When Did You Become an Adult? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Julie explores that question at length in her popular new essay. Interspersed throughout the essay are excerpts from readers reflecting on adulthood, derived from a callout Julie made last month. About 150 of your emails arrived in our inbox and we carefully read through all of them to organize by theme and post the most compelling ones. To start off our series, here’s Rachel Mattingly:

I still remember the moment I first felt like an adult. Nothing particularly interesting was happening. I was sitting in the back of a car, admiring the scenery while being driven to a good hiking spot. I was just over 18; it was October, and my birthday had been in June.

The car was being driven by my host-grandparents while I was spending a year as an exchange student in Germany. I had already graduated from high school in the U.S., so I wasn’t there for the grades; I just wanted to see more of the world. I had grown a lot in the previous two years after leaving my parents’ house to go to a public residential school. It was the first time I’d really encountered people from different backgrounds and beliefs, and it had challenged me personally even more than it had academically.

In the back of that car, something clicked. I felt like some of the emotional chaos I had gone through over the previous two years as I lost my faith and struggled to find my place in the world was subsiding. Instead of feeling like I was in transition, busy becoming someone, I felt like I finally just was.

Another reader:

I went home for Christmas one year. It was the first time I had been able to afford non-crappy presents for everyone. My little brother and I went out to the bar and were comparing our health insurance and retirement plans.  That’s when I first had the thought, “Oh shit, I’m an adult!”

Another ah-ha moment:

I was writing out a grocery list with my husband. I was six months pregnant, though I didn’t own a home or even a car.  “Wow, I feel like such an adult right now.” It was definitely an epiphany moment.

I think the moment you realize you are an adult is the moment you had always imagined it to be. Or what you saw as a child—all the adult-like things people did. How cool it seemed. Well, here we are, discussing our vegetable preferences, and it isn’t half bad.

This reader takes a more dramatic turn:

I was born on January 30, 1967, but I didn’t become an adult until July 23, 1999, when my wife took our child and left me in the middle of the night. Reading the note she left on the kitchen counter was the first of many things I did as a grown up, including therapy, numerous reconciliations and split ups, single fatherhood, middle-aged online dating, achieving licensure as a professional engineer, running for elected office, remarrying and adopting a child from Haiti, becoming a published author, and admitting all these things to The Atlantic.

Many more of your admissions to come.