I never thought of adult as a verb. Always a noun. Something one wants to become when one hits a certain age. When I was growing up, becoming an adult occurred overnight when one reached age 21. Then you could drink, get married, be seen as joining the normal flow of lifecycles. Somewhere after I became an adult, the magic age shifted to 18. I think after the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s, the country felt that if you were old enough to be drafted and fight in a war, you should be able to vote and be seen as an adult. Drinking alcohol legally is still age 21 in the USA. I’m not sure whether one can get married without parent permission at age 18. Kath and I were 25 y/o when we got married, so this minimum age thing was well behind us.
I first heard of adulting as a verb from our son, Kevin. He had lived in our home in Des Plaines while wife Kath and I spent most of my early retirement years in a condo in downtown Chicago. We were trying out the idea of living downtown as a lifestyle, and we held onto our home in Des Plaines during this trial period. After six or seven years, we decided that downtown life agreed with us and, with Kath’s retirement now coming up soon, it was time to sell our Des Plaines home. One might wonder why a young adult in his mid-30s was still living in his parents’ home. This scenario was more common than usual due to a severe economic depression that hit our country (and the world) from 2008 to around 2015. Many ‘millennials’ (persons born after 1980) were caught with long periods of unemployment due to layoffs and had fewer housing options as restrictive mortgage lending regulations were instituted to address money-lending abuses that had initiated the recession. Kevin got bumped around by the country’s economy. Ironically, he was the child that couldn’t wait to become independent when he finished college, then proceeded to live with us for another decade.
At age 34, Kevin was embarking on adulting—moving out of his parents’ home and taking on those pesky responsibilities like mortgage and utility payments. It’s not like he didn’t do any adult things prior to this. He attended college and was now employed. He took care of our home in Des Plaines while Kath and I played downtown during the work week. But there’s a difference between taking care of your parents’ home and adulting. Much of this centers on paying bills. It’s one thing to take care of day-to-day stuff in one’s parents’ home, knowing that repairs and remodels would be on their dime. One feels the pinch in renting one’s own apartment or buying one’s home. Kevin had been saving a portion of his income while living in our home, but the typical adulting bills were still ours to pay. When he described his transition to buying a condo and suddenly having utility bills, cable TV and Internet bills, a mortgage and property tax, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, homeowner’s association (HOA) fees, he would often describe the challenges of adulting.
This got me thinking back to my transition to adulting. For me, adulting began in mild form at age 23 and hit me squarely between the eyes at age 24. For my high school and college years, I’d been in a Catholic seminary, studying to become a priest. In January 1974 (age 23), I decided that I was no longer interested in the priesthood. I moved from my all-expense-paid seminary life into an apartment. I characterize this initial period as a mild form of adulting because I shared an apartment with three other former seminarians with each of us paying $37.50 per month in rent. Today (2019), a large deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East costs that much. Of course, a dollar in 1974 bought considerably more than a dollar in 2019, but it was still very inexpensive rent, even back then. We lived at 1066 Granville in the Edgewater area of Chicago, just south of Loyola University. I was working on a master’s degree in counseling psychology and working full-time as I embarked on adulting-lite.
A bit shy of age 24, in May 1975, I got my own apartment in Rogers Park, the area of Chicago where Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus is located. Two of my Granville Av roommates got married that summer, and the third guy was pretty stingy on paying bills, so I decided to get my own place. While experiencing adulting-lite, I had been able to save money and purchase a few necessities like a color television and my brother’s used car—not too taxing on the wallet while living in my $37.50 per month rent. Then I hit the economic wall when I was on my own, paying $150 per month in rent and paying the entire phone, electric and gas bills. With a car came insurance and repair bills. My routine was to stack bills on my desk as they arrived, pay off what I could on pay day, and generally leave myself around $50 for food and cigarettes for the two weeks till next payday. That’s right, I allotted funds for cigarettes. They were $5 per carton back then, and I went through four cartons per month. I couldn’t think much about dating at this point—a movie and pizza would have wiped out most of my monthly spending money. I furnished my apartment with hand-me-downs from the guys I’d lived with on Granville Av, items that they had gotten from other friends and from their girlfriends’ parents’ basements. My former roommates, the newlyweds, were able to buy new bedroom sets, new living room couches, and matching dishes and pots and pans. I was very happy to have an interesting assortment of vintage couch, chairs, dresser, bed and dishes.
