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“Modern adulthood: we’re still working it all out” Lucy Mangan on being a grown-up

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Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan tackles just how hard it is to be good at #adulting in 2016

Adulting, or at least #adulting, is everywhere – on Twitter and Instagram, on blogs, in articles and even, occasionally, in conversation (you know what I mean: I just bought a sofa/made ceviche/didn’t cry in front of my boss). Probably more than occasionally if you’re an actual millennial and not someone who, like me, missed the m-boat by at least five years and just wants to hug you all and tell you everything will be alright (although not necessarily this side of your 50s).

I suspect adulting has come to prominence because being an adult in 2016 lies somewhere between “baffling” and “impossible”. The traditional markers of holding down a 9-5 job, paying the rent/mortgage on time, getting married, having kids, having savings and all that shizz (as I believe not even the young folk are saying these days) no longer marks you out as an adult but a lucky bastard baby boomer; those smug accidents of birth and history whose lives make anyone born after 1965 weep bloody tears of envy.

Lucy Mangan

Modern adulthood is still under construction. Sure, there are some unchanging externals, like owning a decent pair of nail scissors (why are they so hard to find? Why are they all too thick to cut nails? That is their job. To cut nails), being able to drink black coffee and easily go a year without a pregnancy scare, but the jury’s out on the rest. What the young don’t understand is that it’s not about how many or how much of the “right” things you have managed to accumulate by the “right” time; it’s about understanding that all the important things happen internally and without you having to actively do anything about it. The holy adult trinity is:

1. Allocating your apologies correctly. In my 20s, I sorry-ed all over the place, apologising for my existence constantly. In my 30s, this weird feeling that I had as much right to live and breathe and speak as anyone else stole over me and I just… stopped saying sorry. I’m hoping that in my 40s I will be mature enough to start apologising for the things I do do wrong instead of hiding them and hoping no-one notices. But baby steps will do, even for grown-ups.

2. Not putting up with more than 12% of Other People’s Shit. How much crap – self-indulgent, whining, flapping, useless, soul-sapping crap – do we absorb from other people? All of it, when young. Now I have it down to about 30%. I nod and smile until people have unloaded about a third of what they feel is needful and then I stop them by words (“Stop now, you terrible person”), by deed (walking away or by going cross-eyed and falling over backwards) or, if necessary, with a burning death stare. Older friends tell me that you can get it down to 12% in time and that this is a fair measure. We all need a 12% escape valve.

3. Letting go of guilt. Everything makes me feel bad. Everything. Guilt is my engine, my fuel, my – uh – catalytic convertor (I feel bad for not knowing more about cars. And for embarking on extended metaphors before I know how to finish them) and it is an unsustainable way to live. I am starting to replace it with Not Guilt, but I am not getting as much done and that makes me feel guilty again. Come back to me on this one in a couple of years. I think any answers I find could do us all a lot of good. Until then, happy #adulting, everyone. If we can’t have pensions, let’s at least find some peace.


Photography: Ellis Parrinder, iStock

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