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21 January 2013 @ 12:12 pm
Some notes about being an adult  
Last night, I read some stuff about being an adult that really changed some things in me personally. I have never been "fine" with being an adult for a few reasons. One, I don't feel like one. Two, as a kid, adults frequently let me down. The second I more or less got over as the years went by: I learned for forgive the frailty of the human experience and how the people I may have looked up to were flawed, and sadly I had the intelligence to see this at far too young an age and felt cheated by the experience.

But the first one has always been a problem. I hang out with kids, and I don't feel any more or less like they do. I just control my reactions better. I have been told by many my age, "I don't feel like an adult, either," but the devil's advocate in me asked if it was just because I hung around fandom and in the mundane world, there were "real adults" roaming around who think and act mature. Maybe they are the real adults and I am still that 16 year old broken kid who had a shitty childhood and never left the Peter Pan stage. I am president of a non-profit, have a great job, a nice house, married 23 years with a kid. How did that happen? Someone will surely find out and boot me out of the party and I'll wake up back in my old bed in McLean, screaming in terror about the illusion. Certainly being an adult age has been far better than being a kid, was that because I was a kid?

Then some people discussed the concept of adulthood following along a similar paradox to Theseus' Ship. I didn't know what this was, so I looked it up. The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus' paradox, is a paradox that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its component parts replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The paradox is most notably recorded by Plutarch in Life of Theseus from the late 1st century where Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing all its wooden parts, remained the same ship.

When we were children, we saw adults as a constant. They were adults because we never experienced them transitioning into adults. As such, we were unable to discern how it happened, and we have no precedent for what it looks like when an adolescent turns into an adult; we can't mark that exact point. Just like marking the points when the ship stopped being the same ship as parts were replaced individually over time. The people who were adults when we were kids are still adults, and the people who were teenagers when we were teenagers are still teenagers. Like Theseus' Ship, small things were changed, but they remained the same person as we observed them. To make things even more obscured, many of us were never given an absolute threshold to cross, or conditions that ascertained adulthood, and it was impossible for us to derive them growing up, so we simply don't know where (following the Theseus narrative) we stop being the same ship. This has always been one of my concerns as a male; our modern society had not male ritual. Women had a demarcation of having their period, which is a little more concrete before and after. For guys, what is it? Losing our virginity? Our first wet dream? I am not sure. I know a lot of my friends who went through their Bar Mitzvah hadn't even hit puberty yet when "they became a man," so even that custom Jewish tradition isn't really a good line, either.

If this is true, the only reason your elders were "adults" was because you perceived them as being more responsible and capable than you. They saw themselves the same way you see yourself now. If you want to be an "adult", all you have to do is be responsible, capable, and self-reliant and the rest will follow.

This has given me a lot to think about.