Language is always evolving. Repurposing nouns to behave as verbs is not new. And the term causing some of the fiercest online scraps right now is adulting.
It might not yet be in any official dictionary, but it's a word. It's a thing. And it's causing ructions all over the place. Social media is squarely blamed for introducing this latest and most self-centred millennial obsession and making young adults think they deserve public praise for putting their pants on the right way round. But unlike planking, the ice bucket challenge or the infuriating neknominate, this particular craze speaks more deeply of a generation in turmoil.
Is adulting entitled narcissism?
In a vitriolic rant against adulting, Madeline Rosenthal bemoans the buzzword as undermining millennials' genuine abilities and achievements, a view echoed by Danielle Tullo. Grace Nichols wholly agrees that millennials need to stop seeking recognition for being clean, productive or healthily 'normal' citizens. So adulting is celebrating the menial aspects of daily life then demanding a pat on the head.
But the angry trio have missed the point. Rosenthal and Tullo assume that millennials are demanding attention for the wrong successes. But what if these are your only successes?
Rosenthal "felt like a fucking boss" when she bought her first couch and "grown-up as hell in a kitchen full of my very own pots and pans". Wonderful, obviously. But while my living room is dominated by a hideous 3-seater I diverted from landfill and my kitchen is stocked with charity shop junk, I will continue to feel good about the times I remember to clean the vacuum filter. Tullo references a friend who stepped into her dream job straight out of college. Congratulations to her. For all of us who fell victim to a shrinking graduate job market post-crash, or had to prioritise paying rent over following our dreams, it's OK to be proud for remembering to make lunch.
Is adulting a rejection of the establishment?
John Beckett muses on the possibility that millennials' reluctance to stop adulting, and simply grow up, is down to a fundamental rejection of the roles they have been brought up to play in the world. We have simply reached a point where young adults are awake to the vast possibilities of life and they aren't prepared to sacrifice their soul for the sake of a mortgage. Adulting isn't a sign of immaturity, but of a generation prepared to forge a new path and seek deeper fulfilment from life.
I love this optimistic view because it attributes control of the situation to millennials themselves. They are the bold generation who have looked around them and chosen to live differently. Millennials are taking advantage of the foundations laid down by those who have come before to shape the world they want to live in and this includes postponing traditional ways of achieving adulthood.
Is adulting a coping strategy?
In 2000, Jeffrey Arnett identified a new phase of human development. He coined 'emerging adulthood' to describe an extended phase of early adulthood that follows the teenage years. Emerging adulthood essentially includes one's twenties; the time when a young adult explores the possibilities around them before erupting, butterfly-like, from the chrysalis of youth as a beautiful, responsible, mortgage-paying adult.
But there is increasing evidence to indicate that the transition out of emerging adulthood is not as smooth as the theory would have it. Nor does everyone experience emerging adulthood through choice.
Trailing after the Gen-X promise of an education, a career, a house, a reasonably linear path to success and security, millennials rushed off to university, burdened ourselves with debt, worked hard and made plans. But while our backs were turned, somebody moved the goal posts. Job markets contracted, housing prices soared, and our financial future became uncertain. The UK Office for National Statistics paints a bleak picture of more twentysomethings living at home, young adults owning and renting fewer properties and many millennials staying at home into their early thirties.
As a millennial, the reality of reaching what we consider to be adulthood feels a world away from what was promised. We believed that working hard, educating ourselves and managing our money would lead to success.
But reality bites. Working harder doesn't get you ahead when your workplace is making redundancies to cut costs. Believing in yourself doesn't put you ahead of the other 103 qualified applicants for an entry level job. Diligently saving your last £50 every month doesn't make it easier to swallow that a 10% deposit for an average house in the UK
Adulting is a celebration
So we adult. We celebrate the tiny successes that align in some infinitesimal way to the internalised societal expectations we're failing to meet. I celebrate matching socks because my clapped out car just consumed my life savings. Again. I celebrate Nutella on toast because purple sprouting broccoli is out of my budget. I celebrate scented candles because my rental property stinks of damp.
Adulting is celebrating the small stuff. Adulting is keeping your head up. Adulting is dusting yourself off and trying again.
And adulting is here to stay.
*For anybody attempting the mental maths, that's around 37 years of saving if an inheritance or parental gift is not forthcoming.