My job recently found me on a local college campus for the day, giving some rising freshman a hands-on campus tour. The school was beautiful, and finding myself walking the quads and sitting in on classes made me miss my own college life – the thrill of learning new things about my passions, about the world, and about myself.
It was while I was happily indulging in a potent mix of nostalgia and general feel-good vibes that a girl walked by with a backpack adorned with buttons for various media franchises and social causes. I immediately perked up; I’d always used buttons as a beacon for like-minded individuals, and she and I apparently shared several of the same likes and beliefs. I started to turn towards her, to open my mouth and say something about her tastes, and then —
— I realized that I was a stranger twice her age there on business with her organization, and that maybe it would be more professionally appropriate to keep to myself this time.
The reaction was extreme, I admit – I’m positive that it wouldn’t have been an actual problem especially since my commentary was going to be a fairly innocuous, “Hey, I love your [X] pin, I think it’s awesome!” But the initial realization of, “I’m an adult twice her age” effectively silenced me, and I missed what would have been the appropriate moment to comment, anyway.
Twice her age. Twice the age of someone old enough to be attending college. I had to rethink the math more than once, because it didn’t seem possible, but there it was – I’m 35, and the average college freshman in 18. Holy shit. When did that happen?
I don’t feel like a kid. I’m married, I own a house, I’m a parent, I work full time. I’ve seen my friends through some hefty, heavy life changes, and gone through several myself. And yet, when I think about college kids – kids in their early to mid-20s, let’s say – my first instinct is to think of them as peers. As someone “my age.”
Is this something anyone else of my generation is experiencing? I’m one of the “old millennials,” literally coming of age at the turn of the millennium, and mine was the first generation where the phrase “extended adolescence” really became applicable. Looking at the generally accepted “adulthood” criteria (financial independence, living on one’s own, being finished with school, being married, having kids): I lived at home until I was 25, married at 27, still in graduate studies until I was 30, not a parent until I was 32. From that perspective, I suppose you could argue that my move to become an independent person didn’t really start until I was 25, when maybe with the generation before me, it would have started at 18.
I have some deep, deep issues with the whole model of what it means to be an “adult” (i.e., it’s classist, ableist, heteronormative, and makes no mention of intangible milestones, such as diplomacy, discretion, resilience, emotional intelligence, etc.),** but it makes a sort of sense when you look at it just in the sense of shared experience. A single 25-year-old living at home would have, on the surface, more in common with an 18-year-old than a 25-year-old with a house and a spouse would.
But that still doesn’t explain me. It would have, ten years ago – 25-year-old me was in a place (financially, emotionally, socially) similar to a lot of college-aged kids – but doesn’t go a long way to explaining my experience now. I’ve hit all the major milestones (even those I have issues with), I’m a married, home-owning parent with a degree. Why do I feel more at home on a college campus than in an office?
Arguably, I guess you could say that my interests skew towards the more youthful, but by the same token, my special interests and obsessions fall in line with a number of other “geeky” individuals – the creators of the properties I love are geeks, but they are adults… I mean, technically. Right? Do they feel that way? Do all my fellow geeky and nerdy brethren feel a similar disconnect – living an adult life (fairly successful, I might add), but still feeling an underlying sense of Imposter Syndrome?
Or, not even that, since I definitely feel that I have earned and deserve what I have accomplished. It’s more like I feel like a very responsible child. Or, an especially accomplished adolescent?
I don’t feel “five years from 40” (which is where I am), is the point. And I’m wondering if anyone feels the same way, and can hypothesize as to why that might be?
**In addition to the factor I already mentioned, it also ignores the changing world in which we live in, where jobs are expecting more advanced degrees from their workers, necessitating we spend more time in school; school costs are rising, meaning we need to take out more loans, and subsequently go further into debt; no one can afford to wait for their dream job, but it can be incredibly hard to break out of the menial jobs that you intended as just a stop-gap, especially after a certain age, etc.