One of the forty books I have piled on the floor next to my bed right now is Kelly Williams Brown’s funny-true guide for clueless 20-Somethings, “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps.” As a person who has been out there in the world and seen how 22-year-olds deal with relationships, career plans, credit card debt, driving, etc., I can think of nothing more important than a guide that teaches these newly-minted adults how to behave.
But if the 30s are the new 20s, as journalists for Newsweek and the Atlantic are fond of proclaiming, then one can logically infer that the 20s are the new teens, making Brown’s book actually most suitable for people who are busy growing body hair and learning how to act whilst sitting at the adult table during holiday gatherings (“Pass the salt, please.” “Aunt Tabitha, it would be ever so delightful if you would not have a tenth whiskey slush. Please.” Etc.).
This leaves a void, then, for all of us who are actually out here adulting — paying student loans and trying to figure out if we want to have babies and houses with azaleas out front and all of that. I’ve compiled a short list of How to Do Adulting as a Late 20-/Early 30-Something (My apologies to Brown, who, incidentally, has the cutest bangs.).
1. Do not pretend like your reproductive organs will remain supple and functional forever. Ever since I was a kid, during which I tenderly nursed (and often ended up killing [accidentally]) a steady menagerie of hamsters, guinea pigs, parakeets, rabbits, cats and dogs, I’ve had the maternal urge. I’ve always known that I wanted to have a baby someday. Now, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I don’t necessarily feel ready to care for a small person, but it’s occurred to me that I don’t have forever, that I might never exactly feel “ready,” and might need to devise some sort of plan if I want to have biological children. [HELLO, CURRENT BOYFRIEND, I HOPE YOU’RE NOT READING THIS!]. I think, maybe, this is one of the most important acknowledgements of young adulthood for family-minded men and women alike: you gotta make plans. If you want to have biological children and don’t make plans, you might end up 42 and with nine cats, or 42 and the only person at the dinner party who still stays up past midnight and drinks to excess. Obviously you can’t plan things to a T, and you certainly don’t want to be one of those creepy people who sabotages birth control or desperately lures unsuspecting men/women into a relationship for purposes of forced procreation, but you also don’t want to go on acting like you’re 25 when this plain biological fact is staring you in the face, waiting for you to sober up enough to remember to pay last month’s utility bill. Ovaries wither and sperms get wimpier. It’s just how it is. So, sometime in your late 20s or early 30s you might want to start laying the groundwork by making sure you’re where you want to be career-wise, mental health-wise, relationship-wise, and living situation-wise.
2. Go to a therapist to resolve any issues still hanging on from childhood. Everyone has baggage, but how much baggage should a person still carry as they embark on their third decade? I’m by no means claiming perfection here; I carry a double-wide suitcase full of resentment/co-dependency towards my mother, hypochondria, and general neuroticism. But the important thing is that I’m working on it. I’ve dated far too many men, well into their 30s, who still have problems with commitment (not just with me — a perfect girlfriend, obviously! — but generally), parental issues, sexual guilt, and all-around fear of growing up. Things that would be totally understandable if they were in their early 20s, but that render them unfit for healthy relationships in their 30s. Some of my female friends are like this, too, although I think men are at a disadvantage here because our society pushes the idea that introspection and working on one’s inner self is a feminine pursuit on par with tampon purchase (*see #3) and bra shopping. You look at them and wonder how they made it this far without looking inward, at least trying to improve themselves and overcome the issues that keep them from achieving happiness. Again, the goal here is not that you become a life guru by age 33 or anything, just that you at least begin thinking about your emotional hangups by this decade of your life. If your hangups are confusing, deep-seated, or difficult to overcome, see a therapist. They are not magicians, but it helps so much to have someone who is forced to listen to you — someone who is not a friend (who will eventually pull away from your emotional dumping) or a family member (who is probably too close to the situation and biased to give good advice). Do not fear the therapy. Therapy is good, and you can almost always find one who offers services on a sliding scale if you’re not a millionaire. Never underestimate the power of talking something through with a professional.
3. If you’re a menstruating woman, consider purchasing a menstrual cup [er, skip this one if of the male persuasion]. Yes, this actually made such a difference in my life that I consider it a crucial step in my maturity. Tampons are the following: expensive, wasteful, not always completely efficient, and annoying to take on trips. For years my close friends waxed ecstatic about the inherent superiority of the menstrual cup, but I always resisted because I thought it sounded scary and I was confused about how it worked. But let me tell you: I made the switch about five months ago, and it has truly changed my life. Reasons why the cup is better than disposable products:
- I no longer have to pay $20 a month to the big, male-led corporations that manufacture feminine hygiene products (and, by extension, don’t have to say the horrible phrase “feminine hygiene products” any more).
- I no longer have to feel the guilt of sending a trashcan-full of plastic wrappers, applicators, and other waste to the landfill each month.
- I no longer have to worry about ruining my nice underwear or sheets, which before I’d always just assumed was an annoying but unavoidable part of being a lady.
- I can sleep the night through without having to wake up and change a tampon for fear of the dreaded Toxic Shock Syndrome, because you can keep it in for up to 12 hours with no risk.
Sure, it takes a little getting used to, and you have to get over any squeamishness you may have with your body, but if you push through the initial weirdness of sticking a foreign object up in there (I mean, come on, stop acting like you’re afraid of sticking foreign objects up there), I promise that you, too, will write laudatory blog posts about your Diva cup.
4. Write a list of the most important people in your life and keep in touch. Post college, your friends scatter to the four corners of the earth, and before you realize what’s happened, people you’ve considered BFFs are no more than an occasional post on your Facebook newsfeed, and all of a sudden one day they announce they’re getting married, or having a baby, or suffering a scary adult disease, or that their parents died, or that they’re being deployed, and you realize you haven’t talked to them since 2007. Facebook gives the illusion of keeping in touch, and it’s perfect for those friendly acquaintances who you want to keep track of but not necessarily remain bosom buddies with, but it’s not enough for those people you really love. I’ve lost so many friends over the last ten years, not because we’ve had any dramatic falling out, because we’ve slowly let each other slip away. Make a list of the people you don’t want to lose contact with, and make a deliberate effort to call or write them regularly, send actual cards on birthdays or special occasions, and visit when possible. It helps to make a list, because sometimes you don’t realize someone is really important to you until it’s kind of too late, and you’ve already been demoted from the sort of friend who they stay up all night sharing secrets with to the sort of friend who only gets the canned “Happy b-day!” post on your FB wall once a year.
5. Devise a health and fitness regime. Something happens to your metabolism somewhere between 25 and 30. It just sort of….loses focus. There comes a day when you can’t pack away an entire pizza without paying for your sins. Trust me, a woman who formerly packed away entire pizzas on a regular basis. Realizing that your body is in slow decline is a morbid but important part of adulthood.
To be continued… (though, honestly, do I ever continue a blog post when I say I will? Step #6 of Adulting as a Late 20-/Early 30-Something: Conquer procrastination.)