Whether you want to give it a tabloid name – Kidults, the Peter Pan generation, adultescents, TWITTs (Teenage Women In Their Thirties) – or not, most of us recognise the type of person who clings on to their youth, selling their immaturity as some charming personality trait. They’re the ones who lose their debit card at least twice a month, never have milk in for tea and boast of their inability to keep a goldfish alive past Tuesday. As this kind of delayed development – a resistance to grasp the nettle-y responsibilities of a grown-up life – becomes more entrenched, so it seems society lets those kicking their heels on the road to maturity to get away with it for longer, and a whole primary-coloured industry offering everything, from adult colouring books and plush-animal onesies to the regressive power of Oreos and yet another Marvel film, has built up to hint at the possibility of eternal escape.
In the face of the very real adult worries, like job insecurity, student debt, untouchable house prices, inaccessible mortgages and consequences of Brexit, one needn’t have a PhD in psychology to work out why young people might unconsciously want to delay their transition to adulthood. A fear of having to strike out into the world, a shakiness before leaping from the nest, is of course neither new nor too hard to understand. And yet all I ever wanted, as far back as I can remember, was to be a grown-up. I know how terribly sad many may think that – and I don’t deny that my childhood could have been better, and happier, in many ways. But, to me, there’s something far sadder about clinging on to childhood and all its associated dependency, not least because adulthood is the most fun part of being a human. Being a grown-up is great, but such are its associated pressures that sometimes it’s worth reminding oneself of the stuff adulthood affords us – the stuff that excited us in that first exhilarating flush of freedom that we soon took for granted: being able to go wherever we want, whenever we want, with whomever we want.
Learning how to do stuff for oneself is empowering. From filing your receipts and complaining about bad service to changing a tyre and checking on an elderly neighbour, we learn how the world does and doesn’t work, how to treat people and expect to be treated in return. “Oh, I get my dad to sort out my insurance!” might seem like a winsome affectation for a 35-year-old, but the grim truth is that those parents or more worldly-wise friends to whom you cede responsibly for the grown-up stuff won’t always be around – in some cases, by choice. And until you get to grips with grown-up tasks, you won’t appreciate the simple satisfaction of having changed your gas supplier or successfully looked after a spider plant. You’ll also look like a bit of a dick.
Until you get to grips with grown-up tasks, you won’t appreciate the simple satisfaction of having changed your gas supplier. You’ll also look like a bit of a dick
A fairly central tenet in defining oneself an adult is financial independence. In hard economic times, those clinging on to the comforts of adolescence may shrug and point to the difficulty in extracting oneself from parental accommodation, let alone broader financial support. But in 2016, the Office For National Statistics reported that almost one in three men aged 20-34 were living with their parents while only one in five women of the same age lived at home – despite the fact that men are no worse off financially. In other words, they have no greater need to be sleeping in a single bed while their mam irons their gym kit – it’s a choice. Much of my generation left home not in order to get a mortgage or to spend their lavish salaries, but to avoid social suicide and celibacy, even if that meant living on plain pasta and 50p pieces for the electricity meter. Hundreds of thousands of young people in this country still do, because they recognise maturity as being more important than living in perfect comfort and unwavering solvency.
The practicalities of adulthood are occasionally tough (literally no one enjoys opening windowed brown envelopes), but where others see financial responsibility I also see delicious fiscal autonomy. Asking your mum and dad to clear your debts may get you off the hook (and, God knows, an emergency support structure is a wonderful and enviable thing), but it also keeps you in the child zone a little longer. It may be that only when you switch off the financial life support do you discover that, however much of a struggle it is, you were actually capable of functioning on your own for far longer than you imagined. You make do and you learn fast. Paying off a debt alone can create a huge sense of accomplishment and nothing feels as lovely as the first car you buy yourself.
Of course, it’s not all about money. Adulthood is about deciding how you want to live your life, whether that means adopting a cat without needing permission, inviting whoever you like to stay, having full command of the remote or deciding to fry chips at 3am. It’s the extremely satisfying knowledge that you can change a plug, replace a fuse, make a roast and a lump-free gravy, and could probably survive on a desert island by utilising the well-planned contents of your handbag.
What it’s not about is giving up your dreams to embrace the slippers and cardigan (though, mmm, slippers and cardigan) or disavowing drinking, dancing and silliness. It’s not even about putting down your Harry Potter books or Hello Kitty pencil case if they really make you happy (you can prize my Salt-Water sandals and Just Seventeen back issues from my cold, dead hands). It’s about accepting responsibility for your life, refusing to infantilise yourself and no longer thinking it’s adorable to use the oven for shoe storage. As adults, we have to celebrate our autonomy, empowerment and independence, not attempt to stave it off, because for all of us the grown-up years should represent the pinnacle, not the decline.