Here’s a thought experiment: If a millennial successfully schedules a doctor appointment on their own but doesn’t tweet about it with the hashtag “#adulting,” then are they really an adult?
The short answer: Yes. But before I unpack that, here’s a little context of what “adulting” means in its current usage.
According to an article by Time Magazine, the linguistics journal American Speech has defined the verb “adult” in two ways: “to behave in an adult manner; engage in activities associated with adulthood,” or “to make someone behave like an adult; turn someone into an adult.”
Using the word “adult” as a verb is an online epidemic that has swept the nation and every social media platform out there. On Buzzfeed alone, there are over 30 articles dedicated to the subject, with titles ranging from “5 Life Hacks You Need to Know If You’re Trying to ‘Adult’” to “8 Steps of Adulting As Told By Amy Schumer”, with a cover photo of the actress sprawled awkwardly on the red carpet (#relatable).
There is even an Adulting School in Portland, Maine, which holds live pop-up events teaching people the skills they need to feel like a grown-up, be it sheet-fitting or changing one’s car tires.
While the phrase “adulting” is often used in a self-referentially ironic way, it portrays millennials as people who crave recognition for doing tasks as basic as laundry, restocking their fridge, or putting on clean socks instead of just wearing the dirty ones inside-out. It also implies that becoming an adult is not a necessary part of growing up but rather a hobby that one can reluctantly buy into and then showcase on social media.
In reality, many adults, such as students at The Claremont Colleges, have been faced with these tasks since they were teens. Whether it was because of a large household or parents who work two jobs, they’ve had to handle their own finances, cook for themselves, and clean the house without the need for self-promotion. For them, “adulting” is not an option or a quirky phrase to just throw around — it’s a necessity.
Of course, it’s not hard to understand why (some of) our generation has this attitude towards adulthood. A May 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center found that in 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, “adult ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.”
In other words, some of us don’t need to worry about restocking the fridge or paying the electricity bill because our parents do it for us.
The popular usage of “adulting” can also, in particular, infantilize women.
In a Washington Post article, the writer Jessica Grose wrote: “Young women are afraid to be public about their actual achievements because if their public persona is self-assured, they are also perceived to be less likeable. Portraying themselves as less competent in their online personas is a hedge against the societal ethos that regularly denigrates mature women and devalues their knowledge.”
While adulting may seem like a harmless buzzword, it’s more than just a casual mention of our quotidian lives.
On that note, growing up doesn’t have to only entail what we see as menial tasks. While doing one’s taxes can bring about a sense of accomplishment, the experience of adulthood is much richer and more complex than we present it to be.
Adulthood is also about gaining a sense of belonging, finding your community, and carving out a little piece of the world for yourself. It’s an ongoing struggle to find a career you are truly passionate about, balance your passions with finances, and navigate the increasingly confusing terrain of casual sex and romance.
We all have the potential to do great things in our subsequent years, things that go beyond taking a multivitamin and Instagramming it with the caption, “My body is a temple, #adulting,” complete with a green apple emoji. While caring for one’s health is important, it’s not the only way to be both a responsible and smart adult.
This is why an ongoing series for The Student Life called “Adulting” will be covering an extensive range of topics. Just as there is no one way to “adult,” there is no limit to what adulthood means for every individual.