I used to imagine that at some unspecific age, I would change. I would look like the full-grown women I knew, and I would feel like a woman. I kind of expected I'd feel like an adult by my mid 20s, but at 27, I don't. I still constantly have to refrain from calling myself and other women my age "girls" (which is as misogynistic as it is untrue). I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
One survey of 2,000 British people over 18 by life insurance provider Beagle Street found that most people don't feel like adults until they're 29, so I guess I have two more years. But many people don't feel like adults until later, some do earlier, and some never feel like adults. Those in the survey believed the things that most make you an adult are becoming a parent (63 percent), getting married (52 percent), and paying into a pension (29 percent), but these are things not everybody even does, which just goes to show how arbitrary and subjective the definition of adulthood is.
To find out how different people personally define adulthood, I asked women how they did. Here's what they said, in order from youngest to oldest.
"I was in my freshman year of college and 14 hours from home. I had to work for all my spending/out of pocket money, and working part-time at minimum wage while being a full-time student meant I had to watch my budget very carefully. I was super responsible and kept my GPA above a 3.7 that first year." — Lauren, 33
"When I was 18, I moved out of the house and was supporting myself and realized that it was hard work. Like, it hit me for the first time that I had to work hard all damn day just to have a rented room and some food. It was a harsh reality. But I'm glad I figured this out before going to college, because it fueled and shaped my academic pursuits. I was really not interested in being poor post-degree." — Everett, 40
"Mine was around the age of 20 or 21. Yes, I know it's late for some people, but I am glad now that even if I started feeling like an adult after 21, it was holistically. Whether mentally or physically or worldly. I always used to judge people because I was judged and bullied, but out of the blue (I hit rock bottom with depression and anxiety disorder), I gradually started attacking people less, I was tolerable of others' opinions, I didn't stay angry at my parents for long, etc. I try to stay positive, I meditate, etc. These small improvements changed my life drastically." — Vartika, 25
"I moved across the country with my (then) boyfriend (now husband) with pretty much no money, no jobs, nothing but a place to crash, and realized that it was all on me to make or break it from that point." — Lynn, 43
"By that time, I had lived in a few different cities and abroad, was finished with college, and had some real world experiences." — Sandy, 31
"At 24, I became financially independent — my parents weren't helping with cell phone bills, insurance, or anything else anymore. That was the year I'd also paid off my brand-new car that I'd bought two years earlier." —Ana, 24
"I realized I had exited young adulthood and it was time for me to make something of my life." — Jennifer, 27
"College was starting to seem like a distant memory, adult responsibilities became real, and I broke up with my boyfriend of seven years to move to the East Coast for work. Very adult." — Rebecca, 33
"I forcibly left an unhealthy and dead-end relationship, started taking medication for my depression and anxiety, and moved into my very own studio apartment (which meant living alone for the first time in my life). It was the first time I ever really felt in control of my own fate and day-to-day experiences." — Meg, 34
"Around 28, when they moved my trash pickup day from Monday to Thursday. I was so irritated about that. Then I realized that I was officially an adult because getting annoyed by a change to my trash pickup schedule is something only adults do. That’s something my dad would get upset about!" — Sarah, 37
"Only in the past year or so have I started considering myself more of an adult than not, so right around 30. The biggest thing for me was realizing the difference in the conversations I had with friends. Instead of our next travels or outing or recent drinking adventures, when I got together with an old friend, we would discuss kids, homes, insurance, savings, retirement, and the like. There was a point where that is what was on our minds." — Meghan, 31
"At 32, I felt like I really had it together. My kids began learning to cook and pitch in around the house, my parents looked old, and it felt like I had been dropped right into grownup-ville." — Lisa, 33
"My brain changed after having a baby. I feel like a completely different person, certainly more mature. I have better impulse control." — Rachel, 36
"It was the year my father died and left a giant gaping hole in my world." — Gianetta, 50
"When I opened a letter from the IRS that said a lien was placed on my home, I knew right then and there I was dealing with some pretty huge adult life issues due to my immature, childish actions." — Ann, 42
"It’s when I realized that I was never going to understand life and that no one ever really does. This is the secret no one discusses." — Tracey, 58
"Still don't! When I start caring about credit card points, real estate or flexible spending accounts, then I'll feel like and adult. I kind of envy people who find job from reading the stock market (is that what you do with it?), but I'm just not there." — Elizabeth, 27
Moral of the story? There's no right or wrong time to start feeling like an adult. Some start feeling like one as young as their teens, and some never do.