There’s no well-marked border between the sweet, carefree land of Childhood and the mythical realm of All Grown Up (abbreviated AGU for the purposes of this column). There is no moment when a young person can say, “Ah, here I am. I have left my childhood behind and shall now venture off into the unknown world of AGU to make my way or die trying.” Those moments occur only in comic books and Victorian novels. Rarely does anyone get the opportunity to avenge one’s parents’ death by slaying a dojo full of ninjas, or to rebel against one’s Dickensian taskmasters by burning down the orphanage and absconding with the vicar’s daughter, thus proclaiming, “I am a child no longer.”
There is no single line. AGU is more like a climatic zone rather than a country. The young person starts off walking north through a tropical rainforest, and eventually he or she notices it’s getting a mite chilly, and — say, wouldn’t it be nice to have a coat? Or some health insurance?
There are, however, guideposts on the way to AGU, each with varying physical and psychological impacts. The guideposts that signify that, while the young person might not be all grown up, he or she might be partially grown up, or even almost grown up — making the young person less likely to bump into a polar bear and wonder where the time went.
- The first job: The young person learns the importance of money and just how much of his or her precious lifespan is eaten up in its making. This also prepares young people for the later guidepost of doing their own taxes, where they will feel that despair again, only with more devastating perspective.
- The driver’s license: This has considerable psychological impact, as young people can begin to experience the exhilarating freedom of not having their parents drive them everywhere. The physical impact is also great, in regards to the physical movement of their bodies to places they want to go, and the movement of other people’s bodies as they scramble to get the hell out of the way. Fuckin’ teenage drivers.
- Turning 18: The young person can buy porn, get drafted, and fuck older people — although for anyone doing either of the first two, the last probably isn’t a concern.
- College: The importance of this guidepost entirely depends on the individual, the school he or she has chosen, the profession he or she would like to explore, and the quantity of alcohol consumed over those four, five, six, or more years.
- Turning 21: This should have a certain amount of physical impact, but again (depending on what kind of fake I.D.s have been available) its impact is largely psychological.
After this, the guideposts are mostly individualized. The first apartment. The first “real” job. The first D.U.I. It’s a crapshoot.
I have a guidepost approaching in September: My first (and, as my fiancée assures me, last) marriage. Going from single to married will have little physical impact on me. We’ve been dating for almost six years and living together for nearly two. I will have a new piece of jewelry that I’ll try not to lose, and I’ll have to remember to call her by my last name, which is probably going to be harder than it sounds. All of the physical impact is wrapped up in the actual wedding planning, which is only slightly more involved than planning the invasion of a minor European country like, say, France.
The psychological impact is a bit larger. I will be married. A newlywed. A husband. I will no longer check the box marked “single” on my tax forms. I will have to learn the intricacies of a joint checking account. I have just gotten used to calling her “my fiancée” instead of “my girlfriend.” Now I will have to say, “Have you met my wife?”
It is not really that bad. I’d be happy if the wedding were tomorrow, if just so I could stop looking at pictures of invitations in catalogs. Actually, I can’t wait to be married. I’m just not sure I’m ready to be referred to as someone’s “spouse.”
It’s just another guidepost on the way to AGU — a land that I’m not entirely sure exists except as an oddity of the English language. I suspect I’ll still be observing guideposts on our 50th anniversary and asking myself, “Am I there yet?”
If you happen to see me, please shoo away the polar bears.