Ladyguide: How to Know When You Are a Grownup

At 16, we can drive. At 18, we can vote. At 21, we can drink. And then there is life after all of that. So, when do we become adults? Here’s a ladyguide to determine if you are a motherfucking adult with a capital A.*

Stick figure girl with determined face. Text reads: Go to the bank like a motherfucking adult.Achievement: Driving

Congratulations! You are 16. You can drive. But you probably can’t afford a car. And you’re still in school. Of course, back in the day, 16 made you perfectly capable of doing adult things, like marrying and raising the kiddos. But today, we know that 16 year-olds still have teenage brain and do really, really stupid things.

Achievement: Going to College and Living with Other People Your Age in a Dorm

You still get your food from a cafeteria and don’t have to clean your own toilet. On the upside, you are learning to hold your alcohol and maybe losing your virginity. You’ve taken one step to being an adult!

Achievement: You Can Buy Booze On Your Own

Woo! Your driver’s license is no longer vertical. This is an exciting event that quickly peters out because you got drunk just as often when you were 20 as when you were 21.

Achievement: Your First Real Job

Oh my god. You have your own paycheck! But maybe you’re still living with your parents because jobs these days pay squat. You may feel like you’ve taken one step back, but you’re being responsible and getting a job and living within your means. That’s a really adult decision! Good job!

Achievement: Really Bad Breakup

At some point after you graduate from college and start your first job, many people go through a really awful breakup (a lucky few are like Marshall and Lilly on HIMYM). It might not be full of drama, but it’s usually the one that’s with someone you really cared about. You probably loved them and wanted to marry them or some such thing. And your heart is broken. Like, broken to the point that you want to pull an Eat, Pray, Love and travel around the world broken. This is an important event on the path to adulthood because you learn that people are assholes (including you) and you start to get a little more cautious with your heart. This is a pretty damn important milestone and you know, major growth and all that jazz. Very adult.

Achievement: The Next Job After Your First Job

You probably started your first job somewhere around 25K, maybe more if you chose a really useful degree like engineering. But you’ve finally hit that golden 5-years experience and someone is offering you money enough so that paying off your student loans isn’t eating into your food budget. You’ve just made the first step to adulting where you have money to spend on fancy things, like that Estee Lauder eye creme you’re going to be so happy you bought when you turn 40.

Achievement: You Decide Where you Want to Be

At some point on the way to adulthood, you start to wonder if the path you are on is the path or if you should pursue another one. Maybe you go back to school for a nursing degree or decide to quit it all and run a surf shop in Cost Rica. Suffice to say that at some point, what you wanted to be when you grew up and what you are actually doing coupled with your new goals will cause some serious evaluation and you’ll decide to stay where you are or move on. This can be very trying.

Achievement: Something Bad Happens and You Shrug

See, at this point, you’ve had some shit happen. Maybe you got laid off. Maybe you got fired. Maybe you got in a bad wreck. Maybe your basement has flooded. There comes a point on the way to adulting when bad shit happens and it ain’t no thing. You’ve learned to take a breath, deal, and move on.

Am I an Adult? 

Yes? No? Maybe? At some point between 18 and 30 you start to just be able to deal with life. You become more sure of yourself (though not without doubt). It’s not about getting married or owning a house or having a kid. It’s about having enough experience that you realize that life is just life. And at 40 you’ll be even more adult. And even more so at 50. But there is a magical year, that year when childhood feels the past and you, yourself as an adult, become who you are now and who you’re probably going to be for the next 5-10 years.

*Life states are entirely personal. One person’s adulthood is another person’s adolescence. Please approach milestones of adulthood with caution and always assume you know less than you think at any given stage. As the Car Talk guys say: wisdom comes with experience. Unfortunately, you have to have the experience to gain that wisdom. 

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

42 replies on “Ladyguide: How to Know When You Are a Grownup”

This is a much better list than the HuffPo ” things women should be doing by the time they are 30″ or “things that make you an adult” type of gar-bage lists that make no sense and rely on super narrow guidelines ( buy a fancy couch! have a 401K! date a man with class!) . I hate these lists because they completely miss the fact that the world is very different now for people – a college degree doesn’t guarantee anything, student loan debt in the triple digits is a thing, the job market sucks, and people are 1. not always heterosexual (egads!!)  2. that marriage / children are being put off longer and maybe for good reason 3. that different generations have very different goals.

Also, how does buying a quality mascara prove that I’m an adult?


I think I have really come into my own in the last few years. I’m only 25, but the difference between me at 18 or 21 and now is vast. I’ve felt less challenged or shaken by tragedies and failures, and more sure of my own abilities and strengths.

Not that I don’t still have good cries under the covers every now and again…

Or breakfast!

Saying that, I did give Mr. Cesy a fair bit of side eye for eating a cheese sandwich in bed at 10pm. But I don’t get late night snacking so that was more it than eating in bed. It was just so weird, I was about to nod off, here he is eating a cheese sandwich.

When I was a kid, I had to eat a salad with every meal. And then at some point I realized that I didn’t have to eat salad. And it was a revelation. I could have asparagus! Or fruit! Or no fruits or vegetables at all! I got some definite adult vibes that day.

In my country, it’s: at 16, you can marry with parental consent. At 17, you can get a full driving licence and legally have sex. At 18, you can legally drink, vote, join the army, and have all adult rights and responsibilities.

I do roll my eyes at every article I see about ‘the teenage brain’. Those studies are so culturally constrained, and our brains are so flexible… bah. Bad science alert.

Every now and then I’ll have this sudden realization that I’m an adult. It might be just after I’ve paid my bills, or cooked a balanced meal, or booked a vacation complete with hotel and rental car. The most recent time this happened was shortly after I got my dog. I’d drunk quite a bit one Saturday night and woke up with an awful hangover. But instead of going back to bed or crawling to the couch, I made myself a thermos of tea and walked the dog. The realization that I could actually be depended on to take care of another living being was a really big one for me.

I went to college while living at home with my parents, because on campus housing was more expensive than gas to drive 50 miles a day getting to and from school. I still live with my parents because I don’t quite make enough money not to yet.  So I am, uh, *mumble*25 years old*mumble* and have never lived on my own. I know full well that this is actually the smart thing to do, and that waiting until I have a good chunk of savings set aside to move out will keep me from having to move right back in with my parents at the first sign of trouble, but it still stings a little to have to own to it. But I bought a new car (need it for my job), I have a retirement plan, and I have a life insurance policy. They make me feel a bit more grown up and responsible. Also, I have lent my parents money (of a sizable sum) for an unexpected expense. That was a massive feel like a grown up moment.

There are times when I look back and wonder, just because I would have been nice in a personal exploration context, and also a constant access to lab equipment context. But then I look at my student loans, and remember that I didn’t want to borrow the money to live somewhere when I already had a place to live.

My first real grown up moment was getting the flu and not having anyone to take care of me. Granted, I called my mom four times a day, but I had to manage on my own. It was one of the more unpleasant experiences of my life, but it prepared me for other things in life. That said, when I get sick, I do still call my mom in tears. I don’t do sick very well.

Same here, stumbling at the very first item already. I’ve yet to even attempt driving, seems silly to spend money on driving classes when affording an actual car is a pipe dream…

I’m fully assuming to feel like I failed at adulthood when I eventually retire.

Leave a Reply