I was making $12,000 per year in 1976, working in mental health at Ravenswood Hospital on the north side of Chicago. This was a good salary for a young professional. I had completed a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Loyola University and was working as a clinical supervisor. In today’s dollars (2019), this would probably be $50-60,000. I spent most of my weekends at home during my first six months of true adulting, partially due to minimal spending money available and partially due to the fact that my best friends had gotten married and were now occupied with their new lives. At the time, it felt like this very minimal existence went on for a year or two, in fact, I met my future wife, Kath, at a friend’s party in December 1975, six months after I had begun true adulting. By then, I guess I had figured out how to budget for an occasional date. Women’s liberation also helped. Women wanted to be seen as equals in most aspects of life, and it was common for young couples to go out “Dutch treat”—with each paying half of the cost of tickets and food. I was not upset that Kath felt liberated!
I was pretty low emotionally many times during my transition to adulting. While living on Granville Av with friends, I was oftentimes alone. They had girlfriends and I didn’t. I was working the evening shift for much of the time, and this was a real killer when it came to establishing a social life. With little spending money, I had few alternatives to this fairly isolated life. I had a girlfriend for a while, but I was socially immature at this point in my life and she understandably chose to move on. Adulting was more than taking on financial responsibilities. It also meant acting more maturely. I would eventually get there. The one thing going for me at the time was a good job—a professional position in health care. While socially awkward and financially challenged, I could at least feel good about my educational and professional status.
Life can feel like an eternity when things are tough. I left the safe ‘cocoon’ of the seminary in January 1974. Once I met Kath and began dating her regularly, starting in December 1975, my life picked up. That nearly two-year period was a difficult adjustment into ‘adulting.’ By the end of 1975, my financial situation hadn’t changed all that much, but my mood had improved. A couple of years later, when purging old bills, I took some time to see where my meager funds had gone in my young adulting transition. The one item that had really taxed my budget had been auto repairs. I had bought my brother Greg’s car, which had been faithful to him for several years. I, on the other hand, had a more difficult time, having to replace the starter and flywheel on more than one occasion. I would have been financially better off without the car, but having a car gave me independence and a sense of adulthood.
I don’t tend to procrastinate. Kath and I met on December 6, 1975. I asked her to marry me on May 1, 1976 and, fortunately, she agreed. We married on November 13, 1976. We purchased our first home in December 1977, just in time to get a Christmas tree. Our children were born in 1979 and 1982. I completed my first master’s degree, in counseling psychology, in January 1975. My second master’s degree, an MBA in healthcare management, came in June 1980. By this time, my adulting was in full swing. Kath and I managed mortgage payments, utility payments, car payments, insurances of several types (home, life, auto, health) and we managed to have a few modest vacations. Our finances restricted us to many weekend nights at home, but It was definitely easier to be an adult with someone to share the challenges with.
Adulting was a successful transition for Kath and me, and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t have the responsibilities that come with it. Our son is single and lives alone. I can see him having the same feelings as I felt during my transition. It’s harder, both financially and emotionally, when one is doing all of this alone. As our son has gotten used to paying mortgage, various insurances, HOA fees, medical bills and so forth, he describes not being a ‘fan’ of adulting. Former US President Harry Truman described his role as ‘the buck stops here.’ Most of the time, personal responsibilities land squarely on the shoulders of the adults. Adulting brings both challenges and freedoms. Sometimes it’s gratifying to reach adulthood. Sometimes, adulting is a burden. The transition toward greater personal independence can be daunting. Becoming a full adult takes many action steps. And for this, I suppose it makes great sense that adulting has become an action verb and not simply a static noun.