leaving school or university or taking up your first job used to be signifiers of maturity, and they usually happened in your late teens or early 20s. But many in my generation – the millennials the media likes to moan about so much – have spent our 20s in a sort of halfway stage, thanks in part to our coming of age as an economic crisis hit. We might have jobs, but we also may still be living at the family home, or off backpacking in India, rather than starting a family the minute we meet the right person. We have Netflix and Uber rather than a traditional television or a sensible car. We have disposable income, possibly, but – if the headlines are to be believed – we spend it on avocado toast rather than packing it into a pension fund.

Yet defining myself as a ‘millennial’ is perhaps the surest sign that I am, indeed, an adult. There’s a generation following millennials, and however different I feel to the proper adults of my parents’ generation, I feel equally removed from the youth of today. The very fact that I can remember a time before the internet, before smartphones, puts me in a distinct category, at odds with the digital natives who have grown up on a diet of bloggers, vloggers and Instagram influencers.

I must be an adult, because I don’t understand kids these days. I might nod and pretend when someone talks about Snapchat, but it’s as foreign to me as a fax machine is to a 15-year-old. I can’t be bothered with the Hot New Thing on the internet, and I still don’t get the appeal of watching a video rather than reading an article. I remember having to call my friends up at home, rather than whatsapping them an emoji to say hello.

The music that gets me up and dancing involves bands who have long since split up or artists who, when papped by the media, are now largely spotted with flecks of grey in their hair and shepherding around teenage children. And I listen to their music on my rather vintage iPod: a clear indication that I am, in fact, an old fogey.

There is a scene in the film 'St Elmo’s Fire' where, having spent their post-college years partying hard, the gang decide that they would rather go for brunch somewhere a bit quieter. I may not be all grown up, but my idea of a fun weekend no longer involves dancing until dawn, nor even pretending I’d enjoy it, but waking early to read the Sunday papers and then going out for a perfectly done poached egg. I host dinner parties where we eat food other than takeaway, off matching crockery rather than paper plates; we drink wine out of breakable glasses rather than mugs or plastic cups.

Conversation, too, has changed, from gossip about disastrous dates to earnest debate about house prices and feature wallpaper. Instead of reminiscing about our own school days we increasingly discuss the schools we’d like to send our children to – for while I may still feel like a kid, growing numbers of my friends are actually having them.

If this sounds like self-indulgent navel-gazing, well, yes, it is. I’m fully aware that every generation grapples with these questions. I know I am far from the first 30-something to wake up and look around with shock at the fact that people in top jobs – TV presenters, film stars, elected politicians – are no longer decades older, but in fact, increasingly, my more successful contemporaries.

Still, it’s a strange thing to suddenly not be indisputably juvenile anymore; to have well and truly crossed the threshold from young professional to full-blown adult. To no longer be able to tick the box marked 18 to 30, and to look at teenagers and realise that they’re half my age.
All grown up? I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way – but I might have to grudgingly admit it’s on the horizon.

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